The Spectacle Of The Tour Caravan

Before the cyclists, the tour caravan sweeps through, showering fans with loads of virtually useless promotional materials.  For the unfamiliar, sponsor vehicles are a significant part of the spectacle that is the Tour de France.  Like Rose Bowl Parade or the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, the floats astonish.

While the downside is garish commercialism on steroids.  The upside is it is that  entertaining while you wait for the riders and you get tons of free stuff.  The booty we brought home covered the dining room table!

We had to giggle at the brashness and sheer outrageousness of some of the floats.  Our top floats included:

I have a soft spot for anything dog related, but most people loved the giant puppy float (I’m keeping the key chain they threw us with the dog on it).

The Vittel float sprayed the crowds with water.  It was more of a cooling mist than a waterfall, but I still put my camera away when they got close.

Everyone loved the giant rubber duckie.   Forget the Viper I eyed at the Geneva Auto Show, I kind of want the duckie for my next car.  It looks like it would be a pain to park though.

I’m not a gambler, but the PMU horses were pretty cool.
Le Coq Sportif.  How can you not smile at a giant chicken?  If only they had tossed rubber ones instead of keychains…

Some of the floats were aimed at kids.  I’m guessing the cyclists are eating something more nutritious than loads of gummy bears.

To be one of the women (or few men) who toss the loot, you must be attractive, willing to spend a month throwing things out on a vehicle, good at dancing while harnessed into a vehicle (see above), and able to withstand blaring techno music 8 hours a day for three straight weeks.  They looked like they were having a pretty good time and there are worse things than spending a summer tooling  around France.

The vehicles are as large as the small mountain roads permit.  With spectators jumping into the roads, blaring music, bags of gummy bears flying through the air, steep roads and dangerous curves, the drivers must be amazing.  I get a bit nervous driving these roads without having to worry about crowds of people and the ridiculous amount of chaos.

A tow truck accompanies each part of the caravan, ready to immediately remove any breakdown from the road.   We also noticed that they were accompanied by an ambulance, just in case a vehicle hits a spectator (which actually happened on day two of this year’s Tour).

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Tour De France 101

The 2011 map of the Tour

While we are travelling over France, I thought I would send out a little info about the Tour De France.  Hopefully, my next post will be from Geneva.

Who Competes:

  • 20 teams of the best professional cyclists in the world.
  • Each team starts with 9 cyclists. If a team is reduced to less than three riders (see crashes below), they are eliminated.
  • If a cyclist does not finish the race one day, they are eliminated from the entire tour.
  • If a cyclist does not finish the race within a percentage of that day’s winner, they miss the time cut and are eliminated.

What They Do:

  • Get on their bikes and ride a “stage” each day for three weeks. Each “stage” has an individual winner but the total time raced over all the stages is what adds up to determine the winner of the entire Tour.
  • Each day’s time is added to the previous accumulated total time.  They cyclists try to finish the race with the lowest accumulated time.
  • Crash.  The past few years have been filled with brutal crashes.

When:

  • The first Saturday in July and the three subsequent weeks (with 2 rest days they have 21 days of racing).
  • The final ride into Paris takes place the third Sunday in July.

Where:

  • The cyclists ride around 3,500 km (2,200 miles) total through the French countryside and into Paris (the final day is always the ride into Paris).  The race is called the Tour De France for a reason.
  • Over the past several years, the Tour has tried to make the race more international and has ventured into neighboring countries.

Why:

  • It is really cool and an amazing test of endurance.
  • Plus, there are prizes.  They are listed below.
    • The Yellow Jersey/General Classification (GC) – The overall winner at the very end is determined by cumulative time (all of the cyclist’s daily times added up at the end of t
    • The Green Jersey – It is worn by the Tour’s fastest cyclist.  This is determined by “sprint points” that are awarded during sprints during the “stages”. The cyclist with the most “points” wins the Green Jersey. This is awarded each day to the cyclist with the most “sprint points” and at the end of the tour.
    • Polka-Dot Jersey/”King of the Mountains” – It is worn by the cyclist who is the best climber in the mountains. Like with the Green Jersey, cyclists are awarded points for making it over the top of the climb during the “stages”. The cyclist with the most “points” wins the Polka-Dot Jersey. This is awarded daily and at the end of the tour.
    • White Jersey/”Best Young Rider” – This is awarded to the best-placed overall rider under the age of 25 each day; this is known as the “Best Young Rider” competition. Like the other jerseys, this is awarded daily and at the end of the tour.
    • Most Aggressive Rider – This is awarded daily to a rider for feats of strength and bravery. This year it was awarded to two cyclists on the same day for the first time every.  They were hit by a TV car and crashed horribly (one of them landed on a barbed wire fence). They got back on their bikes and finished the stage. After receiving this award, one went to the hospital and received 33 stitches!
    • Team Competition – The team with the fastest 3 riders wins the Team Competition.
    • “Stage” Victories/Wins – Each day of the Tour De France is its own individual race.  Winning a stage of the Tour De France is something every cyclist would love to have on their resume.  It is a big deal.
  • Every stage ends with a podium presentation for the day’s prizes.  The prizes are presented by Podium Girls. Podium Girls are very pretty young Frenchwomen attired in French fashion and kiss the winners on the cheek (while handing them flowers and stuffed animals).  What’s not to love?