Cédric Coutouly’s career as a cyclist was a good, not a great one. He came through the Crédit Agricole Espoirs system, but wasn’t picked up by the professional team, spent a year as an elite senior, then managed to get a spot on the Agritubel squad in 2005. Four years with Agritubel were followed by two with Saur-Sojasun, then retirement at the age of 30.
There are two questions the layman asks the professional cyclist. Did you ride the Tour de France? Did you win a race? To which Coutouly’s answers are yes, and no. He rode the Tour in 2006, where he finished in the top 100 on one stage and 133rd overall. He may never have won a race, but came heartbreakingly close – four second places, in Tro-Bro Léon, Paris-Camembert and two stages of the Tour du Limousin. You could describe Coutouly as the archetypal journeyman pro, though he didn’t have the team-hopping career longevity of many of his peers.
“I had a decent career as a pro. It was a nice job, and I enjoyed making my passion my job. It’s what anybody would want to do,” the now 37-year-old Frenchman says.
On retirement, Coutouly spent a year finding his feet. He did some driving for VIPs at bike races, including for ASO, then joined ASO’s race direction in February 2012. After having grown up in Albi, in the south, and spent his cycling career living there as well, he moved to Paris. Now he’s the assistant director of Paris-Tours, working with the race director François Lemarchand. “ASO organise a lot of races so there are a lot of us working in the area of competitions. I took on Paris-Tours, but I work across several races,” he says.
Coutouly can draw on his own experience of the race from his days as a professional – he took part in Paris-Tours four times, finishing it on all but one occasion. “I have good and bad memories. Some years there was so much wind. One year I climbed off at the feed, got into the bus and it was already full,” he laughs. “For me, this is the Classic of the falling leaves, of wind, autumn and a sprint. But there is also suspense in the finale,” he continues. “It’s a flat race, perhaps, but when you look at the winners, you see a lot of puncheurs on the list. Riders like Greg Van Avermaet and Philippe Gilbert have managed to counter the threat of the sprinters.
“Weather also plays a part. With a tailwind you get a really fast race, or you can have echelons after 50 kilometres. The important thing is that we want the most worthy winner and the most beautiful race. We want to give the riders a nice book, but they are the ones who have to write an interesting story.”
How does Coutouly maintain the race’s links to its long history while still developing in the modern era and remaining relevant?
“Do you really need to evolve a Classic? The strength of these events is their identity. We can change the parcours, but what makes Paris-Roubaix or Milan-San Remo is their history. We’ve had 111 editions of Paris-Tours. We think of the future, but we will always keep the roots, and remember that the roots of the race are older than us.”