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Lucien Blyau is a Superfan

For those that ride or drive the Tour de France route every year, there is a familiar face. It is a face that is easily overlooked by newcomers, because he wears no outlandish costume, and does not jump or yell. Instead Lucien Blyau, waits for the Tour riders midway though each stage and hands small cans of Coca-Cola to any takers.

Words & images: James Startt
From: Armiens, France

“I gave out 20 yesterday,” he says with his quiet smile. But while Lucien makes no attempt to attract attention, he is quite recognizable for those in the know. For years now, his camping car carries the banner, “Crie! Qui? Le Lion,” a play on words to his friend, former Belgian champion Claude Criquielion, who died tragically this year at the age of 58.

“I started coming to the Tour de France in 1975,” says Lucien. “I came to see Eddy Merckx win. But instead I witnessed his defeat. But I keep coming back every year. Next month I turn 90!”

Blyau, who worked much of his life as a farmer, was a promising amateur cyclist after World War II and he actually managed to secure a professional contract in 1949. But when he broke his knee-cap in an early-season race, his cycling career came to an sudden halt. “Today they can fix that (i.e. a broken knee cap), but back then, your career was over,” says Blyau. “Then I fell in love with the Tour as a spectator, and after coming for first time I said, ‘Since I never got to ride the Tour as a professional, I’ll never miss it as a spectator.”

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When the up-and-coming Criquielion turned professional in the late 70’s, Lucien would come to the races and give his neighbor something to drink. Soon it caught on and other riders would also grab something from Blyau. And before he knew it, he was a fixture at the races.

Today he is so appreciated by the riders that the Tour de France even gives him an accreditation for his camper so that he can park more easily along the roadside.

“Before the Tour I go to my local supermarket and get as many packs of small Coke cans as possible. I have no idea how many, but they are the perfect size for the riders, and not every store carries them. I get as many as possible and put them anywhere I can in my camper.”

For Blyau, who serves the same function at numerous other races, his annual Coca-Cola budget is a significant sum. Yet he makes no calculations. “Yes it is a fair share of money, I know. But the riders appreciate it. And what is money after your are gone?”

Today Lucien travels with his companion, Marie-Thérèse. They met after his wife died and both sure the same passion for the Tour. In her supporting role, Marie-Thérèse provides at least one, key service. As the riders approach each day, she helps Lucien get into his aging Team Collstrop Jersey, as much a trademark as the banner on his camping car. “I know I could wear other jerseys,” says Blyau. “But how would the riders recognize me? This is how they know me.”

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