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Solving the Puzzle of the Secret Wheels

Words: Brad Roe; Images: Chris Auld & James Startt

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“Every word has consequences. Every silence, too.”

— Jean-Paul Sartre

Most visitors don’t go to family-owned Mexican restaurants in Andorra. While there, few diners would order ceviche in an oversized goblet and even fewer would back that up with a brave order of nachos stacked with local chorizo. But this is how I met Gaëtan Goron. He’s a journalist from Paris who was covering his first Tour de France and found the driver who delivered the Princeton CarbonWorks to Mathieu van der Poel’s mechanic that helped the Dutch star keep the yellow jersey on the stage 5 time trial at the Tour. But that’s not really the story.

I was eating with Gaëtan and his colleagues when he told me how the secret delivery happened. It’s a story that is partly about sponsor dynamics, cycling and late-night deliveries by a Dutch hotelier in the Pyrénées (who I later met and interviewed). It’s also a story about his math savant brother, a socialist French newspaper started by Jean-Paul Sartre and the meditative task of making six crossword puzzles a week.

solving the puzzle
Image: Chris Auld

The world’s very first published crossword puzzle was created by Arthur Wynne in 1913 and appeared in the Sunday, December 21 edition of the New York World. “When you look at the first crossword puzzle, it seems cute that it had to include instructions on how to complete the grid,” said the author of “The Crossword Century,” Alan Connor. “What the experience makes you realize is how natural the practice of solving has become.” Crossword puzzles soon became a common if not daily occurrence in American newspapers. And within a few more years the puzzles crossed the Atlantic and became commonplace in Europe.


“My name is Gaëtan Goron and I work for Libération, the French daily newspaper…. My normal job is to create puzzles. I am a journalist; I went to journalism school. I worked in Qatar in radio and then in France and another five years in radio. At that time I wanted to try something else and I love creating crossword puzzles so I started to make them and send them to my brother. I’ve worked at Libération for six years and I’ve created 2,000 puzzles for them. Six per week.

“It takes me roughly three to four hours to make a puzzle. It’s a creative process though, so sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I need three full days to create six puzzles. It can be about everything, anything, not just cycling. I know when I hear a word the number of letters and I can see it in a puzzle.

“I have three brothers. The oldest is Guillaume. He is 36 and he’s a math teacher in English and in French in a private school in Paris and he helps me solve all my puzzles and finds any mistakes I may have made. He lives in my parents’ home in the country in a small village. When we were children we played these kinds of games with letters and I know he’s very clever and the smartest person I have ever met.

“He loves to help me and I can’t do it without him. I love working with him because I know it’s important for him as well. It takes him four minutes to complete my puzzles, which is very fast. A very hard one takes him five and a half minutes. He doesn’t solve any other puzzles other than mine. He won three major competitions in France in logic and mathematics when we were younger.

gaetan goron
Image: James Startt.

“I wrote the story about the magical wheels of Mathieu van der Poel. L’Équipe [had written] a short story about a Dutch guy who brought MVDP the wheels to ride on stage 5 of the Tour de France. This journalist got the information from the Dutch press and I wanted to know more, so I tried to find him. I understood that the guy owned a hostel so I decided to go there. I called his wife and booked a room and drove to their hotel.

“I came at 12 p.m. and he was cutting the grass outside. I spent the day with them and learned about his story. His wife is such a good cook that Team DSM hired her to make food for them. I ate a plate of different French hams and salmon. Before and at dinner, he told me the story about his adventure delivering the wheels.

“When I [first] heard about the secret wheels, I saw there was a story. I had to try and find the answers. I found the story funny and decided I had to find the driver. I never do anything like this. I’m only the puzzle maker. I don’t write articles normally. I’m a member of the company so I was free to send [any story to the newspaper]. I did all my puzzles before I left.”


“My name is Mark Budder and my wife Elma and I created Les Deux Vélos hotel 13 years ago in the Couserans, an hour and a half from Toulouse. We wanted something else for our lives. I had a bad day at work and I decided to make a change. I found this place in five minutes on the internet. We can host 13 to 16 people and it is run only by the two of us. Cyclists from all over the world come to visit and there are beautiful climbs and riding here. It’s a really nice life. I’m proud that we have done it.

“On Monday evening I was having a beer and one of our clients from four or five years ago was an Olympic rower and his wife won an Olympic gold medal in Rio. He called me up that night and told me he had a favor to ask me and wanted to know how close we lived to Andorra. I told him it was a pretty easy drive from our house. Evidently, the manager of Team Alpecin asked him for some wheels in Holland…. Mathieu needed some wheels because he wanted to keep the yellow jersey one more day.

“They realized that the only pair of new Princeton CarbonWorks in Europe that they could find were at [INEOS team rider] Cameron Wurf’s house in Andorra. He asked if I would go to Andorra, get the wheels and drive them that night to Rennes in France so they could build the bike. I told him I would do it. I made it to Andorra and saw Cameron for five minutes and then decided to have a sandwich and continued on.

mark budder
Image: James Startt.

“I didn’t know where to go to meet them but eventually they sent me a location on WhatsApp. I got there around 7 p.m. and they saw a guy wandering around with two wheels and realized I was the delivery driver. I wanted to get a picture with Mathieu but I was not allowed in the bubble of course, so they took a picture of me in front of a team car. I waited for Mathieu until 9 at night to see if I could meet him, but he arrived too late to meet me.

“They should have organized a place for me to stay because all the rooms were booked in town. After calling 10 or 11 hotels, I finally found a room, went to sleep and then left early to drive 10 hours back home so I could watch the time trial. He didn’t win the time trial of course but was able to stay in the yellow jersey by eight seconds. On the way home that morning, so many people were phoning asking for radio interviews. The whole thing exploded so I had to turn my phone off.”


There were stories and photos on most every cycling site. The stories were about the wheels and questions about sponsor agreements, Dutch connections, rumors that the Princeton CarbonWorks website had so much traffic that it crashed, speculation around whether MVDP used one or two wheels; and there are still questions about payment for Mark’s delivery drive, why Gaëtan was so intrigued by this story that he left the normal enclave of the Tour de France and drove to a cycle lodge in deepest France and stayed with Mark and Elma, had a salmon dinner and then returned home with a story for Libération the following day.

There are so many narratives at the Tour de France; most are calculated and pre-ordained and executed without much energy. But this tale was special to me because it involved a puzzle, a puzzle maker, a hotel owner who left his former life to pursue his dream of owning a cycling hotel, about going fast on a bike and, most importantly, about two brothers who love to work with letters and words.

The chorizo nachos in Andorra were the best I’ve ever had and Gaëtan Goron has promised to create crossword puzzles for Peloton this fall. As for Mark Budder, we will visit him next year and ride with him and enjoy again the incredible meals created by Elma at Les Deux Vélos.


09320 Biert

Ariège, Midi-Pyrénées, France

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