Bangs x Tour de France x Le Coq Sportif
This week I was lucky enough to head over to France with Le Coq Sportif to watch a leg of the Tour de France. Having only ever watched bits and pieces of it on TV, I was excited to learn more about this event and felt lucky to be in the sponsors camp with Le Coq Sportif. And let me tell you, it did not disappoint.
We set off from London, got the Eurostar to Paris, then another train to Rouen, which was about an hour and ten minutes away. Our timing was perfect, our guide told us as he picked us up and slapped VIP wristbands on us – we were just in time to see the arrival of the riders as they finished that day’s leg of the race.
We walked through the town and over to the arrival area. Our VIP passes meant we got a great view of the road. Both sides of the street were lined with people. You could feel the energy. People all around us were on devices of some kind, checking phones, TV and radio feeds to see where the riders were. ‘Dix kilometres!’ we heard someone shout. Anticipation was building. It seemed like mere moments later our guide told us the riders were now just six kilometres away. ‘How long til they get here then?’ I asked. ‘About five minutes,’ he said. Apparently, he wasn’t joking. My head hurt as I tried to calculate exactly how fast they’d be going. A spectator told me 75kph – mind blowing.
Then up on the big screens, the spectators recognised the bit of the road the cyclists were on and knew just how close they were. Just then, the place erupted. Everyone started banging on the hoardings, shouting and cheering and just like that, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, the first pack of cyclists whizzed past us to cross the line.
The logistics of the Tour de France are pretty mind blowing. There are about 4000 people involved in the tour and an equal number of vehicles. Cyclists, their support teams, all the sponsors, TV crews etc – it’s a whole lot of people. The arrival and departure camps are set up daily and broken down quite literally as soon as the last cyclist has crossed the line. They pack up and move it all to the next finish line and do it all over again. It is a massive operation that has to run like clockwork.
After seeing them cross the finish line in Rouen, we drove 40 minutes out to the countryside to our hotel. We dined with the Le Coq Sportif team and many of the cyclists from the Tour were dining (all looking remarkably fresh for having just cycled 215km that day, I must say). Our guide was Denis Roux, a Tour de France rider from ’83 – ’92, who then went on to become a Team Manager. He explained that the recovery process is key for the cyclists. He said we’d see them eat a lot, then retire to bed. A few teams actually bring in their own chefs to cook for their riders for the duration of the tour and apparently it’s not unusual for the tour to make it a condition of their stay at the hotel that only their chef must have exclusive access to the hotel kitchen.
The next day, we headed back to Rouen to see the riders set off on the next leg of the race – a 195.5km leg which would take them from Rouen to Saint Quentin. We strolled around the riders village where all the team buses are and the riders prepare, the sponsors are all over to cater to your every need. Avid cycling fans lurk behind the barriers hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite riders.
There are 35 – 40 sponsors of the tour and each brand has their own branded vehicle. These vehicles drive every leg of the route about an hour ahead of the cyclists, reaching the next finishing line and setting up there. This fleet of vehicles is called the ‘caravan’. We watched as they set off, getting the crowd all pumped up, then we joined the Le Coq Sportif crew in their vehicle and cruised the course as part of the caravan too. It was pretty special to drive a whole leg of the race. It went through the rural French countryside, through tiny towns and villages and I’m not exaggerating when I say there wasn’t a single part of that 195km that didn’t have people out cheering. The French have so much love for this race. You get the impression it really brings people together. Towns bid for the Tour to pass through – it is a major deal if they get it.
The excitement of the spectators was infectious. I imagine, in rural France, a big fleet of sponsored vehicles coming through, closely followed by the best cyclists in the world, isn’t something that happens every day.
We stopped for a quick little picnic by the roadside. Fanciest picnic I’ve ever had.
At one point, we hopped in Le Coq Sportif’s main sponsored vehicle, which was a vintage Citroen H Van – we stood in it as it whizzed through the countryside, wind blowing through our hair, waving to the crowds.
After about 3 – 4 hours of driving, we arrived in Saint Quentin where we saw all the familiar sights from the arrival point the previous day in Rouen – the support teams work around the clock to set the arrival and departure zones up, I was in awe. Not long after, we heard the cyclists were just 20km away. They cover ground at a ferocious pace. Before long, they were at 13k, then 10, then you could feel the excitement of the crowd start to bubble. I watched on the large screens as the lead breakaway group of four cyclists battled it out for pole position. With 2k to go, they started absolutely hammering the pedals, bikes manically shifting from side to side, pain, grit and determination etched on the faces of the riders. All I could think of was how much their thighs must be burning and how much these moments right here are the making of a true athlete – to have cycled nearly 200k and still be giving it your absolute all as you power through to the finish.
The difference with these guys is they have to do it all again tomorrow. And the day after that. For three weeks. It’s an incredibly grueling schedule, though the upside is it takes you through some spectacular parts of the country.
Soon as the cyclists crossed the line, we hopped on the train at Saint Quentin, bound for Paris to get our Eurostar back home. It was a whirlwind two day trip. I learned a ton and may just have come away from it a cycling fan.
Huge thanks to the guys at Le Coq Sportif for being such wonderful hosts. I can’t thank you enough for that experience.