More foggy memories from the Celtic fringes

Phil Gordon joins village people enjoying their four minutes of fame
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The Independent Online

The strain of the pipes was the first thing to prompt suspicion, as the crowd emptied on to the streets surrounding La Place Duguesclin. The Celtic mist was another. Broons had surfaced on the consciousness of France for the first time in almost 50 years but it disappeared almost as quickly, so that Brigadoon seemed a more appropriate name.

The strain of the pipes was the first thing to prompt suspicion, as the crowd emptied on to the streets surrounding La Place Duguesclin. The Celtic mist was another. Broons had surfaced on the consciousness of France for the first time in almost 50 years but it disappeared almost as quickly, so that Brigadoon seemed a more appropriate name.

A quick check of the signs on the D793 leading into the small town in Brittany assuaged any doubt. Yet such had been the speed of Broons' embrace of the Tour de France last Wednesday that it was more Glasgow kiss than French kiss. Andy Warhol may have allotted everyone 15 minutes of fame, but the best Le Tour can guarantee is just under four.

It may have been a year in the planning for Monsieur le Maire, Louis Deniel, but by the time Jens Voigt had led a five-man breakaway through the streets it was only another three minutes and 30 seconds until the blur of the péloton announced that everyone could pack up and go home for, perhaps, another half-century.

Broons had not even been able to enjoy a day in the sun; the return of the Tour for the first time since 1954 had been swamped by a downpour which would have done Dundee proud. Perhaps the knot of Scottish fans gathered at the end of the road out of town appreciated the climatic nod in their direction. Their giant St Andrew's flag no doubt caught the eye of its intended target, David Millar. The Elgin-born cyclist, whose win in the opening time trial had ensured he would wear the yellow jersey for three days, is referred to by the French sports daily L' Equipe simply as L'Ecossais following his own declaration that exile in Hong Kong, High Wycombe and Biarritz had not diluted his nationality.

That flag may have been the only thing Millar remembered of Broons. Indeed, it is doubtful if any of the 177 riders did any sightseeing on the long, 202km, haul of the fifth stage from Vannes. The driving rain kept heads down, and on the finishing line at Vannes, only 10 seconds separated stage winner Marcel Wust from a tide of 150 riders (including Millar) flooding through behind him.

By that time, Broons had long since cleared up and settled down with a glass in hand to watch the climax live on France Television. Its association with the the Tour may have been brief, but the broad smile on M Deniel's face indicated it had been a pleasure.

"Hundreds of towns wanted to be in our shoes today," he declared. "Being chosen for the route of the Tour de France is an honour. Sure, it was over quickly, but our townspeople will remember it."

Bretons are indeed fond of tradition. The Celtic roots, from bagpipes to costumes, are evident, but the devotion to the velo is as deep as anything in the local psyche.

That fervour was underlined just 20km away across the River Rance. The village of Calorguen had turned out on Wednesday afternoon to honour a local farmer. Bernard Hinault, however, is better known throughout France for what he did on two wheels rather than the four of his tractor. The five-times winner was the last Frenchman to taste success in the Tour. His face may be fuller now than it was when he climbed on to the winners' podium clad in the yellow jersey in 1985, but his popularity remains undiminished.

Calorguen's population of 500 had swollen to over 2,000, including the world's media, as Hinault was acclaimed just an hour before the péloton rode through. Hinault is so fiercely Breton that in his racing days he preferred to be known as a son of the soil. "I will die a paysan," he declared, and his winnings from those glory years between 1978 and 1985 bought the land he now farms in the department of Dinan.

Perhaps the man whose lieutenant, the American Greg LeMond, began the cycle of 15 years of foreign victories in 1986, might also be dying of embarrassment that he remains in the record books as the last French winner. Certainly, Hinault is not saddled with vanity.

"Bernard is frightened that he is seen giving too many autographs," said his old cycle-maker, Jose Alvarez, "and he even refused to allow postcards to be made with his image on them. Today, I felt he was more free and calm than he ever was in cycling. In working on the farm, he has rediscovered his vocation."

At the same time as Hinault was being fêted, Broons' own population had expanded beyond its normal 2,800. "I think we had maybe four thousand today," said M Deniel, as his cleansing department swept up the débris left by the incomers and the Tour Caravan, the publicity machine which hits every town on the route an hour before the riders.

Everything was showered on the spectators from the convoy of vans belonging to the army of tour sponsors. Caps, cheese and even sachets of coffee (only Maison du Café, the official Tour coffee, of course), prompting a mad scramble in the sodden flowerbeds. It was a far cry from the convoy which Broons welcomed 12 months ago. Then, a fleet of armoured cars commemorated the 55th anniversary of the liberation of Normandy and Brittany by following the route of General Patton's army. On Wednesday, a twist of fate saw the Germans advancing: stage winner Wust comes from Cologne.

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