Saturday, 21 July 2012

La Tour de France

 We first got seriously interested in “La Tour” when it passed through a neighbouring village of Le Grand Pressigny in July 2008. We visited the local Office de Tourism, and could only find one notice on the wall which said the Caravan would pass through at 2.30 p.m and the race at 4.00 p.m. We were not sure what this all meant but we decided to attend.
Luckily our friends Jim and Pauline have a house virtually on the route of the race and hosted a BBQ on the day. The first thing we noticed was a small bus with a little stage in front sponsored by PMU, the French betting organisation. On stage was a compere and two young ladies holding quizzes and giving away hats and large hands for prizes.
Gareth with prizes won
The crowds began to gather to see the caravan, and they were rewarded with the site of hoards of sponsor’s floats, jettisoning all kinds of goodies to the crowd. We, so called professional people, found ourselves scrabbling on the ground competing to pick up hats, key rings, mini-saucisson etc. Not an edifying sight!
The Peleton sweeps through
Suddenly we saw three cyclists approaching, they were a break away group in the lead of the race. After a delay of five minutes the main group of racers, the peloton, arrived. The group of 150 cyclists wheel to wheel and six or seven abreast swept through. They were followed by copious support cars with five or six cycles on each roof, and then it was over.

Since then we have watched the highlights program each evening during the period of the race. We enjoy seeing the differing countryside of France and enjoy watching the animal behaviour of the peloton as it sweeps around roundabouts and swallows up those cyclists who have the temerity to try to escape from its clutches. We also marvel at the strength, courage and fitness of the competitors as they scale huge mountains with pedal power.
So what’s the history of the tour and what are the mechanics of the race?

George Lefevre a journalist with “L’Auto” magazine came up with the concept and was encouraged by his editor, Henri Desgrange, as a publicity stunt to end a circulation war with its competitor “Le Velo”. So in 1903 sixty intrepid competitors set off on the inaugural race. It was won by Maurice Garmin, nicknamed the chimney sweep, only to be disqualified the following year  when it was discovered that he had taken the train part of the way!
Float in Caravan

In 1930 the concept of the Caravan was enacted. These days the sponsors are charged 150,000 Euros for three floats. There are approximately 250 floats and the Caravan starts about an hour and a half in front of the race. The caravan proceeds in groups of five, takes forty minutes to pass and stretches out for 25 kilometres. In1994 the bank GAN gave the following details the freebees it threw away:
  • 170,000 caps
  • 80,000 badges
  • 535.000 copies of the race daily newspaper
The whole lot weighed 32 tons.

The modern race is a team event of  between 20 to 22 teams each of 9 members. The teams are invited to attend by the ruling body, the “Amaury Sport Organisation”. The race lasts for three weeks and covers some 3,200 kilometres and always ends in Paris.

At the end of each day the cyclist with the lowest aggregate time wears the yellow jersey. The ultimate winner is the one wearing the yellow jersey at the end of the race. Points are awarded for winning each stage and for being first at intermediate places on the route  each day. The cyclist with the most cumulative points wears the green jersey. The best climber in the mountain stages wears a polkadot jersey and the white jersey is awarded to the person with the lowest cumulative time who is under twenty six years of age.

Tour trivia:
·         Average calories consumed per day for a competitor is 5,900 calories
·         217 miles of barricades are erected along the route manned by 13,000 gendarmes
·         15 million spectators line the route
·         On French TV there are 2965 hours of coverage
·         The cyclists cumulatively use 42,000 water bottles during the race
·         The cyclists are supported by 4,500 support staff using 1,500 vehicles
·         A survey indicated that 47% of spectators first and foremost came to see the caravan!

1 comment:

  1. We were back in the UK for the 2008 Tour...
    so took the phone off the hook and watched it on 'telly...
    mainly from the air, which was nice...
    but no one was recognizable from that height...
    except, because of his height...
    M.Le Maire, atop the tower at the museum...
    the lovely tower that we are no longer allowed up...
    probably so that we don't see the hash they made of the roof!!

    My only regrets about not being there...
    the weather [it was raining in Leeds]...
    seeing the caravan ['telly don't show that]...
    and soaking up the atmosphere outside the Pre'Histo!!