What's Cool In Road Cycling


The grande sponsor of le Tour de France, and the folks that gave us the Lion and present the Yellow Jersey is the French bank Credit Lyonnias. But what’s the story behind this enterprise and their connection to the biggest event in pro cycling? We wanted to know more, so we asked for an interview…

The Credit Lyonnais building on Boulevard Italiens. In Paris.

My meeting was was at Credit Lyonnais main headquarters in Paris. Located on the scenic Boulevard Italiens, the building is incredibly impressive. Formerly the Hotel de Boufflers, the building was taken over by Credit Lyonnais in 1875 and underwent a series of renovations and improvements lasting all the way until 1904. And the carved stone lion heads on the outside are totally cool.

Sophie Moressee-Pichot, Responsable du Sponsoring, was kind enough to give me some of her time to tell us about Credit Lyonnais’ involvement with Pro Cycling, and Arnaud Loubier, Responsable Relationships avec la Presse, was there to clarify about the banks operations. The two of them were enthusiastic about sharing the story; their passion for their work was quite obvious.

PEZ: For how long has Credit Lyonnais been involved with Le Tour?

SMP: We’ve been partners with the old Society of the Tour since ’81, it’s a long relationship, and we’ve had the Maillot Jaune since ’87. We had the opportunity to sponsor the Maillot Jaune in ’87 and we happily took it.

Sophie Moressee-Pichot: le grande fromage du sponsoring at Credit Lyonnias.

PEZ: And what are the advantages to the bank?

SMP: There are between 15 to 17 million spectators on the roads watching. You have to take it in the historical context of a large bank which had a certain image of rigidity, which has since evolved to be much more popular, so for the bank it’s a large audience, an incredible number of people, a festive event which is now known around the world. Perhaps even more so now with the incredible achievements of Armstrong… I think that has played a role. It’s this incredible proximity which makes it one of the most important sporting events.

AL: And how many television spectators in the world…, but it’s a great event like Formula 1

SMP: It’s the third most well known sporting event in the world, and the most well known annual event. The Olympic Games are first, then the World Cup of Soccer is second.

Perhaps most popular with PEZ-Fans is Credit Lyonnais’ sponsorship of le maillot jaune, and it’s presentation after each stage by one of the beautiful “Protocol Hostesses”.

PEZ: So, does Credit Lyonnais have branches in other countries, or is it
just in France?

AL: Credit Lyonnais is an international bank, perhaps you know that for close to two years we have a partnership with Credit Agricole, therefore today the firm Credit Lyonnais is the bank for France, for individual customers and enterprises, and the bank for international clients and businesses is CALYON. So, what interests us in our partnership with the Maillot Jaune is to demonstrate that we are present here in France in addition to our international activity. Even though we have changed our range of activity, we still maintain our partnerships. For us now, our relationship with the Tour is part of the tradition or the culture of the company. It’s part of our relationship with the French public and there is no reason to change it.

SMP: The great thing about the Tour is that it’s an event that goes to the people. It’s an event which moves every day, which travels to the public in the small towns and villages, it’s really a different kind of sporting event. It interests us that it visits all the corners of France, the picturesque places.

The stuffed lions have proven a hit with fans and riders alike…

PEZ: You had mentioned earlier that there is a team of people, the Hostesses, and the vehicles…. How many people are involved?

SMP: About 60 people. The most obvious are the ones seen on television, the Protocol Hostesses who give the Maillot Juane, the bouquet and the lion each day on the podium each day to the leader of the Tour. It’s not the winner of the stage, but the true leader of the Tour through all of the stages and then the eventual winner of the Tour de France. We have also the caravan with about 30 people which includes all the publicity vehicles which pass before the race, about an hour and a half before the racers, and distribute free gifts or shall we say gadgets, 450 thousand of them, that’s 30 people, 14 of them women who distribute the products and the rest drivers. We’ve also got our press team with their drivers who ride ahead of the peloton, and then we have one car which follows the course for VIPs. We also have our press service which is in the depart village before the start each morning who offer a daily journal to all the accredited press workers each morning. We try and make a friendly environment every day.

Credit Lyonnais Protocol Hostesses often ride the stages in one of these cars – handing our gadgets to fans.

PEZ: So, is there a new Maillot Jaune each day?
SMP: Of course!

PEZ: So, Thomas Voeckler could have 10 for his ten days in yellow?

SMP: If he wants. We are obliged to have an enourmous amount of jerseys, enough for all possiblities, in all sizes with long or short sleeves, we have to adapt.

PEZ: Are the team names already on it?

SMP: No, there’s a system of transferring the name and logos. There’s a new technique now which is better, which makes a better jersey which is comfortable for the riders, it’s not rigid at all.

PEZ: It was a good year for France, with Voeckler, David Moncoutie, Virenque, Nazon…

SMP: It was good, it was nice to have some animation and some French faces. The French spectators are a bit proud of their country.

AL: But there are many foreigners who come to watch the Tour as part of their July vacations.

SMP: Especially when the champion is from a neighboring country, we’ve had Belgians, Dutch, Swiss, Italian, German, Spanish…. There’s also much interest when the Tour goes into another country like in the Pyrenees, or when it goes into German it excites the crowds to see Ullrich who is their ambassador. And of course there is Armstrong and the Americans

PEZ: So now there are many more Americans who come to watch the Tour?

SMP: Certainly! They are passionate of course! He’s a true grand champion, the only one to win six Tours.

For drivers in the publicity caravan, the only way from stage to stage is in company cars.

PEZ: I hope he does it again. If not, there is always Paris-Roubaix… Speaking of, I noticed the poster for that race. Credit Lyonnais sponsors it and Paris-Nice too?

SMP: In fact we are partners not with the Tour de France but with the ASO, so for us it’s like a package, and the Tour de France is part of that. First there is Paris-Nice, Criterium International, Paris-Roubaix, Tour de Picardie, Tour de Languedoc-Roussillon, Tour de France, Tour de L’Avenir, and Tour of Burkina Faso. (Burkina Faso is a French speaking country in western Africa, and the tour is the largest stage race on the continent, running since 1987. More info available here https://www.letour.fr/stf/faso/2004/us/ – ed.

We have the Tour in Burkina Faso even if we don’t have a bank branch there because of the partnership. It’s important the sense of partnership. We do it as part of the adventure, not for the rewards for Credit Lyonnais. It’s a poor country, we aren’t in it to gain.

AL: We are just there to bring a little happiness in their lives.

SMP: Absolutely, we are not focused on advertising and communication, what we are doing is going to the schools. The stage race is what we want to stay close to the population, it goes into the little villages. We are bringing to this country the Maillot Jaune. It’s true that we are in a partnership, but it is also important to us the humanitarian aspects. We don’t want to look pretentious by saying humanitarian, but that’s really what’s interesting to us. We not looking for a return on our investment, we are not advertising, so we go into the schools and give away some gifts. Its part of our partnership, a stage course with a Maillot Jaune. Actually the only course that doesn’t have a Maillot Jaune is Paris-Roubaix which is a one day course, but it’s still a good opportunity for the visibility.

AL: The Hell of the North!

PEZ: ASO is also involved with the Paris-Dakar Rally. Do you have an involvement with that?

SMP: No, we only focus on cycling, judo, and sailing. We made the choice not to be associated with a specific team, but with the specific races.

PEZ: So, please tell us more about your symbol of the lion…
SMP: We use the Lion only at the Tour de France..

AL: Credit Lyonnais comes from the city of Lyon in the Southeast of France. Credit Lyonnais was founded in Lyon in 1863 and the name of the city sounds like lion so it was the symbol of the city, thus it became the symbol of the bank.

PEZ: Is it the symbol of the bank?
AL: Not now… it was a bit aggressive

SMP: But the Lions of the Tour are quite special. They are nice. The riders always give them a special place and they always keep them, regardless of if they have children or not. Sure the bouquet they might give to a pretty hostess, but the Lions they always keep. They’ve been known to get a special place in the team bus.

PEZ: Thanks so much for your time and I hope to see in you in July.

Breckenridge Cartwright is a 30 year old American actually living and working in Paris. He recently married his French girlfriend, and is enjoying the riding around the City of Light. He loves cyclocross, and yes, that’s his real name, but you can call him “Breck” for short. You can reach him at [email protected]

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