Boudot, of course, did not choose an easy year to organize his first event. After all, most of the remaining 12 criteriums scheduled for this year have been canceled due to the ever-changing health measures put in place by the French government in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
But as Tour de France stage winner Nans Peters crossed the finish line to thunderous applause on Wednesday evening, the first annual Critérium Cycliste du Grand Dole was to be considered a resounding success.
“It was a crazy day,” Boudot said after the post-race gala dinner ended. “I have been thinking about organizing a criterium for several years now and I decided a year ago to get started. I started fundraising, finding riders, building a team of volunteers, etc. I always knew we could do something right here in Dole. Every time the Tour de France comes here it’s a huge success, and a criterium really focuses on the popular side of the sport.
All 3,500 fans have walked the one-kilometer circuit to see the riders pass no less than 60 times. Irish rider Sam Bennett, the recent winner of the Tour’s green points jersey, was the star attraction. And most of the French teams were also generously represented, including AG2R rider Benoit Cosnefroy, who wore the polka dot jersey for two weeks on the Tour this year.
“At the time, there were dozens of criteriums after the Tour,” said Bernard Thevenet, double winner of the Tour de France. Thevenet was only one of the personalities present at Dole. “When I was driving, the first criterium took place the day after the Tour and every day after. And on Sunday there were two or three. Criteria were part of our tradition. They come from a time when few people had a television. The criteriums thus allowed people to see the stars of the Tour de France that they had read or heard on the radio. They heard about the exploits of Charly Gaul or Louison Bobet or Raphael Geminiani on the radio. The horsemen were almost mythological. And after the Tour, you got to see them go by 100 times a day and maybe even get an autograph. It was time for the fans to have a real conversation with the riders. And today, it was really like that. There were 60 laps. If you missed a runner in the first lap, you still have 59 chances to see him! ”
Typically the mood was relaxed before departure. Several riders came with their families, and while the race itself only lasted an hour and a half, each rider did an introductory lap, accompanied by a motorcycle bearing their name.
“You are the actors,” Boudot told runners at a pre-race meeting. And while none of the runners running today grew up at the height of the criterium, they all seemed to know what to do. The attacks started with the pistol. Cosnefroy, unsurprisingly, won the climbers award by winning the KOM prime on laps 10 and 30, while Bennett of course won the points sprints on laps 20 and 40. And then in the final laps, Peters has slipped forward, much like he did when he won the eighth stage at Loudenvielle.
And the festivities continued long after Peters crossed the line. Fans flocked to the streets for the awards ceremony – a long affair to say the least. Not only were prizes awarded to the winners of the race, but also to the best regional driver as well as the best amateur driver. But no one seemed in a hurry to get home.
“It gave us a feeling of what cycling was like before COVID,” said Daniel Mangeas, the former Tour de France announcer. “A real success!”
And Boudot was quick to agree. “I’m happy,” he said. “We had 3,500 people, which was the limit imposed by the police headquarters. Otherwise I think we would have had twice as many people. And it’s a Wednesday in September. ”
“It was a lot of work but I’m happy. We brought together 130 volunteers and 105 partners. And we managed to bring together 35 professionals with amateurs.
“It was really brave,” Thevenet said of Boudot’s efforts. “There were only two criteriums this year, and he was one of them. Not bad for a first event. ”
Boudot admits that the sanitary measures have complicated matters. But with the inaugural event now in the books, he’s confident the foundations are in place to build a bigger event going forward. And Boudot is quick to point out that complications from COVID were not the biggest challenge. “The hardest part was going to bed at 2 am and getting up at 6 am every day in the Tour de France. . I didn’t have time to recover. But that’s the price to pay to have a good party. And that was my goal.