Interview with Alain Mompert, Ambassador of Tour de Pologne, Advisor to Chief Commissaire
What made you come to Poland?
I came here in 1989 a bit by accident, for a holiday. 29 July, 3 PM, bypass road in Osowa, I remember it like it was yesterday. When I was crossing the state border in Kolbaskowo, I could speak no Polish at all. All words were so difficult for me. I was travelling with my Polish girlfriend and we spent the previous evening with a Polish family in Hannover. By midnight I could understand almost everything [laughs], or I thought so at least. I remembered one phrase in particular, that is “Na zdrowie!” [Eng: “Cheers!”]. Probably because it was repeated over and over again that evening. Looking at my French passport, a border guard said “Francja elegancja” and I responded “Na zdrowie!”, of course.
How did you join Tour de Pologne?
Several years ago I met Piotr Wadecki. He was then an aspiring professional cyclist. His father-in-law introduced him to me in Żukowo, a small place near Trójmiasto. Piotr was dreaming of taking part in Tour de France and I promised he would have my support once his dream comes true. And it did in 2000. Piotr was the first Polish rider to complete the whole tour, which is very hard indeed. I invited his father and father-in-law to France and showed them the tour. It was in July. Tour de Pologne was then held in September. I came to Poland as a VIP for the first time and met Czesław Lang. That’s how my adventure with Lang Team and Tour de Pologne started. I did Radio Tour in French and made friends with Czesław and his team. Then, I was asked to drive chief commissaire’s car. It is not as simple as it may seem, because it takes more than just driving. You have to look around all the time, especially when you head downhill, because riders are everywhere. We care for safety and we, of course, have to follow all safety rules.
What is the most heart-warming about Tour de Pologne for someone who has been its part for 21 years?
I would say my Polish wife [laughs]. She has been supporting Tour de Pologne and Lang Team ever since we got married. Tour de Pologne is first of all a perfectly prepared World Tour UCI race. Excellent organization, safety measures and signposting, top hotels for athletes. Tour de France does not offer such high quality accommodation, believe me. The way Lang Team cares about safety and comfort of the teams is world-class. What is more, the tour is a great opportunity to show the beauty of Poland wherever live television broadcasts are available. It’s best when the event is professionally organized, runs smoothly, the weather does not disturb riders and encourages spectators to come and cheer the athletes.
How has Tour de Pologne changed over the past 21 years?
Tour de Pologne is now a part of the World Tour, which means that all UCI’s requirements must be fulfilled. It is worth noting here that in the UCI ranking, Tour de Pologne scores 98 points out of 100 possible. Almost maximum. Riders and their teams like coming to Poland. Excellent organization, cheering fans, beautiful cities…
How do you think Czesław Lang contributes to the event?
His charisma is what without any doubt matters most. He just has what it takes. Czesław mobilizes, encourages, inspires others with his love to cycling. Whenever he asks for something, it is hard to say no. He has built something really big and I’m not saying that only because we stick together. He has created Tour de Pologne as we know it today. I think that if he wanted to stand in the election for the president of Poland, he would win with 89% of the votes [laughs].
Which events of your 21-year-long history with Tour de Pologne do you remember most?
I remember the race that Lech Wałęsa started in Gdańsk with the finish planned in Bydgoszcz. Suddenly, shortly after the start, terrible wind came out, snapped trees and threw huge branches straight on the road. Lashing rain. The chief commissaire said „Let’s wait three minutes and see what happens”. The situation looked really grave and we thought the race would have to be stopped. Health and life of the competitors is our number one priority. A while later everything changed. The sun came out and the race continued. I also remember one of the cyclists who died while riding in the race two years ago. There was no accident. He just collapsed and died. Terrible, but such things happen, unfortunately. To honour him, all participants of the race wrote his number “153”. All of them. Another treasured memory I will never forget is that of 2008. One of the courses was located in Oświęcim, right next to the concentration camp. A day earlier, together with the chief commissaire we visited the camp and lay flowers. But what stuck in my mind in particular is the picture of the ceremonial start. The whole column switched off all radio signals and microphones when passing the camp, and stopped in front of its gate in silence. A representative of each nation that participated in the tour approached the gate and lay a rose to commemorate the murdered. Even today I’ve got chills when I’m talking about it. That’s what Poland knows how to do best.