Today it’s Damien Douani – ‘Dam’ of the ‘Stan et Dam‘ blog – who gives us the geek’s version of the Tour de France!
The final stage of the mythical Tour de France took place on Sunday: a devilish loop which has been spinning the heads of the French nation since 1903, and the culmination of the Tour, famous for the rich diversity of the spectacle it offers, not least of which is the irresistible attraction of these riders and their 40kmph average speeds (a conservative figure).
So, when Orange offered me the chance to get right to the heart of the final stage of the summer’s main sporting event (thanks again!), I immediately put on my helmet, raised my visor and jumped on my bike, my backpack filled with gadgets and my head with memories.
Because for me the Tour is like the French Tennis Open: it makes you feel you are either studying for your exams or in the middle of your holidays. I remember well how I used to watch Channel 2 with my grandfather, a huge cycling fan. Personally, I was always eager for the moment that never came: the quick channel change over to the cartoons.
So in the end, I watched, and he explained. And as I was already a bit different and a bit of a geek for my age, I also took an interest in how the live coverage was put together. It was thanks to this curiosity that I learnt that the cameramen at the time were precariously balanced on the back of the filming motorbikes, carrying their heavy Antenne 2 cameras (back then linked to SFP relay helicopters, later to become GlobeCast) at arm’s length so as to stabilize them.
For me, the Tour is also a swift meeting I once had with the charming Greg LeMond as he got out of his car at a stage in Montpellier I attended with my father. And it’s the desire to jump into their cars with them and follow these slaves to the road as closely as possible. And the desire to see what goes on behind the scenes. Backstage. That’s it.
Having arrived at 11.30 on Sunday morning, I am provided with my Guest badge and my blue and yellow bracelets: one to enter the Village, the other to exit it. Each bracelet is equipped with an RFID (contactless) chip so as to count in real time the number of people present (but not yet who exactly).
As soon as you arrive in the Village, one thing hits you: the unstoppable machine that is the Tour. It is at this point that I begin to realize that every day for three weeks the Tour requires an operation of Dantean proportions: two camps (one at the start, one at the finish) put up and taken down every day in 4 hours maximum, an unbelievable publicity procession, radio, television and written press popping up everywhere and with their own dedicated press room, a television studio, the podium, the monumental coaches of the competing teams, and most of all some amazing technological feats. Because above and beyond the radio-relay transmissions, all the journalistic and IPTV transmissions must be assured, be it in the Alps or the Creuse.
Henri Terreaux, Orange’s technical manager on the Tour, explained to the delicious Marilor how he dealt with the situation in the Queyras National Park. This is insane (video interview with Henri Terreaux, in French) :
live show made by Stan&Dam
Next I get to know (with Camille Jourdain) our driver, who turns out to be none other than Eric Caretoux, a legend of the Tour who will be driving us around for the day.
I get out my iPhone to ask him a few questions about what goes on behind the scenes on the Tour and decide in the moment to make this into a live show for my Facebook and Twitter pages via Qik (video in French) :
Next it is time to get out and look for the different teams and their cyclists, a moment that all the rubberneckers, anxious to gain free access to their idols, have been holding their breath for. Then the teams take out their bikes (technological marvels built of carbon, kevlar and tubeless tyres), as their runners answer a few questions and have some photos taken, at the same time going over in their heads the tactics discussed during their briefing.
Back in the car! Nicely installed in our black Renault Espace, we take a tour of the route just a few minutes before the riders. I follow on the log book the route and the times recorded at each intermediate point.
Time passes very, very quickly. We pass through the urban landscape, a packed crowd every step of the way, cheering every vehicle in the convoy as if they were riders! Because for the spectators, and especially for the children, the Tour is “everything” and the only people that really have time to wave to them as they pass are those riding in the many vehicles surrounding the event. The cyclists just ride by, focused.
Having arrived on the Place de la Concorde, we face up to a small disappointment: we are unable to go any further as we are not part of a participating team. I make my way back to one of the VIP Village terraces, pinching a few of the generously distributed Haribo sweets, and find the ideal spot to photograph the breakaway group which will lead the pack by 30 seconds before being caught up.
I’m sure you know the result. (Editor’s note: if not, then get your Tour results on our article, found here.)
For me, this has been an incredible experience and I feel really privileged that the child that I was has been allowed to step through the TV screen and over the barriers of this exceptional event.
If you would like to relive the 2011 Tour de France through food (because maybe bikes aren’t really your thing), I advise you to savor the delights of the ‘Saveurs du Tour‘ blog by Fabien Vie who was cooking all the way through the Tour in the caravan.
This Tour chef showed real ingenuity in feeding all these happy people, wowing them with his authenticity and his passion for the stove. And what’s more, he’s from Montpellier