The Tour de France (and Spain, Andorra and Switzerland) 2016

It was only a matter of weeks ago, at the recent Giro d’Italia, that I was rambling on to anyone who’d listen about my disapproval of the fact that Grand Tours (the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta Espana) often start in other countries.

In recent years we’ve had the Tour de France roll off the start ramp in Liege, Rotterdam and Monte Carlo, before it finally found it’s way to the roads of France. And when I watch the Giro d’Italia on TV I want to see the self-styled “greatest race in the most beautiful place”, not the “greatest race on the way to the most beautiful place”.

Starting in Belgium, Denmark or Northern Ireland is just three days of stalling tactics before the Giro becomes the Giro. I’ve got nothing against Appledoorn in the Netherlands, but as the 2016 Giro headed off the start line I did find myself skim-watching (if such a thing exists…), and waiting for the race to hit Italian roads.

Of course, as a resident of Lancashire, and therefore right on the border of Yorkshire, I was delighted when the Tour de France spent three days on ‘my’ roads back in 2014.

Grand Depart Yorkshire
Grand Depart Yorkshire (Image: via wikimedia)

Also, when the Tour started in Corsica in 2013, that was pretty cool.

But, y’know, apart from that.

This year in 2016 it’s a French affair. The opening stage takes in the impossibly beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel on the coast of Normandy and spends three days in this corner of France. But the riders will be making up for this lack of a foreign Grand Depart by visiting three other countries mid-race; they skirt into Spain, spend three days in the mountainous paradise of Andorra, and finish Stage 16 in Bern, Switzerland.

Bern, incidentally, is Fabian Cancellara’s home town – is that a little tip of the cap to Fabs in his retirement year?

Maybe, but I think I’ve figured out what’s really going in here. With no Grand Depart on foreign soil, and the lack of subsequent airport transfer, the riders, teams, and general Tour de France entourage are clearly missing out on their annual duty free splurge. Andorra is a well know tax haven, offering all manner of duty free goodies…et voila!

Crisis averted.

Perfumes, watches, jewellery, alcohol and chocolate can be liberally purchased by all involved. Families the length of Europe, cruelly kept apart by this ridiculous bike race, will not have to go without their annual sorry-I’ve-been-away-for-three-weeks-here’s-a-big-bag-of-presents-to-make-up-for-it.

As if that wasn’t enough, Bern is the home town of Toblerone, and what return home from a jaunt around Europe would be complete without a massive bar of that?

So that’s all bases covered then.

Interestingly, the old part of Bern still features road signs that are colour coded. This apparently harks back to 1798 when the town was conquered by Napolean. Because his troops were largely illiterate, the colour coded signs were installed to help them find their way around, so the quarters of the old town are split into yellow, white, green and burgundy.

Rather conveniently, with the Tour in town, this almost corresponds with the jerseys of the race; yellow for the leader, green for the top sprinter, white for best young rider, which just leaves the polka dots of the mountain classification.

If the authorities in Bern don’t have all those burgundy road signs polka-dotted come July then not only are they missing a trick, but they are completely misunderstanding the fact that the Tour de France is as much marketing opportunity as bike race.

Did all those farmers in Yorkshire polka-dot their sheep for nothing?

Come on Bern, you know it makes sense; a big homecoming parade for Fabian Cancellara featuring polka dot road signs, endless images of alpine meadows and cowbells, and free Toblerone for every spectator.

We’re expecting nothing less.

 

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12 comments

  1. Andorra is also an excellent place to buy cheaper bikes – about 25% less than in France and a big selection of brands. Every time I go up on the fornightly cheap booze trip I get tempted; also it’s superb cycling territory. The road up from chez moi is about 60 km to Pas de la Casa and a great climb, if a bit iffy due to narrowness and heavy traffic. I’m going up by car this time to see the Adorra stage.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Is that right? I’ll check out the bikes on sale if I ever find myself there – I haven’t been to Andorra since a skiing trip in my teens!

      For cycling, it’s certainly for the climbers eh?

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  2. Corsica is a region of… 😉

    Anyway, I agree that the Dutch start of the Giro this year was… just not Giro. I do appreciate the marketing value for both the hosting region and the race, but it was still meh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Officially it’s a ‘territorial collectivity’ and so has slightly greater autonomy/powers than a standard region, but point taken 😉

      (…and yes, I realise I should be doing better than Wikipedia!)

      This talk of starting the Giro in the middle-east worries me slightly. Surely not!?

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  3. I’m kind of on the fence about the GT’s starting in other countries. I kind of like some of the past depart points. Now I hear there is ‘talk’ of Australia or China in the future. But the logistics would be nearly impossible. Cost, jet lag and time differentials would be a killer.

    The Tour visits Switzerland fairly often, so it’s not anything new. Since it borders Suisse, it makes sense logistically. I do wish there was a stage on the Gotthard pass though! Also, I was at the Swiss Porrentruy stage in 2012, that was very cool. In 2014 there was a stage(s) in Mulhouse/Basel Switzerland as well.

    Anyway, this years visit to Bern should be great for the Swiss fans. Bern is a beautiful place, a great city. Le Tour looks set to a be a fantastic 3 weeks, and a great battle. Vive le Tour!!!

    G

    Liked by 1 person

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