From a distance it sounds like a baritone hum, a foghorn being sounded a long way away. Closer up, you can hear more: the rhythmic allegretto of short sentences, broken into their constituent parts by the occasional pause for breath, each phrase a crescendo culminating in the triumphant announcement of a name, followed by a burst of applause that punctuates the whole like a set of exclamation marks.
Closer again, you can hear the detail. Names, statistics, results, the dramatic pauses, the suffixation of ‘-euh’ to every other word, the unmistakable gravelly, barking hoarseness. This is the voice of cycling. It belongs to Daniel Mangeas.
Ed Pickering penned these fine words for Rouleur in 2014, marking the occasion of Mangeas’ final Tour de France after a remarkable 41 editions.
Should you have the misfortune never to have visited a Tour stage in person, allow us to set the scene.
At the village départ, as 170-plus men mounted the stage to sign on of a morning, he was there leading the line, with a stunningly accurate recall of each and every rider’s palmarès. He may have held a page of notes in his hand, but rarely consulted them. As Ed found at the Mangeas family home in Normandy, there is a folder of closely-types rider profiles on his work desk, listing wins and dates (Dario Cataldo required three lines, Mark Cavendish, two pages). But the ability of Mangeas to commit to memory so many races and riders was phenomenal, making those pulled aside on stage for a word with the MC relaxed and at ease.
Later in the day, Mangeas would be at the mic again at the stage finish, working the crowd awaiting the arrival of the peloton. That unmistakable voice would wash over you, even if much of the meaning was lost on a non-fluent French speaker. It was a reassuring background sound that for more than 40 years made race fans feel welcome; feel they had arrived at Le Tour for real.
How Mangeas landed the speaker role in the first place was something of a fluke. The car of then-Tour speaker Pierre Shori broke down en route to the Pla d’Adet stage finish in 1974. Mangeas stepped into the breach with aplomb, Shori retired two years later, and the Tour unwittingly found its voice.
And what a voice. As The Inner Ring perfectly describes it, “each syllable is stressed, a vocal ticker tape … Above all there’s a warmth, you sense just how keen he is to present the riders to the waiting public.”
As for the unique style and lengthy “euh” added to every utterance in place of punctuation, Mangeas does not talk like that in real life, of course. He adopted what became his signature style to buy a little time and gather his thought processes on the hoof – not that you’d notice.
“I’ve always done it, he told Ed Pickering. “It gives me a small amount of time to think about what I’m going to say next. That extra tenth of a second is indispensable for getting the rest of what I am saying right.”
We beg to differ. The announcement of Romain Bardet when Mangeas is on stage goes something like this: “Romain-euh… Bardet-yuuuuuuuh.” This can take several seconds, not a tenth.
And that is exactly what makes him a unique voice in the sport. He is universally liked and respected throughout the cycling world (how many commenters can you say that about?) for his love of the subject matter, a lifelong passion since uttering his first words as a child: “Robic-Bobet”, his parents maintained; for his encyclopaedic knowledge of bike races and racers; for his unique delivery, cutting through the noise with a voice you could listen to all day long.
As I write this, we are watching the new Mont Ventoux race in the office. No disrespect to the Eurosport commentary team, but we wish they would shut up, just for a minute. In the background, picked up by the microphones accompanying the camera crew, that’s the wonderful sound of Daniel Mangeas drifting away on the wind atop the sparsely-populated mountain. All is right with the world.
He continues to work on French races, despite retiring from the Tour. And long may he do so. As a Patron inductee to the Rouleur Hall of Fame, I can think of few who merit inclusion more than Monsieur Mangeas – a true servant and legend of cycle sport.
Over the coming months the Rouleur team will be making the case for each of the 18 Cycling Hall of Fame nominees. Vote for Mangeas – or any of the other nominees – below.
Read more from our Cycling Hall of Fame 2019, “The case for…” series: