To enter the collegiate church, whose Romanesque portal was decorated with a large picture of "Poupou" still on his bike in his old days, the coffin was worn by the great champions Bernard Hinault and Bernard Thevenet, two of the last three winners of the Tour present with Lucien Aimar. At the sound of the accordion, played several times around the coffin.
"Unjustly called + the eternal second + in view of his tremendous sports career with exceptional record, he has conquered the hearts of our grandparents, our parents and our children", summed up at the beginning of the ceremony Alain Darbon, mayor of this village of Haute-Vienne where lived the former champion.
"We will miss him, for sure, it's a big void," sighs Bernard Thevenet, winner of two Tours de France, hailing a champion "known intergenerational way." Known by people who have not seen it on A bike! What we can regret is that he will not see all the successes of his grandson Mathieu van der Poel ".
He is a two-time cyclo-cross world champion and accompanies the champion's widow and two other grandchildren, all honored by sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
Massed at dawn behind the barriers blocking access to the collegiate, several hundred bike enthusiasts, some come in racing dress, follow the ceremony on a giant screen.
About 500 people took place in the Romanesque building, for a religious ceremony mixing accordion, gospels or tribute of the director of the tour of France Christian Prudhomme, who thanked Poupou, embodying "the France of always", for from childhood "to have given the love of the Tour de France".
– "Thank you Poupou" –
Daniel Mangeas, "speaker", official commentator of the Tour de France for 43 years, recalled the very long list of victories of "Poupou": 189 in his career, including the legendary duel with Jacques Anquetil in the Puy de Dome, which made rank the 1964 Tour among the largest.
Racer with remarkable track record despite his reputation "eternal second", eight times on the final podium of the Tour de France between 1962 and 1976 without having worn once the yellow jersey, the champion affectionately nicknamed "Poupou" enjoyed a immense popularity, by his exploits and "his humility and simplicity that made him even bigger," recalled Mr. Darbon.
In the choir of the collegiate, were hanging two large images – a photograph and a painting – of the champion struggling with his two historical rivals, Anquetil, and Eddy Merckx.
Despite the cold weather, the inhabitants of Saint-Leonard paid a last tribute to him, like Jeanine, "very sad, he did so much for the notoriety of Saint-Leonard.When on vacation we talked about our village the people we answered + the village of Poulidor +, "she said sobs in her voice.
In the college, 82-year-old Claude Mazeaud came from Lalinde in the Dordogne, 2h30 drive. "I was a teammate with him in 62 and 63. It's very hard for me, it's a picture of the cycling that is disappearing, our generation, we were really friends," he says. "I went to see him in the hospital when he was sick, he was in pain".
At the entrance of Saint-Leonard, a large banner above the road "Thank you Poupou" with photo of Poulidor, greets the visitors of this town which also has an avenue and a stadium in the name of the champion. The village of 5,000 inhabitants has reopened its campsite, to accommodate the most faithful motorhomes.
After the ceremony, the cortege must cross Saint-Leonard for a last salute, before the cremation planned in intimacy in the afternoon.
A tribute will also be paid to the champion on the occasion of the passage of the Tour de France in the town, on July 9, during the 12th stage. The "Great Loop" had already passed twice in the Limousin village, in 2004 for a start of stage then in 2016 for the 80 years of the champion.