Shoko and I made our traditional trip to see a stage of the TDF yesterday. We arrived near the top of the Montée Jalabert at around 2:45 and waited for the breakaway to arrive two and half hours later. You might think that’s a long time to wait in 35C heat, but if you ever find yourself on an important stretch of Tour de France road just about anytime during the day of the race, there’s plenty of entertainment to keep you busy.
There are also plenty of vehicles. It starts with a stream of team buses (at least 22 of them), motorbikes and VIP cars, then after a lull, the publicity caravan rolls by in product waves of several floats plus 4 or 5 cars for each sponsor. If you’re lucky, you’ll get hit in the face by a saucisson or fridge magnet.
The caravan has a total of 30 brands represented, so probably 300 or so vehicles. Accompanying it are 4 information/safety cars, 12 cops on bikes and 3 emergency vehicles. It stretches a full 10 km.
Once the caravan is done with, there’s an eerie quiet before the riders arrive, but there always seems to be ‘something’ coming up the road, whether it be ASO cars (300 staff work the TDF), press motorcycles, more police (45 Gardes Républicaines on motorbikes follow the Tour, plus more than 10,000 local cops during the entire race), 4 or 5 camera bikes, Shimano neutral service cars and motos, neutral water motorcycles, the girl or guy who holds the chalk board, the race doctor, team cars, and of course the broom wagon. It’s an awful lot of vehicles on the road and they all drive the 3000+ kilometers of the Tour for 3 weeks in July.
And then there are the fans, like us, who very often will drive their cars to watch the Tour. Alpe d’Huez sees hundreds of thousands of people on the mountain, I believe, and there is no train station or airport of any size in that valley. And let’s not forget the thousands of camper vans that litter the high mountains of France each July.
In recent years the Tour has introduced garbage collect zones for the riders, so they generally don’t throw their empty gels into the fields and front yards of France anymore. I think that Skoda (who supplies 250 vehicles to the Tour) has started using hybrids, but I can tell you that the smell of fumes was constant on the climb we were on, so it’s not all green quite yet.
Some other people have done the math on the environmental impact of the Tour de France, I am sure, and there are smart people working on reducing it, but in my 14 years of watching the Tour live, I don’t feel like I’ve noticed any fewer cars, trucks and buses.
This is not a critique, just a not-very-original observation. What can I do personally to reduce my carbon footprint and still see a stage or two each year on the road? Stay in France for one thing…and hope that Nimes gets an Arrivée or Départ again soon. I can just walk down for those.