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A peek behind the curtain

The Tour de France is a sporting phenomenon when it comes to logistics.It still impresses the veteran followers how its 5000-strong entouragecan complete a three-week journey over cobblestones, down narrow lanes,up and over mountains and on bikes, cars, motorcycles, buses and truckswithout too many mishaps. The Société du Tour de France receives annual praise forits organizational skills. But it is also open to criticism for fallingshort. And fall short is what it has done this year from the start in Luxembourgon July 6 to what I assume will be to the finish in Paris on

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Even at a great race, the organization can be so-so

By Rupert Guinness, Of The Australian

The Tour de France is a sporting phenomenon when it comes to logistics.It still impresses the veteran followers how its 5000-strong entouragecan complete a three-week journey over cobblestones, down narrow lanes,up and over mountains and on bikes, cars, motorcycles, buses and truckswithout too many mishaps.

The Société du Tour de France receives annual praise forits organizational skills. But it is also open to criticism for fallingshort. And fall short is what it has done this year from the start in Luxembourgon July 6 to what I assume will be to the finish in Paris on Sunday.

In a race like the Tour, little things that go wrong all add up overa trip that will see most cover as many as 7500km for a race of 3270km.

There are always delays. Doing the simple things take longer. Giventwo options, the one you take will nearly always be the wrong one.

A day starts from 6 a.m. and often doesn’t end till 2 a.m. the nextday. But that is also part and parcel of the Tour de France package. Andusually, coping with those little things is a challenge that most peopleare able to achieve, at least those who return every year.

Were they not able to do that, then they certainly wouldn’t come backagain. Trust me, I know journalists who have dreamed of covering the race,lived what they hoped was to be a dream, and have returned home believingthe Tour is a nightmare.

However, this year it has not just been the little things that havegone wrong. Rather, there has been a worrying consistency of error andpoor management by the Tour organizers. It proves that even the usuallyslickest running organization can turn haywire.

In saying that, I am certainly not referring to such things as the roadsecurity on the day a seven year-old boy was tragically killed on stage10, when the Tour traveled from Bazas to Pau. It sadly seems that was anaccident beyond anyone’s control. At the very least it was no fault ofthe Tour.

But as the Tour nears its end in Paris, there are many incidents andshortcomings that have left followers wondering what went wrong.

Among the almost daily problems have been:

Poor accreditation systems at the start
Many journalists who had applied were turned away to come back againin 24 hours later (in some cases 48 hours). Some were told they had filledout the wrong forms. It seemed not to matter that those same forms werethe ones sent to them by the Tour office.

American reporter Samuel Abt, of the International Herald-Tribune,with some 25 Tours to his name, was even told that his newspaper editorhad to fax the Tour press office a letter confirming who he was beforea pass would be given.

VeloNews’s Andy Hood was one of the 48-hour recalls, no matterthat we heard from a  good source his media pass was definitely intheir files.

Slack crowd controls at stage starts and finishes
In an era where stricter measures are placed on those accredited inthe Tour, to still see so many people not accredited slip into restrictedareas left us all guessing just what would be possible. At Aime, for thestart of stage 17, the thought crossed our minds as I and John Wilcocksonsaw someone jump the fence behind the podium and walk right up with camerato where the riders were signing in.

Two days earlier, as we drove down one of the descents on stage 15,the thought had already been noted as we passed an unaccredited car fromthe French electric authority EDF slowly making its way down, the driverobviously enjoying the traffic-free run and a chance to test his mettlebehind the steering wheel.

Wrong and sometimes non-existent signage and directions for gettingto stage starts and finishes
Nearly every day, official Tour plaques were either absent or pointingthe wrong way for official race traffic, causing horrendous traffic jamsin many of the small towns and cities hosting starts and finishes.

Cluses, at the finish of stage 17, was a case in points. To find thepress room, press cars stopped 200 meters from the finish line were forcedto carry out a 15-minute detour that left them stuck in already blockedlocal traffic.

It was a similar – no, worse – story for the stage 18 start. Officialsigns to the start saw us and many cars come to a barrier where a ladygendarme simply said we had to turn around. Where we could turn was anyone’sguess. That we found the “presse avant“ where media cars can park onthe course and ahead of the race was only by pure chance.

With two days to go and news that the pressroom in Paris has been movedto 9km away from the finish, what awaits us is a frightening thought.