Having watched the Tour on TV for as many years as I can remember (evening highlights, not overnight!) I connected the dots and realised that we would be leaving Spain and going to France at a time when the Tour was on.
How lucky were we, it was in the south of France and based around the town of Nimes at the time we would be passing through this area.
Ros then got to work on finding where we could stay. Using the Tour web site we were able to determine that the tour rode through the village of Castillon-Du-Gard (and we mean right through the middle of the village) and Ros snagged accommodation for us right on the route.
The route is closed about 5 hours before the cyclists go through, however there is so much happening in that organising the event must be an Olympic task. Clearly there are teams and their needs: mechanics, busses, cars driving along the event.
Also there is an amazing infrastructure team: putting barriers up along the route, including closing roads, putting up direction signs, making sure the surface is clear, providing parking for the team busses etc.
Then there are the police on every corner plus truck loads of army on stand-by.
And then the sponsors: about 2 hours before the cyclists come through a caravan of sponsors drive the route. Probably about 30 sponsors each with around 5 to 10 vehicles in their particular sponsor convoy handing out gifts along the route, with the vehicles ‘dressed up’ and decorated for the event. Many of these vehicles had people standing in the backs of the decorated trucks as they threw the sponsor gifts into the hands of the waiting crowds. All these people were securely fastened to the trucks with safety harnesses.
Also along the route there are police on motorbikes escorting the sponsors’ parade, media and cameramen on motorbikes flashing between all the parade cars and other motorbikes. At the end of the sponsors’ caravan come two flat top trucks in case there is a break down – can’t have a vehicle blocking the route!
Every team is driven between race sectors in huge tourist buses and there needs to be provision made every day for these team buses to assemble all together in one place. There were, in 2019, 22 teams each with 8 riders in the Tour. So, the parking of the team buses is in itself a major event with a parking lot needed for getting together, toilets for a few hundred people and safety requirements.
Then there are the TV teams. At one stage I counted over 200 cars in a car park not actually on the route as support for the media. We have all seen, at least on television, the motorbikes with cameramen riding pillion, some standing up, with others facing backwards!
And for 4 hours before there is a vehicle ever 3 or 5 minutes driving the route: police, organisers, merchandise vans, army, more organisers. And then before the riders come the truck with a big brush to sweep the road comes through plus then a safety team that checks and rechecks each intersection. And then all the police vehicles full of riot police, police motor bikes and we haven’t even got to the event yet.
Finally a safety car, then an organisers vehicle, then a police car, then cameras and media and then eventually the riders, interspersed with the team support vehicles.
The leaders come through first then there is a wait until the peloton comes through and 30 seconds later, it’s all over!
I set out a few hours before the riders were due to come through the village, took a chair and sat at the top of the hill leading to the village on a corner where we could then watch the riders scream away. Boy they go fast! As the route we chose was a loop which started and finished in Nimes, I was then able to drive to another section of the route and had another chance to see the riders come by again.
Clearly one of the attractions of Nimes is its closeness to Pont du Gard, an imposing Roman Aquaduct three levels high and built across the Gardon River. The aq
uaduct originally brought water to Nimes. As a result the route went over the aquaduct for its scenic attraction (canoeist on the water beneath and the hills around).
So good is the aquaduct that the next day we decided to visit it, however discovered that the tour that day started at the aquaduct, so we experienced a second day of tourmania!
A great event and an amazing experience to be able to stand on the roadside watching. It has always amazed me (Ros) that the spectators just appear to end up on the road in front of the riders, and this is exactly what happens. The spectators do jump out of the way as the riders approach and the riders do not appear to be fazed by this. Perhaps they do not even notice as the concentration and focus on their faces and in their body language as they flash past is incredibly obvious.