Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Tour de France Village

With a race the size of the Tour de France it's inevitable that it comes with baggage - and lot's of it. At the start of each stage a pop-up village appears where only hours before bare tarmac laid. As soon as the riders leave the start-line workers rush in to dismantle the entire village ready for transportation to the next town - it's a lot of work for a lot of people but Le Tour wouldn't be Le Tour without the village...

An exert from the Wall Street Journal describes the village in all of it's detail:

A town that hosts the start of the Tour de France awakens in the morning to find a newly-erected village in its center. The Village, as it's called, is a portable enclosure, set off by chain-link panels and often as big as a square city block, that's reserved for VIPs, race officials, media and racers. Gendarmes and security guards zealously guard its entrance, refusing anyone without a special ID badge or who is not dressed in full spandex team kit and pedaling a multi-thousand-dollar bicycle with a number-plate attached.

Once inside, one can partake of free coffee, smoothies, wine, fruit both fresh and grilled, breads, pastries, croissants, gummy fruits, any number of the day's newspapers and even a haircut. (Anyone working the Tour for its full length, whether rider or media, can start to appear a bit unkempt after three weeks.) The village opens about two hours before the start. Companies associated with the Tour set up booths with seats and tables, umbrellas, showcases for their products and giveaways that range from keychains to inexpensive caps to snacks and water — all to entice visitors who, presumably, will learn about and grow loyal to the brand.

Bands play, an emcee barks out a preview of the day, and entertainers circulate. In one corner of the village, a magician does card tricks for a bank; in another, two women on five-foot stilts, dressed all in green with costume vegetables springing from their heads, perform a dance. Minutes after the start of the race, workers begin dismantling the Village, stowing everything in tractor trailers for transport to the next town.

It's this side of the Tour de France that not many of us ever really get a chance to see but it's the side that separates the Tour from any other race and possibly sporting event on the planet - it's big, really big and the advertisers, companies, VIP's all know there is serious money to be made here. Flamboyant it may be but would the Tour be the same race if riders just turned up at the start line each day, clipped in to their pedals and rode away? No.

It's not just the advertising companies that are here to do business either - many of the rider transfers that transpire later in the year are a direct result of negotiations during the race, indeed Director Sportifs will start tapping up riders and agents during the Tour and sometimes by the race end the deal is already done though of course it's kept quiet until the back end of the season as to not upset other riders and management on the team. Sometimes during the Tour coverage on TV you can spot riders chatting 'informally' to opposing team directors and though it might look innocent enough there is often an ulterior motive.

It's clear that if we look beneath the surface of the worlds biggest bike race, there is much more going on than just a jaunt around France on two wheels.

1 comment:

  1. That is quite cool to know there is a 'Le Tour de France village'!!