To enter the collegiate church, whose Romanesque portal was adorned with a large picture of "Poupou" still on his bike in his old days, the coffin was worn by Bernard Hinault and Bernard Thevenet, two of the last three French winners. Tour still alive present with Lucien Aimar.
"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 ".
The latter, a two-time cyclo-cross world champion with a great future, accompanies the champion's widow and two other grandchildren, all of whom are greeted by sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
Massed at dawn behind the barriers blocking access to the collegiate, several hundred fans of the bike, some come in racing dress, follow the ceremony on a giant screen.
About 500 people attended in the Romanesque building at the religious ceremony mixing accordion, gospels and homage of the director of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme, who thanked Poupou, embodying "the France of always", for him "to have given the love of the Tour de France ".
– "Thank you Poupou" –
Daniel Mangeas, official "speaker" of the Tour de France for nearly four decades, 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.
All praised the "simplicity" of the runner, treating powerful and simple supporters in the same way. Former world champion Luc Leblanc has praised "a quiet man, a real man who has never forgotten his roots", recalling the "suffering in the peloton" of a champion who finished third in the Tour de France in over 40 years old ".
Outstanding rider, eight times on the Tour de France final podium between 1962 and 1976 without having worn the yellow jersey once, "Poupou" enjoyed immense popularity, with his exploits and "his humility and simplicity which made it even bigger, "said Mr. Darbon.
In spite of the cold weather, the inhabitants of Saint-Leonard wanted to pay him a last tribute, 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, Claude Mazeaud, 82, 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 blessing at the end of the ceremony, the admirers could gather in front of the coffin before the cremation planned in the afternoon in intimacy.
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.