Gainsbarre: Serge Gainsbourg and the Bike Race

The podium photo depicts a rather puzzled-looking Bryan Alaphilippe, younger brother of Quick Step’s talented puncheur Julian, holding a bouquet of flowers and what appears to be a cardboard cut out cartoon version of a notorious French chanteur and songwriter who died before Bryan had even started school.


And that is, indeed, exactly what the younger Alaphillipe is clutching, flanked by the second and third finishers with their own gradually diminishing-sized figures, depending on their podium position. None of them look too happy about the situation, truth be told.


The Gainsbarre race has run each April since 2004 in La Manche, named in honour of possibly the least likely bike racing fan in the world – Serge Gainsbourg.

Alaphilippe, Gainsbarre

The hard-drinking, chain-smoking, womanising, multi-faceted Frenchman’s career contains two standout memorable moments worth noting. Je t’aime, his 1969 Europe-wide smash hit, was banned by many of the countries in which it topped the charts, on account of the orgasmic moaning and groaning of Gainsbourg’s young lover, Jane Birkin, which accompanied the brilliantly catchy organ riff running throughout the song. It sold over four million copies, aided no doubt by the radio ban.


Whilst hesitating to recommend the Rouleur reader should be distracted in any way from the serious reading matter in hand, the YouTube clip of Gainsbourg’s extraordinary live chat show appearance from 1986 has to be seen to be believed.


The clearly ratted old soak is all over fellow guest Whitney Houston, mumbling incoherently into his microphone, before exclaiming in English: “I want to ferk ‘er.” Presenter Michel Drucker tries and fails to explain away the faux pas, offering a translation of “I’d like to buy you flowers”, but Houston’s facial expression makes it clear she understood the drunken slurring perfectly well. It is a jawdropping moment of television history.


And Gainsbourg’s connection to cycling, you ask? In a rather less drunken television appearance three years later, he handed over a cheque for the equivalent of €15,000 to the cycling club of La Haye-du-Puits in La Manche, a handful of kilometres from last year’s Tour de France stage 2 route to Cherbourg. The club returned the favour on the launch of its race in 2004, titling it “Gainsbarre” – the singer’s self-appointed (and quite grotesque) alter ego.


Winners of note include the elder Alaphilippe brother, Julian, back in 2011, and Dimitri Claeys two years later, now better known for riding in the break at the 2016 Tour of Flanders with his jersey flapping in the wind, finishing a creditable ninth despite his self-imposed un-aero attire. Tracking down podium shots of these two proved fruitless, but I’m guessing they look just as puzzled as last year’s triumphant trio clutching their cardboard figures.


Je t’aime Gainsbarre? The race, sure. Why not? The man? Not so much, frankly.


Illustration courtesy of Lizzie Campbell



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