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Journée des Retrouvailles
Régnié-Durette-en-Beaujolais, France, October 26, 2002
Journée des Retrouvailles: Once a pro, always a pro
By Chris Henry
Every year at the end of October, the legends of cycling converge on the tiny French town of Régnié-Durette in the wine-making region of Beaujolais, 40 minutes north of Lyon. The town, which also played host to the final individual time trial in this year's Tour de France, takes pride in showing its appreciation for the sport. The Journée des Retrouvailles ("reunion day") is organized by local vineyard owner Paul Cinquin, with the omnipresent Daniel Mangeas providing the commentary. Mangeas is a fixture on the French racing scene, known also as the "voice of the Tour de France."
Coming on the heels of the Tour de France presentation in Paris, the event finds the stars of cycling's past trading their suits and ties for spandex- or wool- and rediscovering the competitive edge of a racing professional. The Journée des Retrouvailles is a chance for fans of all ages to see some of the greatest names in cycling back on their bikes, names like Kelly, Moser, Motta, Poulidor, Thévenet, Knetemann, Stablinski, and the list goes on. Most riders were in their national team colors, although some would for a short time wear their old team uniforms, such as Raymond Poulidor in his classic blue and yellow Mercier jersey.
This year's race was held in perfect conditions, and fans and racers alike were in a festive mood. After speaker Mangeas's lengthy introductions concluded, the fans got their autographs, and the photographers their pre-race portraits, it was time for the racing to begin. The big race of the day, the "jeunes retraités" (young retirees), set off at 2pm for 25 laps of a flat 2km circuit.
The race began at a moderate tempo, but the peloton didn't stay together for long. With each passing lap the pace grew faster, and the gap grew between those who still ride and those whose bikes hang in the garage. Looking good up front were Francesco Moser (does he ever not look good?), Sean Kelly, Dutchman Cees Bal, and the star of women's cycling, Jeannie Longo, in her second race of the day. Somewhat winded at the back were former yellow jersey Acacio da Silva of Portugal, and Dutch classics specialist Gerrit Solleveld. Even former Tour winner Bernard Thévenet looked more comfortable in front of the camera for France 2 than on the bike in his yellow jersey.
The flat, fast course meant that long solo escapes would be unlikely, but the peloton nonetheless split into three groups on the road, and a number of smaller groups at the side of the road. For many, the race was not about the competition, but a chance to rejoin old friends and play to the crowd. A pattern emerged of riders falling off the pace, pulling over for a chat with teammates for specators, then rejoining the field, only to be dropped again within a lap. Nobody complained, most laughed, and the race went on.
For those who still in good shape, and there were plenty, the race was most definitely on. A glance at the faces of Moser and Kelly as they forced the pace at the front, held position out of the corners, and eyed their competition was sufficient proof that for some the competitive edge never dies. Even if the accelerations were a little flat, the speed of the race was high enough to prove that these riders still had what it takes. As Sean Kelly told Cyclingnews after the race, "it comes back quickly in the head, but the legs are not there." The constant banter (and occasional yelling) in the pack only added to the crowd's amusement.
With the first peloton whittled down to roughly 25 riders, the race was ultimately decided in a sprint, with Cees Bal taking the top honors ahead of Spaniard Eduardo Chozas and Francesco Moser. However in the end, at least for the fans, the results were not what mattered. To see 1962 world champion Jean Stablinski on the starting line of the third race, next to 1956 Tour winner Roger Walkowiak in a yellow jersey, that was what the fans came for. Although they didn't ride, fellow Tour winners Charly Gaul and Federico Bahamontes were also on hand to start the racing and meet their fans and colleagues.
The minute the race ended, the riders refound the casual atmosphere they enjoyed before the start. "We said before the start that we'd take it easy," Kelly explained at finish, "because last year they were going very fast and there was a fall. So we say take it easy, because it's a friendly. But it's very hard to keep them friendly because once they get out there, the instinct of racing comes back."
Once a pro, always a pro? "Yes, exactly."
Images by Cyclingnews/Chris Henry
1 Cees Bal 2 Eduardo Chozas 3 Francesco Moser 4 Jean-François Rault 5 Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli 6 Hartmut Bolt 7 Ruiz Cabestany 8 Jesus Rodriguez 9 Jacques Bossis 10 Piermatta Gavazzi