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Aérogramme Day 12: The Broom Wagon

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The Big Sweep

Cycling fans are known to wait for hours in all kinds of weather conditions for a glimpse of the yellow jersey. But at least one fan prefers to watch the Tour from behind. Since 2004, Daniel Alain has been the driver of the broom wagon. And for Alain, at least, he has the best seat in the house.

“I always wanted to drive the broom wagon, » says Alain. « In the broom wagon we see the race differently. There are two races really. There is the race in front, the race everyone sees on TV. And then there is the race behind. So many things happen behind. We live some amazing moments.”

Words & images: James Startt
From: Plateau de Beille, France

In the 1980’s Alain was one of France’s top cyclocross riders. He was even the French champion. But he never raced the Tour de France. “As a cyclocross specialist, the Tour was never a possibility for me, but it still made me dream. I always wanted to do it, but in my case, I had to wait until after I retired as a cyclist.”

Alain take his job seriously, and even admits to playing an active roll at times, as he often will encourage a rider, hoping that he will manage finish within the time limit.

“I always have a race official with me, but once I have a rider in my sites, I will ask permission to give him food or water and encourage him. I never like to see a rider drop out of the Tour. You don’t drop out of the Tour de France. So I will try and help a rider make it to the finish.”

One of his most memorable rides can in 2010 when Great Britain’s David Millar spent nearly the entire stage with Alain. Millar was only a shadow of himself going into the Alpes, compromised by a string of crashes in the early stages of the Tour. Terribly unprepared for the high mountains of the Tour, he immediately struggled on the first climb of the day.

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“At the foot of the first climb, I could see him in my windshield and there was nearly 200 kilometers remaining. But I encouraged him to continue. I immediately calculated the cut-off time and knew he could make it.”

Alain says that he has makes calculating the cut-off time a specialty. “I can tell you 15 minutes into the stage if the cut-off will be 30 minutes, 40 minutes or 50 minutes. In the case of Millar, I knew we had a large cut-off margin. I knew he could make it. And not only did he make it, he finished the Tour.”

Millar was so grateful that he gave Alain a signed jersey the following morning. “That was really satisfying.”

Alain admits that not every broom wagon story has a happy ending. And he has seen his share of cyclists break down in tears when a race official pulls off their race number, signifying that the rider has abandoned.

But he always encourages a rider to give whatever they have left to finish. “It is always very satisfying when a rider finishes within the time limit. I feel like somehow, just somehow, I helped him survive.”

Check in daily as Startt brings a different personality to Aérogramme.