Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat (France) (AFP)

Hundreds of friends, cycling champions but also anonymous are expected on Tuesday morning in the small town of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, in Haute-Vienne (center), to pay a last tribute to Raymond Poulidor, who died on Wednesday. 83 years old.

The funeral of this legend of cycling, organized "in his image" in the simplicity, will be celebrated from 10:00 in the Saint-Leonard collegiate of the commune where the sportsman resided since his youth, indicated to AFP one organizers of the ceremony Raymond Thomas, who was the pastor from 2003 to 2012.

Alongside the family, the winners of the Tour de France, Bernard Hinault, Bernard Thevenet, Lucien Aimar, the double winner of Paris-Roubaix Marc Madiot, the former director of La Grande Boucle Jean-Marie Leblanc, or the widow, are expected. and the daughter of former world champion Jean Stablinski. Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu is also announced.

"He was a very simple man, a non-practicing believer, very far from the church but at the same time very tolerant, and a celebration in his image," Thomas said.

"We really want it to be happy, like Raymond," added Luc Leblanc, 1994 world champion, close since childhood the most popular French cyclist.

Racer with remarkable track record despite his reputation "eternal second", placed 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 an immense popularity, as much by its exploits as by its sportiness and its simplicity.

The ceremony will begin with the accordion tunes of a group of Monédières, from the neighboring department of Corrèze. The Bol d'Or of the Monédières, critérium mixing bike and accordion, "is where Raymond revealed himself as a cyclist," said Raymond Thomas.

- "Even from Japan" -

Before the blessing, singer Lilla will perform Edith Piaf's "Hymn to Love", Raymond's favorite song, according to Leblanc.

His three grandchildren, including two-time Dutch cyclo-cross world champion Mathieu van der Poel, will place candles on the coffin.

Two religious texts will be read, one on sport, the other on friendship.

A large portrait of "Poupou" on his bike, making a goodbye gesture, was installed outside the college. Inside, in the choir, were hung two large images - a photograph and a painting - of the champion struggling with his two historical rivals, Jacques Anquetil during a mythical duel of the two men at the summit of Puy-de-Dôme. Dome, and Eddy Merckx.

Some 400 people will be able to attend the funeral inside the collegiate but a giant screen was installed on the square next to the church, to allow the greatest number to attend the ceremony.

In this city of 5,000 inhabitants, the campsite was exceptionally open to accommodate motorhomes, authorities waiting for the arrival of many admirers, "even Japan," according to Mr. Leblanc.

The cortege will leave Saint-Léonard at a slow speed, 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.

© 2019 AFP