Almost every morning at the Tour de France, if you listen carefully to the unmissable podium presentation, there’s usually, at one point, a diversion from the ordinary schedule. Amid the usual fluff – the interview with Peter Sagan, the roar for Thibaut Pinot, and the Tour’s catchy announcement music – if you listen carefully, you might just hear the strains of
Happy Birthday To You.
It’s not a nice rendition, it should be said, with the Tour composers trying a bit too hard to tie it in with the race’s usual jingles, so it comes out sounding electronic and strangled.
Birthdays are not unusual at the Tour; 176 riders start and the race happens over 23 days, so the odds are not low for an individual to have their special day. Essentially, if you are a July baby and a professional cyclist, the chances are you will have a bemused crowd in a random French town, at a stage start, singing happy birthday to you at some point of your career.
For Jordi Meeus (Bora-Hansgrohe), the 1 July was not only the first ever time the German had pinned on his race numbers at the Tour de France, but it was his 25th birthday. Some day.
“It’s super special,” Meeus told
Cycling Weekly. “It’s my first Tour, so to already be here it is super special, and yeah, first Tour stage on my birthday, makes it even more special. I had a cake, it was pretty nice.
“I think for my first Tour, I couldn’t think of a better birthday than yesterday, so it’s super nice. We will see in the future if I keep thinking like this, but I enjoyed yesterday a lot.”
He was not the only man to have his birthday on stage one, that was shared by Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar), who turned 24.
“It’s nice, it’s awesome,” the American explained. “They sang happy birthday to me after the presentation, it’s a good vibe.” However, unliked Meeus: “No, definitely no cake.”
(Image credit: Getty Images)
For some, having a birthday at the Tour de France is a life goal realised. That was the case of Lars van den Berg (Groupama-FDJ, who also turned 25 this year, on stage seven.
“It’s special, riding the Tour is something you dream of and to have your birthday too, it’s something really special,” the Dutchman explained. “I would rather be doing nothing. If you’re doing the Tour de France… you only have a few opportunities in your life, so I’d rather be here. That would be great if I could have a few more, I would sign for that right now.”
Unlike any normal person, however, professional riders can hardly celebrate their birthday. There’s no party, no beer, no gathering with your family and friends – unless your friends are your teammates.
Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) has experienced quite a few birthdays at the Tour over the years, with 10 editions under his belt, and so is a bit tired of the very average celebration he experiences on the roads of France.
“I’d prefer if I was at home,” the Norwegian explained. “No, you can’t celebrate at all. I will get a cake after dinner, not for dinner. It’s not a big celebration, in the mountains I think. I don’t think I ever did really well on my birthday, so I cannot pick out one.
“I’ve had no great results either [on my birthday]. Maybe the first time I had a chance, but I got dropped. Before I turned pro I had some good memories, but not after. After I retire it will be better, with my family. At least I got a song this morning from my kids.”
One also had to feel for Chris Juul-Jensen (Jayco-AlUla), who has had two of the hardest days he has experienced on his bike over the last two years, on his birthday.
“Last year it was the cobbled stage, this year it’s a mountain stage,” he said. “If it wasn’t for seeing it on social media, and my family, then I probably have given it too much thought this morning, especially given we have three massive mountains to get over.
“Any birthday surrounded with all my mates, if I can’t spend with my family… it’s the next best option. Regardless of what kind of stage it is, it’s enjoyable. I expect a cake.”
Given the relentless of the Tour, it escapes some rider’s minds. “I don’t know what day it is, but it’s on 8 July. To be honest, I don’t care at all,” Phil Bauhaus (Bahrain-Victorious) said. “I think it’s a possible sprint day, but it’s the same motivation.
“Of course, you like to get messages from your family or friends, but for me it’s more important that they will congratulate me on a result. It’s hard work, so I won’t be able to enjoy it that much.”
(Image credit: Getty Images)
Philippe Gilbert celebrated 12 birthdays at the Tour de France over his career, but thanks to his work with GCN+/Eurosport at the race, still hasn’t made it home for one, despite rertiring.
“It’s always special, you get a lot of attention,” the Belgian said. “It’s a special day because everyone wants to celebrate your birthday. I would say it’s an extra stress but it’s a nice moment. But in the end, you try to focus on those moments and also to try and enjoy your job.
“Yesterday, I was on the motorway, so it was more relaxed, a lot of sport directors came and wished me something. I enjoy it more, but at the end od the day I would prefer to be with my family now. “
It is not just current and former riders who have their birthdays on Tour. Another lucky man is Ned Boulting, the ITV commentator. The nature of the Tour means that his experience of the special day is also disrupted.
“I almost forgot in the morning, I always require someone to remind me,” Boulting said. “On this occasion, it was Eurosport’s Laura Meseguer, who came out of a lift and said happy birthday to me. She has a birthday on Tour as well, it’s lodged in her memory for some reason. For 21 years she’s told me happy birthday.
“I’m embracing it, but my youngest kid is 20 and has never been with me on my birthday, ever. I’ve been at it for so long, I’ve probably had another birthday in Issoire.”
“We may be on the same race but we live in different worlds,” he said of the difference between himself and the riders. “The whole thing about celebrating a birthday on the Tour de France is quite mad, because it just flips past, it just happens. It happens so often, so many of us celebrate our birthdays on the Tour, because it’s so flipping long.”
It’s not all bad; Boulting can actually have a mini party and drink. “Early on, I had a rest day on my birthday, when Chris Boardman was still quite new to ITV, and we were in Chamonix,” he said. “We had a big, slightly boozy lunch, with culminated in Chris Boardman ringing up my parents to berate them that they’d forgotten. Olympic medallist Chris Boardman.”
Just remember, next time you switch on the Tour de France, that it is more likely than not that one of the peloton will be celebrating their birthday. It probably won’t e fun, though.