Frenchman bemused at attention caused by viral campaign

A group of Aussie cycling fanatics bored with all the coverage of illustrious names at the Tour Down Under have turned an obscure European rider into a star.

The group has picked Arthur Vichot, a Frenchman riding his first Pro Tour event, and used the power of the web to bestow cult status on him. The scheme was hatched on internet forums earlier this month and has spread virally, turning Vichot into a celebrity.

“We are from the Port Adelaide Cycling Club,” said Aimee Alsbury. “Only two weeks ago the idea came up to create an Australian fan-club for an unknown rider who would be doing his first race here, who had never been to Australia before and doesn’t speak English. We went through the start list and we found Arthur on Facebook. That’s how we got to know that he came second at the U23 French championship. The club has grown from words of mouth.”

The 21-year-old rider's Facebook page has since been inundated by messages of support from a growing legion of fans. However, he's taken the unexpected attention in good sport. After Sunday's criterium, in which he finished a modest 94th of 133 riders, he was mobbed by fans wearing "Allez Vichot" T-shirts. But he dutifully posed for photographs with a line of fans like a seasoned pro.