The gentlemen 2023 Tour de France ended on Sunday July 23 with the familiar sprint along the Champs-Élysées in downtown Paris. Race winner Jonas Vingaard of Denmark climbed onto the final podium and, like many Tour champions before him, thanked the fans.
These scenes occurred just 24 hours after another Tour de France tradition played out in French media: bruised egos and doping accusations. Only this year’s kerfuffle involved a different and extremely hilarious allegation: drinking beer! Come on, let me take you through the ridiculous final days of the 2023 Tour.
As you may know, the first 15 stages of the 2023 Tour featured a two-way battle for the yellow jersey between the defending champion Jonas Vingegaard from Denmark and Slovenia Tadej Pogacarthe Tour champion of 2020 and 2021. Then, in the stage 16 individual time trial, Vingaard blew up the race and gained almost two minutes on Pogacar. Vingaard’s time advantage widened on Stage 17, when an exhausted Pogacar was dropped on an early climb and effectively raised the white flag with four stages remaining.
Almost all Tour winners are suspected of doping: Chris Froome, Vincenzo NibaliAnd even Pogacar did. Answering questions about performance-enhancing drugs is modus operandi in the post-Lance world, and critics were quick to cast doubt on Vingaard shortly after the time trial. I scoured the web to see if any French newspapers would jump on the story, and the headlines started coming out the day after the time trial. On Wednesday, July 19, The Team posted a title calling Vingeard’s performance “from another planet”, a not-so-subtle cycling code for dirty. The next day, French newspaper West France quoted from anonymous sources with teams in the race calling Vingaard’s huge overall lead a “climate of embarrassment”. Vingeard, like most Tour executives since 2012, has addressed doping issues in his recent press conferences. He was diplomatic, telling reporters he was clean, before acknowledging that “I understand it’s hard to trust cycling with the past that there has been.”
— Mihai Simion (@faustocoppi60) July 19, 2023
Vingaard’s Jumbo Visma team manager Richard Plugge also used each interview as an opportunity to ward off suspicion. Plugge, who rose to the team’s top job after serving as its public relations liaison decades ago, underscored his team’s commitment to transparency in every rebuttal. During cycling’s infamous “EPO era” two decades ago, Tour teams drove the media out of hotels and team training camps. Plugge told the website Cycling news that various media outlets had followed the Jumbo Visma riders over the previous months, including a The Team journalist. Netflix filmmakers joined the team in 2022 and 2023, he said, as did a book author, who spent three years with the team. If the team had doped, the media would have seen it, he said. “I also think it’s the job and the responsibility of some reporters to dig a little deeper into the issue rather than just spreading suspicion,” Plugge said. “We open our doors, we are transparent, we do the maximum. And yes, we are always happy to answer any questions. So, ask us the questions and we will answer you.
As someone who has covered cycling for the past two decades, I can tell you that none of this seemed particularly odd to the Tour de France media cycle.
And then Plugge went a bit too far. In a interview with (of course) The Team, Plugge said Jumbo Visma’s success was due, in part, to the team’s fanatical commitment to the small details of training and nutrition. None of the runners drank alcohol during the race, he said, before dropping a verbal atom bomb. “We were with a French team at our hotel during the rest day. We could see riders drinking big beers,” Plugge said. “Alcohol is a poison, and when you’re tired, it makes you even more tired.”
The Tour distributes hotel information to the media, and it took little time for journalists to notice that only one French team had shared a hotel with Jumbo Visma on the rest day: the French team Groupama FDJ. If it had been any other French team, Plugge’s comments would have generated only a few goofy tweets. But Groupama FDJ is managed by Marc Madiot, the cycling version of the fiery Yankees skipper Billy Martin (see the clip below).
A chance to get live footage of Marc Madiot? pic.twitter.com/mIDKmUw5CL
—Graham Healy (@Healycycles) July 22, 2023
And the boy was Madiot pissed off.
“Who does he think he is? Frankly, this is an exceptionally vile attack from him. Madiot told reporters. “Let him be silent. I don’t intend to see him. I don’t care about him. I’m not going to see him. I’m mad. It is pathetic. I don’t watch what he puts in his riders’ bowls.
Please read Madiot’s quote again and let the acid sink in. Cycling is a sadly boring and buttoned-up sport from a media perspective. Athletes constantly talk about “feelings in their legs” and team leaders rarely, if ever, talk about litter. Madiot’s rebuttal is essentially that he recites the lyrics to Rage Against the Machine in public. Madiot even clowned around Jumbo Visma on social media.
— Mar_chan (@mar_chan501) July 24, 2023
Madiot’s anger was due to the timing of the Plugge quote – the verbal beard was the rain on the upcoming French cycling parade. The beer quote circulated the day before Madiot’s star rider Thibaud Pinot, who last raced on the roads of his hometown through the Vosges on the 20th stage of the Tour. Pinot, 33, was France’s star rider in his prime and he finished third in the 2013 Tour. Everyone knew Pinot was going to attack his familiar mountains, and the day was bound to be a glorious moment for Pinot, Groupama FDJ and Madiot. But rather than asking about Pinot’s golden place in French cycling history, Madiot was peppered with questions about how much beer his riders drank each night during the Tour.
“Each day of rest, we have a moment of conviviality between my riders and the management. The management drinks a beer, not necessarily the runners, ”fulminated Madiot. “And even if they had drunk one, it wouldn’t have been fifty percentiles (16 ounces). I was at the table, there was Perrier!
THERE WAS PERRIER! Finally, we come to the golden quote of this whole saga and a fascinating insight into the eating habits of French cyclists. Yes, they feed on the same seltzer water your great aunt buys at Costco.
As for Vingaard, the cycling media can’t say for sure if it’s fueled by sparkling water and smart nutrition, or the latest and greatest chemical developed to fool the sport. Current reports – and many signs in the sport – indicate that the former is the case. But believing the Tour de France champion has always required a leap of faith for fans and journalists, due to the sport’s history.
A mystery, however, has been solved. We know that Plugge’s comments – and Madiot’s fiery rebuttal – earned Vingaard and the Jumbo Visma team very little support from the French fans lining the road. During stage 20, Pinot broke out of the peloton and crossed the mountains to a thunderous applause. Behind, Jumbo Visma and Vingaard chased him in the middle a chorus of boos.