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Old-World French Criterium Is a Family Affair

Words and Images by James Startt

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You may or may not know that Louis Pasteur was born in Dole. And it really doesn’t matter. But for the past two years, this town in the Eastern region of France known as the Jura, has put together a wonderful little criterium race. Made popular back in the day when most families didn’t have television sets, the criterium events allow bike racing fans a chance to get a closer glimpse of the heroes of the Tour de France. And the Criterium Cycliste International du Grand Dole does just that.

“I remember back in the day, there would be 50, maybe 60 criteriums around France after the Tour,” says two-time Tour de France winner Bernard Thevenet, one of the guests of this year’s event. “We would race every day, sometimes two times or even three.”

“I would race at least 20 crits after the Tour,” recalls French climber Richard Virenque, another “personality” on hand.

This year, however, there may well only be two criteriums. As French Covid restrictions are tightening, mass events like criteriums are already being canceled around the country. And while the Dole Crit is only in its second year, it is one of the rare events to survive this year.

“Already last year, we gained the confidence of the local authorities,” says race organizer Franck Boudot. “Everyone entering the circuit must show proof of a vaccine or a recent Covid test. And we even have the Tour de France medical van here to give all participants and staff tests if needed.”

For Boudot, who has worked as a mechanic on the AG2R-Citroen team for the past 15 years, organizing a post-Tour criterium in his hometown is nothing short of a dream come true. “This is the first time in 15 years I stayed home and didn’t do the Tour de France. But I really needed the time in July to put everything in place.”

He spent much of the year putting together the budget—110,000 Euros, with no fewer than 103 partners—to fund the infrastructure of the course, the riders’ start fees as well as the five-course post-race gala dinner with fireworks.

But clearly his labor of love was worth it

My biggest satisfaction was seeing everything getting better. The start village was better organized. We had 30 pros and 10 amateurs. The riders put on a great show and the crowd loved it. And then our post-race dinner was better.”

Riders showed up early in the afternoon in their own cars. There were no mechanics on hand to pump up the tires on the bikes, and several juggled bike racing with parenting duties. Clearly the Dole Criterium was a family affair.

The day officially opened with veteran classic king Johan Museeuw and French climber Richard Virinque riding several laps before each rider was introduced and did their own lap, accompanied by a boy or girl that was a member of the local club. And then there was the publicity caravan that did its lap, giving out plenty of goodies.

And finally it was time for the race itself, a 60-lap, 60-kilometer race around the center of Dole. Attacks started from the gun, but few lasted more than a couple of laps as the pack raced around unbridled from any well-planned team strategy. Not surprisingly French sprinter Nacer Bouhanni won the sprint competition. And then in the final laps, Total Energies rider Pierre Latour broke free along with Aurelien Paret-Peintre to win the overall honors.

But festivities continued well after the race as fans were allowed to seek autographs, and more than 700 had reserved their table at the post-race gala dinner.

Make no doubt about it, there was some great racing, but mostly the Criterium Cycliste International de Grand Dole was a celebration of cycling for everyone on hand.

Gallery

Kids from local cycling clubs accompanied each rider on a presentation lap before the start of the race.
In a true criterium spirit, there were no team buses. Instead, each rider showed up in his own car.
Some riders, like Total Energies rider Fabien Doubey, had to juggle family duties with bike racing.
Oldies but goodies like classics king Johan Museeuw and climber Richard Virenque were just some of the guests on hand in Dole.
Miguel Martinez, Olympic mountain bike champion in 2000, was one of the riders in the race. Now 45, Martinez still holds a professional license and races regularly.
They’re off! The checkered flag announces the start of the race as riders set off on the first of 60 1-kilometer laps around Dole.
With a closed 1-kilometer loop, all fans had to show proof of Covid vaccination or a recent Covid test. But there were still plenty of fans on hand.
An early break gains momentum on the climb.
France’s post-Tour criteriums were built on the idea that fans could get a close-up to the racers. And that is still true today.
The pack cruises past a thick wall of spectators.
The peloton hits the climb. Behind the trees is a fan park for kids, families or anyone looking to take a break from the racing.
If bike racers are sometimes considered actors on the playing field, then Frenchman Damien Gaudin was one of the day’s true stars, animating the race with endless attacks in the final.
Despite a late-afternoon shower, French sprinters Nacer Bouhanni and Rudy Barbier fought for the green points jersey.
Frenchman Pierre Latour proved to be the strongest rider of the day as he broke free in the final laps.
Surrounded by fans, local beauty queens and town officials, Latour takes the yellow jersey awarded to the winner.
Meanwhile retired professional Andrea Tafi was simply happy to finish. The winner of Paris-Roubaix, Tour of Flanders and the Tour of Lombardy, the 55-year-old got a hero’s welcome.
For Ag2R – Citroen mechanic Franck Boudot, organizing the criterium is nothing short of a dream come true. This year, he sat out the Tour de France for the first time in 15 years to finish the pre-race preparations.
It was a long day, all in all, but there was no time to get bored.