Builders : Léandre Normand, Claude Pagé, Marc Lemay
Falling in love with cycling in the mid 1960s, Léandre Normand has managed to pass on this passion to a whole region thanks to his determination and dedication. He founded le Tour cycliste de l’Abitibi in 1969 and was its organizer for the first ten years. Although he physically moved away from his native region, his heart never left Abitibi-Témiscamingue, nor the Tour.
« Just to be considered for the Hall of Fame is something very moving. Even if people call you ‘Father of the Tour’, congratulate you, say bravo, thank you, the fact that it is officially recognized is very touching to me. » said Normand.
« There were so many events that were promising at the start but did not last, because no one was there to take over, because people could not continue for circumstances outside of their control. It’s quite an achievement that 50 years later, the Tour still exists. It is thanks to the passion of the people who carried the torch and who continued the work, despite the difficulties. » he commented.
A man of challenges known for being a go-getter, Claude Pagé perpetuated Léandre Normand’s work for 26 years at the direction of Tour de l’Abitibi, between 1979 and 2004. Originally from Baie-Saint-Paul but Abitibien at heart forever, he helped make the Tour an international event and set up several initiatives, the most spectacular being undoubtedly the underground Time Trial departure in 2001.
« Being inducted into the Tour Hall of Fame is a recognition, especially since it comes from my compatriots. When strangers tell you that you are beautiful, it’s nice, it’s rewarding. But when your compatriots tell you ‘we are very happy with what you did’, it’s an even more beautiful honor. » said Pagé.
«The Tour de l’Abitibi were the best years of my life. Contributing to the development of the Tour, to its internationalization, gave me a great degree of satisfaction. When I was walking near the finish line, it made me happy to hear people say that they were proud to see Russians at home, Dutch at home. It meant we had done something special. » he added.
A few years before the creation of le Tour de l’Abitibi, Marc Lemay was already a fan of cycling in his hometown of Amos. The Tour allowed him to fulfill this passion for three years as an athlete, between 1969 and 1971. His attachment to the Tour is undeniable and has never faded, whether as technical director, director, animator on stage and analyst. His love of cycling and his infectious energy have allowed him to occupy some of the most prestigious positions on the Canadian and international cycling scene.
« It’s thanks to the Tour de l’Abitibi if I climbed the stairs to go to the international level of cycling sport. If I had not had the Tour de l’Abitibi as a business card, to talk to the world, to introduce myself, I am sure that my career as an administrator at the Fédération québécoise, the Canadian Cycling Association, the International Cycling Union, would have been different. » shared Lemay.
« Le Tour de l’Abitibi is an extraordinary business card. No event in Abitibi receives national coverage like the Tour. This is the best form of advertising for the region. » he concluded.
Cyclists : Pierre Harvey, Éric Van den Eynde
After finishing in 18th place in his first Tour in 1974 in Rouyn-Noranda, the Rimouski native managed to regroup after a punctured tire at the 24th km mark of the fourth stage, between the cities of Noranda and La Sarre to rejoin the main peloton, win the race and grab the brown jersey. He kept it until the end. The following year, at the age of 19, he took part in his first Olympic Games in Montreal.
« It happens at a time when you are 16, 17, 18 years old and that is decisive in an athlete’s career. This is where you see if you have the potential to continue. You are used to running in your area, then in the province of Quebec, and then, you have riders coming from outside Quebec. The level of competition is increasing and often it’s the highest you’ve ever seen in your life. Of course, they are important memories. » said Harvey.
« It’s impressive to see that this event lasted so long and that the people continued to believe in it, to develop it, to keep it alive. I know what it takes to try to find sponsors. It takes people who have the inner fire. We often meet them in more remote regions. All the people gather around an event and it becomes their pride. » he added.
Éric Van den Eynde
Born in Belgium, Éric Van den Eynde lived through three different eras at le Tour cycliste de l’Abitibi, starting with his beginnings as an athlete in the early 70s. His talent and tenacity helped him make history in 1972 when he became the first cyclist to finish the event with the brown jersey for two consecutive years. Only two other cyclists have achieved such a feat since. Back in northwestern Quebec in the mid 80s as head of the Quebec team, Éric Van den Eynde made headlines again by being named best sports director at the Tour in 1985, 1986 and 1994.
« Such a reward is always interesting because at some point in your life, you have shown intensity and somebody recognizes that in that particular time, you did something that for many people seems extraordinary. It’s flattering after so many years. » commented Van den Eynde.
« Without the administrators, there is no Tour. If you follow a logical chain, these people are the most important. I would never have won the Tour if Léandre Normand had not started the Tour. I think it starts there, with the administrators. » he added.
Partners : Ville de Val-d’Or
A 21-time host city, the City of Val-d’Or has adopted the Tour de l’Abitibi consecutively between 1999 and 2010. In addition to the hundreds of athletes it has seen in its streets, is just as many volunteers and citizens here who have supported the Tour with their time and their hearts.
« The City of Val-d’Or is truly present. I am personally and deeply convinced that if Val-d’Or had not been in the background we would not be here to celebrate the 50th anniversary. »