Alejandro Valverde is so longevity. At the height of his 41 years, the Spanish rider of the Movistar participates this year in his fourteenth Grande Boucle since 2005. A small player, compared to the stars of the caravan who, every day, make the crowds rise up every kilometer, no matter what. the show. They are the 2CV of the Cochonou caravan. Since 1999, they have traveled an average of 5,500 km each summer to distribute the legendary goodies of the sausage brand. And as imposing as the other tanks are, none really overshadow them.
To understand the phenomenon, you have to lift the hood. That’s good, it’s the job of Jérôme Lescoulier who, at 49, is the chief mechanic of the Cochonou caravan: “I started in 2011 as a 2nd mechanic, I have been a chef since 2012. I manage the vehicles all year round at my Vintage Car Club garage, in the Landes. We pamper them, we maintain them, we drive them . Normally they have other outings than the Tour, but not this year, I’m not drawing you a picture … “. Jérôme may have accumulated eleven Tours de France at the bedside of the “deudeuches”, his two hands are not enough.
At his side, Romain Mangeas takes a month off each year to lend him a hand. “We are two for seven vehicles, it’s not too much”, smiles Romain, itinerant agricultural mechanic the rest of the year: “I’m used to working on the side of the road, so the Tour doesn’t change my daily life too much except that there are more people, more noise and more atmosphere.” Small disappointment: when he turns from one field to another in the Sarthe, Romain does not drive a 2CV: “It would be too small, I have a truck”, he confesses. But the two men have one thing in common: they each drive a 2CV throughout the year. Romain has had his since he was 17, as for Jérôme, he’s over thirty …
“I’ve been riding a 2CV for over 30 years. I don’t have enough fingers to tell you how many I have (laughs). That’s how I got to Cochonou.”Jérôme Lescoulier
If the two men have also been racing in the Tour de France since childhood, it is the love of the “deudeuche” that has led them to the Tour. And like a good sausage, once they tasted it, they couldn’t help but bite into it again. “Every year, we find a unique atmosphere, the caravanners have become real friends that we see outside the Tour too. And then, we have the privilege of driving on private roads.for three weeks, and to go through magnificent places “, explains Jérôme. All this at the wheel of their respective 2CV, since each driver has his own.
“With Romain we close the convoy, each on one side, we have an eye on everyone. We are a bit like dads hens, we watch everything that happens”, explains Jérôme, before specifying: “We have the same stocks of bobs and sausages as the others but in addition we have the spare parts and the tools to repair at the side of the road”. This considerably slows down the two drivers as soon as the road rises. “In the mountains, the altitude breaks the legs of the few horsepower of the engine. If you are stopped, you need a little help from the public to restart the mechanics. Otherwise the Deuch ‘goes everywhere”, assures Jerome.
It must be said that the Landais does everything for. Every year in his garage “which runs at 98% on 2CV”, he dismantles the engines one by one to check everything before the annual technical inspection, and strives to keep his sweethearts running as much as possible. “Like any collector’s vehicle, it doesn’t get damaged when it rolls, but when it doesn’t roll”, he adds. “You have to pamper them, before being a 2CV Cochonou, they were a 2CV for everyone. We do not know their past. They did not arrive new”, he continues. The oldest dates from 1971, the most recent from 1984. A lick of paint in the colors of the sausage and a few decorative elements later, and these old lives are erased.
But what interests Jérôme and Romain is what is hidden under the hood. “We always have the eye of a mechanic lying around. As soon as something bothers us, a deflated tire, a burnt out bulb, a stain on the ground that seems strange to us, we will immediately check, whether it is before departure, during the stage or on arrival after a debrief with the other drivers “, details Jérôme, who adds: “We have old vehicles without all the assistance of modern vehicles, without air conditioning either”, smiles the chief mechanic. The only luxury: a car radio, “But we never turn it on, because the noise of the engine covers it”.
Add to that an audience that is not always careful, which must be watched: “We anticipate the reactions of people on the side of the road too, there are always signs among those who are going to do something stupid”, says Romain. For 2CVs as for their pilots, the Tour is therefore anything but a walk in the park, especially since it is also necessary to reach the hotels by road. “Physically, it’s intense. But we sleep in good hotels and we eat well, so it does. And sometimes we find it long, but for runners it has to be even longer”, relativizes Romain.
Anyway, since leaving Brest, the two men have not seen the time pass behind the wheel of the stars of the caravan: “We had a lot of rain, but also beautiful sunny spells. Oe is enjoying the landscape and the public is very numerous, it feels good”, appreciates Romain. The crossing of the Alps was also done without pitfalls, with zero stops on a hill for the 2 CVs. The only Cochonou vehicle stuck in a pass was a semi-trailer between Cluses and Le Grand Bornand. What makes Romain smile: “But that is not our responsibility “.