(Bilbao, Spain) Through his immaculate white AG2R Citroën shirt, we can guess the tattoo lines drawn on the back of Julien Jurdie. They all correspond to important victories or podiums for which the sports director of the French team was behind the wheel.
Jurdie unveiled them in full in the documentary series Tour de France – At the heart of the peloton, recently released on Netflix.
After Formula 1, golf and tennis, the biggest cycling event in the world opened its backstage to the cameras and microphones of the entertainment giant, filming last summer.
The third of eight episodes, featuring Jurdie and her proteges, is one of the best.
Relatively unknown outside cycling circles, the former amateur rider from Saint-Étienne recounts, his throat knotted, that his father, now deceased, never attended one of his competitions when he was a kid. And how much he wishes he could see how far he has come as a sporting director.
“The images may perhaps seem a little crazy”, almost apologized Julien Jurdie, met Friday in a hotel in Bilbao, near the large port and the Nervion estuary, the great river of the Spanish Basque Country.
“But it’s a lot of work and we do it to experience these emotions. There is of course a huge work of the riders, who are the actors of this sport, but also of all the staff: mechanics, assistants, physiotherapists and even the secretariat. Inevitably, when you win a stage in the Tour de France, the emotions come out and are multiplied by ten. »
Hugo Houle, of which Jurdie was the first sports director from 2013 to 2017, would have taken more.
“I found it good, it makes people discover our universe, but something was missing in terms of emotions,” testified the one who watched the series in tandem with his lover. “I expected more, honestly. »
His team, Israel-Premier Tech (IPT), did not “select” producers, so his dramatic win is missing from the show. “They would have had a good show,” agreed the Quebecer, although his opinion is not based on that.
He believes that Heart of the Pack suffers from comparison with Drive to Survive, the huge Netflix hit that took Formula 1 to a new level and inspired other sports. The lack of dramatic arc surrounding the evolution of the general classification, until the final victory of Jonas Vingegaard, left him on his appetite.
His teammate Guillaume Boivin fully shares this opinion. “They did a good job, but I think there was more crunch and drama than what they showed,” said the man who is about to play his third Tour in a row.
He evokes a skirmish between Jonathan Vaughters, CEO of EF Education-EasyPost, and his runner Alberto Bettiol. On the cobbles stage, the Italian appeared to be cooperating with UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar, while breakaway teammate Neilson Powless could head for the yellow jersey, which he eventually missed by 13 seconds.
“Apparently Vaughters ran into him quite a bit on the bus. It looks like they had it on video, but they didn’t show it. I would have liked to see that. »
Perhaps the formation, which had a certain right of inspection over the images, refused. As IPT shares its hotel with EF for the big departure, Boivin will be able to check for himself…
According to him, the series presents a somewhat sanitized universe that is not quite faithful to reality.
“There are rivalries in sports. It’s not true that everyone loves each other, gives each other high fives. It would be nice [to see that] to put on a good show. »
Julien Jurdie is at the origin of one of these more authentic moments. After a stage, he almost twists an arm of his injured leader Ben O’Connor to keep him going. Obviously flabbergasted, the Australian agreed to drag himself on an additional stage – the one won by Jungels – before packing up.
A year later, Jurdie is still pushing hard, saying “it’s the medical staff who decide” in the end. For context, he recalls that O’Connor wanted to retire after a crash on the first stage in 2021. He had been persuaded to get back in the saddle the next day, which led to a victory in Tignes and a fourth place in the general classification.
“It’s definitely tricky, eh. Inevitably, the runner, mentally, he will say to himself: “I have to stop, it’s too hard.” We have to find the right balance between listening and using our experience of the Tour which makes us say: “You must never let go of anything”, a value that the boss Vincent Lavenu instilled in us. »
Boivin was not surprised by this dynamic.
“I did a Giro d’Italia with a broken ankle on the second day. It’s always the same pattern: we have pressure, sports directors have managers, and managers have pressure from sponsors to win stages. So everyone is pushing to the limit. »
Perhaps that’s one of the strengths of Au coeur du peloton, Boivin reflects: there is no stress.” But there is so much pressure in the Tour de France. Pretty much all of the sponsor money is put into [this race]. »
Antoine Duchesne, who we see a few times during the episodes involving Groupama-FDJ, nevertheless believes that the production has insisted too heavily on the “suffering” and the “pain” inherent in the practice of this sport at the highest level.
Enthusiastic about the series in general, Duchesne would have liked the role of the team members to be better explained. “You only see me because I’m sitting between David [Gaudu] and Thibaut [Pinot] on the bus! »
The joyful scenes, like the one where he sings America is crying, from the Cowboys Fringants, in chorus with all his teammates, are too rare for his taste.
“We screwed up so much in this Tour! This is the grand tour where we laughed the most. It’s like that for many teams. »
But his main gripe is the way the production presented Wout van Aert, Vingegaard’s teammate who has at times shown his personal ambitions. The Belgian complained about it when the series was released, speaking of a desire to create “agitation” about an alleged tension with his leader.
“For me, he was the model team member of the Tour,” Duchesne said. They showed him as if he had an ego and wanted to win too. It’s a shame because he did such a great job. »
Vingegaard shared this opinion at a press conference on Thursday.
“In general [the series] is good for cycling, good for teams, but sometimes they try to create stories that don’t exist. Maybe we need to think more about how we answer in interviews…”
Too bad for the sequel, which Netflix confirmed on Friday.