Lucien Blyau Obituary

Lucien Blyau

Lucien Blyau has died on his 91st birthday. He was one of the characters of the Tour de France and beyond, a dedicated supporter and quencher of thirst.

Born in 1925 into a family of farmers from Everbeek in Belgium, Blyau got into cycling and had a successful start, winning the amateur Tour of Belgium in 1947 and with 11 wins he turned pro with the Peugeot team only to a crash in the 1949 Omloop Het Volk and break his kneecap. This effectively ended his career and he started working on his parents farm near Brakel and jobbing as a plasterer.

He was from Everbeek and became a supporter of Belgian champion Claude Criquielion from Deux Acren, a short walk away but the other side of the Flemish-Walloon divide. “If I can’t ride the Tour de France then I can drive it” he often said and in 1975 he began to follow the race with his Bedford camper van to support “Criq”, under the banner of a Belgian flag marked with the wordplay slogan “Cri ! Qui ? Les Lions“. He started passing up water to Criquielion and his team mates. Then others saw him handing up bottles and wanted some too. He could hardly say no. He told Het Nieuwsblad that some preferred a pale ale and Blyau duly supplied them. A habit had formed.

Blyau became a roadside fixture for 35 years and part of the peaceful convoy of campervans that follows the Tour de France and other races. Not for them outrageous costumes and selfie-sticks, just banners and applause offered up to the riders.

Blyau went further and by handing up drinks to the riders. “Each day I try to stand about 20km from the finish on an uphill part where the riders won’t come past too fast. I hand up small bottles of water and cans of coke. I must say my bar’s quite the success” he told Belgian sports paper La DH. Only unlike other bars there was no tab or bill to pay for the riders. He’d stock up on supplies at his own expense, handing out about 800 drinks during the Tour according to DH. “Many friends think I’m mad when I tell them I pay for it all out of my own pocket. I tell them it’s my greatest pleasure and that’s something money can’t buy. He wasn’t just at the Tour, attending many other races during the season which added to the expense and especially the pleasure.

Blyau’s regularity meant dependability. Riders won’t take drinks from random people for fear they’re spiked; any water taken from a fan is used for cooling, not drinking. But Blyau and his partner Marie-Thérèse were trusted and their drinks got drunk by every passing rider in need. In turn this brought recognition and gratitude, Cadel Evans gave him a signed rainbow jersey; ASO gave him official accreditation so he could park his camper van amid the team buses if he liked.

Blyau was part cycling’s family in more ways than one. His son-in-law is Hilaire Van der Schueren another farmer and the current Wanty-Groupe Gobert manager and a fixture on the Belgian scene. It was this connection that saw Blyau dressed in Collstrop kit to hand up his drinks, there was no sponsorship but the green jersey was easy to spot. In recent years he cut a frail figure – search and you’ll find video of him on Youtube – but always enjoyed his service. This summer he was too ill to travel and died this week.

Blyau is worth reflecting on. These days a minority, but an all too visible one, try to exploit the Tour de France and television for a Warholian 15 seconds of infamy as they endanger the riders with their antics. Their presence is subtractive, they’re trying to take something from the event. There’s nothing wrong costumes and antics, see Didi Senft, better known as The Devil and famous for his regular, friendly if eccentric presence at races too. Millions of ordinary people add to the glory with their presence and cries of Allez! but Blyau was special. It’s too late to buy him a drink but the next time you sip a can of coke or drain bottle of cold beer, raise a toast to Lucien, the ultimate supporter.

43 thoughts on “Lucien Blyau Obituary”

  1. RIP.
    thanks for drawing our attention to the late M.Blyau
    Particularly happy to hear how he didn’t ask for anything apart from the pleasure of offering support. Too many things have become monitised or done for visibility as your last paragraph alludes to. By all means lets move forward but with a better sense of value.

  2. Thanks for the article IG. It is people like Lucien Blyau who make the sport both exceptional and special.

    Those driven only by financial reward would do well to understand the simple unselfish pleasures enjoyed by many of the sports supporters. RIP Blyau, and thank you for your generosity of spirit.

  3. Stories as this gems as they are would not exist in my world if not for this blog. Thanks for enlightening me of the sad passing of such an exceptional individual. I will take this as a nudge to do more to make my local cycling community better.

  4. If racers are a special breed, then serious race fans are more so. With no chance of glory ( or even exercise), many of these unremarked upon individuals expend their energy promoting the sport that they love and creating a loving glow around their special interest. Long live the fan. When their enthusiasms are pure, they kindle other enthusiastic responses, and culture actually Works! Thanks for the fine article.

  5. Nice piece, thanks for posting this, but why the 3rd photo? Sadly, too many want to ape that stinky guy in the devil costume and draw attention to themselves rather than enjoy the race at the roadside like Mr. Blyau. I know this devil character has become kind of a beloved fixture at the races and that he’s rarely in the way of the race- but he’s the one I blame for inspiring a whole legion of morons (whether in costume or not) who seem to be only interested in a few seconds of TV “fame”.
    I can still remember escorting some clients at the TdF in the early 1990’s – they insisted we stop so they could have their photo taken with this fellow (which is how I learned of his, well…”aroma”) like he was some sort of hero! I shook my head then and I shake it now when I see the antics he’s inspired.
    RIP Mr. Blyau.

  6. Lovely story and sadly someone whom I had never heard of RIP Lucien Blyau. What wonderful selfless effort and enthusiasm you brought to the race over the years. Just wonderful.

  7. I saw that piece on him during last year’s Tour. Watching the French transmission, I had a small idea of the story but nearly all the detail passed me by. However, the images of this ancient bloke in an old pro jersey and cap passing up small cans of Coke to guys in the autobus, all the while with a lovely smile, stuck in my head.

    Thank you, Inrng, for filling in the blanks. RIP Lucien Blyau.

  8. Thanks for this. A lovely story and it’s wonderful that he got to live and breathe his passion right up to the age of 90. Sounds like he was a great man!

  9. This sort of post is one of the things that really sets the Inner Ring apart. A wonderful read – thank you. Heartwarming to hear recognition from Evans and I’m sure others too. RIP.

  10. Chapeau to Inrng for bringing this to our attention and chapeau to Lucien. A truly remarkable and selfless man. I rarely contribute to the comments on this amazing site but was moved to do so with this story. Heartfelt wishes to his family and friends.

  11. I am very surprised to see how many have never heard of Lucien. This throws a small highlight on exactly what is wrong with certain cycling media.

    Yesterday I’ve read a good article about Mo Farah, who – like some journalists too – is surprised that journalists ask questions. In this article was a line, that expressed exactly what I feel: Today many athletes, journalists and fans seem to have forgotten, that journalists are not mere cheerleaders. It is their job to ask questions and to report.

  12. Another aspect of Lucien that often went unseen? Former pros – who are now sport directors – slowing to wave or share a pleasantly as they made their way to the finish in a team car.

    Once a recipient of Lucian’s generosity, this was the opportunity to thank him again and again for his kindness and say hello.

  13. I had heard that he was seriously ill and wouldn’t be at the 2016 Tour after the tweets by McEwen, Cancellara and Museeuw before the Tour started.

    Sad to hear he has died, and thanks for the excellent story celebrating the special part he played at the Tour.

  14. I have had the pleasure of being offered a small tin of coke one morning pre-riding one of the stages in 2011, either St. Flour or in the valley heading toward Plateau des Beilles, more likely the latter, it was blerry hot that day, and I was in a stupor, I just remember this kindly fellow gently saying something as he swished a cold coke into my hand, I remember thinking about his jersey and cap, and I must find him tomorrow to thank him. Course I never did. But I dint forget the kindness. Bless him. Whilst I’m thinking of St. Flour it was the first time I stopped at the VW bar, now that’s an experience! I know not much about the guys, but could you enlighten us at all sir? The second was on the back side of the Perysourde, with some Belgium lads and some crazy ass Basque fellas, such an education learning about Belgium beer and trying to ride back to where I was parked!

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