Tourisme de France – The best cycling magazine in the world

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This article was originally published in issue 18.4 of Rouleur. Download it via the Rouleur appIt is the evening of the first rest day of the Tour de France 2017. After having toured the replica rock paintings of Lascaux, a group of journalists takes advantage of a reception of regional wines and good mouths. The Dordogne countryside and the wild July sky make it a breathtaking backdrop.

Oh, and Christian Prudhomme is here.

Behind him, a predominantly gray cabal, predominantly white, predominantly male, does not waste time tasting the same selection of delicacies. Among them, Bernard Thévenet, double champion of the Tour, fulfills an ambassadorial role within the organization of the race.

The Tour de France or Jurassic Park?

A tasting glass of what I have been informed is a to affirm white burgundy in one hand, dictaphone in the other, I give (or try to give) to the director of the Tour de France a little grilling.

Because it looked like what a journalist had to do, when Prudhomme arrived, I took out the camera and started asking him his opinion on Chris Froome’s behavior during the Chambéry stage the day before, when it had undergone a mechanical before the last climb, and the so-called “unwritten rules” which had set social media on fire. Talk about a simpler time …

At no time do I feel like I have less than his undivided and completely charismatic attention, but as he answers my seriously asked questions more eloquently than I ask them, I can’t help but feel that he humours me. On the way back to our hotel and for much of the next day, I am embarrassed by a small persistent problem: by raising the subject of cycling, I was sort of missing the point.

It wasn’t until I got back into the race bubble itself the next day, jostling between the team buses and trying to find the press tent buffet, that I realized that I had been.

Small town full of little people

There is a theory, to which the British film critic Mark Kermode is an ardent subscriber, which Jaws is not a movie about a shark.

The plot, says Kermode, can be seen “as everything, from a depiction of masculinity in crisis to a paranoid post-Watergate parable on corrupt authority figures”, but “the true story of Jaws That’s how a movie-style creature feature became a genre-defining blockbuster that changed the face of modern cinema. ”

In the same way – well, such a thing – the Tour de France is not a bicycle race. Not only that, but it never has been. Certainly, racing is a characteristic of the phenomenon – even, I concede, important, but it is not “the goal” of the Tour de France.

I could even suggest that at least one level, you already know.

Bergerac
Bergerac, probably

For most of those interested in the Great Loop, they also have at least some idea of ​​its origins. To briefly recap, Le Tour was imagined and prompted by the editor-in-chief of L’Auto Henri Desgrange newspaper as a means of stimulating sales of the troubled periodical.

At the time, using bicycle racing as advertising boosters was not uncommon, but Desgrange’s ambitions to integrate the whole of France were greater than anyone who had tried it before. The logic, as the predecessor of the race director, Prudhomme, Jean-Marie Leblanc, described in an interview in 2003, was that:

“It was a sporting event that spectators could not see, unlike a football game where spectators are present, or any other sporting event. So people imagined the competition from summaries – often in an epic style – which were sometimes perhaps a little out of proportion, led by journalists, who themselves did not see much, or at best, saw things incomplete. “

Although some things have remained the same – Amaury’s sports organization also owns The team, the daily life from the ashes of L’Auto in 1946 much more has changed since the days of Desgrange. The mainstream media through which the race is communicated to the public across France and beyond are no longer the daily reports of fearless and “imaginative” journalists. After a brief stop on the radio, television is now king.

Sunflowers
Do we have photos of sunflowers? Better to have a little more, just in case

For millions of people around the world, television has placed France in the Tour de France. You log in for the run, of course, but the action only covers a small part of the coverage. The rest is one hour out of a glorious hour of infomercials: vast airborne steadicam shots of grandiose, natural and man-made landscapes, landmarks usefully captioned and described in detail by grateful commentators for the opportunity to speak of something other than the contents of Peter Sagan’s lunch bag. . The Lascaux experience, I note, receives a long period of air time.

All this is the work of Jean-Maurice Ooghe, director of television for the Tour de France since 1997. Ooghe, explained Leblanc, “recognizes the route for weeks before the Tour – he follows the road and takes notes on a castle on the right, a bridge here, a cathedral on the left there – everything is noted and given to the cameraman so that he always knows what to show in addition to the race to direct him and put him back in his context. ”

According to Eurosport commentator Rob Hatch, “If tourism and cycling go hand in hand since they broadcast more than half an hour of each stage”, he has noticed a difference in recent years, when each stage began to be televised in its entirety.

As a narrator of these visuals, Hatch considers himself to have “a responsibility towards the spectator, the race and the tourist office which paid all this money to put it, to inform itself correctly, to do good research” , then “convey this to the viewer in the best possible way from the comments box”.

Tourism
Lavender, in fact

While as a fan, he finds that the extended coverage may be “excessive”, Hatch recognizes its added value for tourist offices such as that of the department of Vendée, which paid several million euros to accommodate this year’s Grand Départ. “It’s not a region of France that you often see in holiday brochures or in cooking or nature programs,” he says. “It is an excellent opportunity for them to show their region to the rest of France.”

They have a brilliant example: no event has put the centrality of tourism in cycling in relief as strong as the Yorkshire Grand Départ 2014.

Likewise, few in recent years have understood how “much more than a simple bike race” is the Tour de France and the many opportunities it offers to the regions, as deeply as Sir Gary Verity, Managing Director from Welcome to Yorkshire, the county tourist office. It is said that the idea of ​​bringing the Tour de France to the county of Dieu came to Verity while shaving, a notion which he does not disappoint when we speak before the Tour of Yorkshire this year.

It was the bet of Verity which, being “the biggest annual sporting event of the planet”, the “amazing images of the Tour de France with accompanying comments [could] do more to promote [Yorkshire] than anything else possible. “

York, 2014

A study by Sheffield Hallam University, published in March this year, found that the value of tourism to Yorkshire’s annual economy was £ 1 billion higher for 2016 than the last time the numbers were cut. in 2011.

While enforcing the necessary correlation warnings does not amount to causation, in economic terms, Verity’s bet seems to have paid off – and more.

“The reality is that there are millions of people around the world who, before the Tour de France came, did not know where Yorkshire was and probably hadn’t even heard of it. And there are now millions of people who, because of the Tour de France, know where Yorkshire is and have clearly heard of it for all the right reasons. ”

Read more: Stories from the Tour de France

For Verity, the logic is clear: “What better way could you promote an area than to make people think” I want to go there to watch a bike race “or” I want to go when there is no bike race and maybe bike around me and explore the area a bit, find out what’s on offer, as it seems like a great place. ”

He doesn’t just speak either. The Tour de Yorkshire, which has spanned four stages this year and is believed to be the largest bike race in the UK (certainly in terms of crowd), is the direct descendant of the 2014 Grand Départ, while that the county will host the UCI Road World Championships in 2019. The evening after my first conversation with Christian Prudhomme we find him, during another evening after the arrival of stage 10 in Bergerac.

As before, Prudhomme mixes with local dignitaries, delivers a speech that seems to inspire and amuse in equal measure, and appreciates a lot of local products. We share a look, and I tilt another glass of the local drop in his direction. I think of the sprint of the group of this day won, as you might expect, by Marcel Kittel, whose mojo seems indeed back, before passing through a checkered tablecloth for something brown and contrary to ethics to coat on a piece of toast. The recorder stays tidy in my jacket pocket.



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