The Tour Down Under begins in a few days’ time and the last two editions have seen Australian fans adopt an “obscure pro” and give him special encouragement. In 2010 they chose French neo-pro Arthur Vichot and last year it was Angel Madrazo of Movistar. This year Wouter Mol of the Vacansoleil-DCM team is the pick.
Vichot was a bit stunned, he turned up to find he was getting more attention than most. Fans had T-shirts with his name printed and the roads of South Australia were painted with his name. Surprised, he enjoyed the experience and told his former amateur team about it:
“The cycling club in Adelaide decided to support a young unknown rider who didn’t speak English… and they picked me. Their aim was to encourage the rider and to support him all throughout the tour like a Lance Armstrong or a Cadel Evans! And that’s just what they did, they were mental, they wrote my name on the road, had T-shirts in my name and I heard “Go Vichot” everywhere…
…I never expected this, especially in Australia where I didn’t know anybody and I’d never been before. If it had happened in the Tour du Doubs [a race near Vichot's home] I would have understood it, but over there? I tried to enjoy it whilst staying focussed on the race and above all trying to be available and open to all the Aussies, it was the least I could do when I saw the effort they used to encourage me. And with the media, I was asked a lot and I started doing interviews in English.“
Vichot seems to have enjoyed the experience. He took several top-10 placings in his first season as a pro and went on to win a stage of Paris-Corrèze in August too and last year he managed two more wins and sixth place in a stage of the Tour de France.
Last year’s candidate Angel Madrazo is also a rider to watch for and it’s very likely he wins something this year. A rider with a muscular riding style, he was seen on the offensive in the closing moments of several races last year and if these efforts didn’t work out, they’re a sign he’s got the power for the last half hour of a race.
Mol isn’t a star of cycling but he’s not totally obscure either. Now entering his fourth season as a pro, his biggest win was the Tour of Qatar in 2010 and he’s stood on the podium in a couple of other races but his main job is working for the team. He’s hard to miss being 1.95m tall (6″5′) and a solid 83kg. He’s from North Holland and his surname is Dutch for “mole”, as in subterranean mammal.
Some have said there are more obscure riders to support but this isn’t a contest to pick the most unknown rider, more a chance to pick a rider who doesn’t normally get the limelight so it’s all in good fun. Plus Mol is easy to paint.