The second stage race of the UCI WorldTour since the resumption of cycling competitions this month, the Critérium du Dauphiné, is keeping the fans of cycling entertained this week.
With restrictions – due to the coronavirus pandemic – on the number of spectators allowed at the start and finish zones, reports in the media are more important than ever. And among the many sources of information available each evening is the daily radio programme Détour sur les Tours (a Detour to the Tours), presented by Média Pitchounes.
The difference between main-stream sports media and the Média Pitchounes?
The latter is composed of youngsters aged from 8 to 17, without formal journalistic training and, in many cases, any former interest in cycling.
“I will always remember one kid who asked Bernard Hinault to present himself,” recalls the founder of Média-Pitchounes Association Laurent Girard. “I don’t think that had ever happened to him before!”
That aside, since its creation in 2005, Média-Pitchounes Association has become well-known and respected in the sports world in France. Based in the French city of Toulouse – a similar body exists also in the city of Nantes - and originally focused on football, the association progressively widened its horizons to include other sports.
Cycling has been part of the association’s activities since 2009.
Girard was undaunted by the fact that to start with, most of the young members –from inner-city suburb of Bagatelle – did not understand his passion for the Tour de France: “I told them ‘I’ll take you to watch and we’ll talk later’. We went camping on a mountain in the Pyrénées and the magic worked!”
Each year the young “journalists” edit a magazine composed of interviews and articles dedicated to a particular theme. In 2020 the theme is the position of women, taking a look at the history of women’s cycling and including interviews with numerous former and current champions. This 64-page publication was distributed at La Route d’Occitanie - la Dépêche du Midi (1-4 August) as it will be at the Critérium du Dauphiné, the French National Championships and the Tour de France.
But that is not all, as the Association founder explains: “At different competitions, their work varies from year to year, production of newsletters or a video summary of each stage of the Tour. This year they have a new challenge, the radio. One hour live each evening. They prepared for this throughout the month of July.”
Those who find themselves behind the microphone already have considerable experience.
“We work on the principle that a cyclist doesn’t participate in the biggest competition in the world from the beginning. For the pitchounes, it’s the same,” explains Girard. “They have to go step by step before taking to the microphone at the Tour.”
The first year they cover an Under-23 race and do some volunteer work at mass participation events then at the Route d’Occitanie – la Dépêche du Midi (UCI Class 2.1).
Since 2010, the association has sent 158 youngsters to report on the Tour de France. This year 18 youngsters aged 10 to 17 will cover the Tour from the Grand Depart in Nice until the Pyrenees stages.
It will be the culmination of lots of work despite a summer of uncertainty.
“The confinement was difficult for some of these children who are from large families living in small appartments,” observes Girard.
The Média-Pitchounes Association lent its computers to families, invested in home-trainers so they could meet daily on Zwift, organised video meetings so they could spend time together and work on their magazine, without even knowing if it would be distributed. And as soon as outdoor cycling was allowed, they youngsters joined together for rides.
“Cycling became a real outlet and passion for them,” says Girard.
More than just journalism
For more than the journalistic side of the sport, these youngsters have become keen cyclists themselves. Many took up cycling for the first time with the Pitchounes, learning to respect distances and safety. This year they have created a women’s section offering organised rides, workshops and initiations. With a view to maybe taking up competitive cycling, two girls have been provided with a bike to enable them to take part in some mass participation events.
The pitchounes regularly set themselves challenges, such as each year relaying over 1000km to raise money for research into the inflammatory disease Ankylosing spondylitis. Last year saw 10 years of lobbying for a “Tour au pied des tours” (Tour at the foot of the towers) rewarded when the Tour de France passed through Bagatelle and along the road of the association’s headquarters.
Girard’s aim is to “unite people through sport” and over the last 15 years he has done just that –professional cyclists, Tour de France Director Christian Prudhomme, organisers, sponsors and spectators have come together to help the budding journalists.
“The Pitchounes are part of the cycling world and we are more and more sought after but sadly we cannot cover everything,” observes Girard. “These children bring a blast of freshness and naivety which makes a change from the usual journalists.
“Our greatest pride is to see them grow, and that they realise that nothing is impossible despite their social situations.”