Bringing the Tour to your city… or village

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Revel départ

Regional newspapers are big in France, selling more than the national dailies. Open a local newspaper and you don’t have to turn many pages before you find the latest on the grape-picking harvest or minor traffic accidents. It reinforces the pleasant idea that not much happens in rural France, there just isn’t enough bad news to report.

For many places in France the passage of the Tour de France is the highlight of the year or even the decade. In a great piece Le Monde today reports on the importance of a stage visiting French towns. There are 36,000 mayors, from Paris down to tiny villages, and most of them would love to see the race visit their corner of France.

Take Jacques Maurice, maire of Arc-en-Senans. This is a sleepy village of just 1500 inhabitants if you include the surrounding rural houses and farms, famous for the royal saltworks, a lavishly decorated salt mine. Mayor Maurice didn’t even ask for the Tour de France but nearby city of Besançon wanted a stage and they picked his village for the start. Appropriately enough Besançon is the French capital of clocks and watchmaking as this will be the firs time trial stage.

The Tour de France is one of the most widely seen events in the world” the mayor of Besançon, Jean-Louis Fousseret told Le Monde, adding “millions of TV viewers around the world, 1,200 journalists. What more could we do except from staging the Olympics or the football World Cup?“. Similarly in the same Le Monde article Kader Chekemani, a local government official in Rouen and the Haute Normandie region says “The Tour is part of a development strategy to improve the city’s attractiveness. It’s a global event which contributes to our reputation“.

They’ve got a point. But at the same time do you really notice where the race goes? The spotlight is on the event itself and unless there’s anything really exceptional, the TV images often showcase fields and castles rather than municipal pride, when the finish comes the focus is on the sprint train or the whites of a rider’s eyes. Meanwhile the attendant journalists are grabbing rubbery baguettes from service stations instead of sampling local produce and sleeping in out-of-town motels rather than visiting historic city centres.

For me a place has to stand out to get noticed. For example you probably want to ride up Alpe d’Huez given the association with the Tour de France even if the climb is actually a rather function road that leads to a concrete ski resort. Clearly the association with the Tour has worked and the ski resort does a roaring trade in the summer from cyclists.

There’s an entertainment factor as well in that when many French decide where to go on holiday in July, being able to see the Tour is a bonus. Some places have jazz festivals, some try fireworks. The Tour de France is a big draw and it will feature on the promotional brochures and websites being produced during the winter.

Costs and benefits
Towns pay ASO about €90,000 to host a stage finish; €50,000 for a départ but this varies a little according to supply and demand. The actual burden gets shared amongst different layers of local government, at regional and departmental level too. But there’s more. Some roads have to be redone, Stage 7’s finish at the Planche des Belles Filles ski station includes a 20% ramp for the last 250 metres but you can’t put the finish line trucks on this slope so the authorities have promised €500,000 to tarmac a flat area nearby in order to accommodate the podium trucks, TV production materials and all the other peripatetic components of the finish zone.

Indeed the visit to Switzerland has seen the Swiss authorities calculate the total cost adds up to 900,000 Swiss Francs (€720,000 / US$ 1 million) when you factor in everything from road resurfacing to police cover to cleaning litter after the roadside crowds have gone. Porrentruy’s politicians voted unanimously in favour. “It can seem a lot, and it is, but we asked the other Swiss municipalities that had staged the race before and they all got dividends back. In general everyone says it’s something important for the continued development of the region” says Jean-Claude Salomon of Porrentruy.

Calvados podium

King of the Mountains meets Municipal Barons

Don’t forget the other aspect of the media: TV images show the mayor waving off the bunch, or shaking hands on the podium with the winner. This is valuable publicity for their re-election campaign.

Join the queue
Porrentruy has been asking for years to host a stage, first submitting a bid in 2007 before finally being selected for 2012. Other towns do the same. Some feature regularly, for example Pau is a large city with ample hotel accommodation in the Pyrenees, where else can the race go?

ASO can use this to its advantage. Want the Tour de France? Well why not host a stage of Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné first as a rehearsal. This cross-selling allows ASO to rake in money from lesser races and can benefit the sport as a whole, bolstering the wider calendar.

Note that so far few have mentioned cycling. Towns are bidding for the race not because they want to support the race or even showcase local roads but to make a more general appeal about regional development, summer vacations and more. For these mayors, the Tour isn’t a bike race, it’s so much more.

And if you are a foreign reader, note the costs go up for inviting the race abroad. It is reported that the 2007 Grand Départ in London cost about €10 million but that it brought benefits worth even more.

Summary
Towns pay plenty for the privilege of hosting the Tour de France. Millions of TV viewers will watch, thousands of journalists will arrive. I can’t help feel they are there for the race and few pick up on the municipal marketing. But then again, had you heard of Porrentruy before?

jkeltgv October 20, 2011 at 10:27 am

It’s worked for me! Stage 8’s five categorised climbs and stage finish in Porrentruy is likely to be the focus of next year’s “big” ride with my brothers, now 4 of us in 4 different countries looking for somewhere fairly central to meet and ride together every now and again. They’ll sell us a few beers and a croque madame they might not have if they didn’t fork out a million bucks.

The last time we did it was to watch the grande depart TT from Monaco (2009?) but stayed in Liguria on the Italian side and in getting there rode the last 65km of Milano Sanremo and spent exactly 0 centimes in the principality which seemed entirely free of the big atmosphere you’d have expected of the tour’s opening.

PJ October 20, 2011 at 10:52 am

Interesting that the cost of hosting the TdF is easily quantified – bid fees to ASO, resurfacing roads etc, but the benefits you have cited are more subjective things that don’t easily translate to numbers – increased publicity of village, reputation, political largesse and such like. It would be interesting to see the results of a rigorous cost/benefit or input/output analysis that accounted for things like visitor expenditure and mulitiplier effects, although even this kind of evaluation only tells part of the story.

I’d suspect that in economic terms the hosting costs will more than likely outweigh the benefits, but the effect on civic pride would be significant. If the detailed, intricate nature of cycling-themed displays in the parks, roundabouts and fields of host communities is anything to go by, than I’d say the locals are very proud indeed!

However, what would be nice to see is some developmental linkage between host towns/villages, local cycling clubs/organisations and ASO. I have no idea of the structure of amateur cycling in France, or whether the ASO already have something like this in place, but it seems like an opportunity for benefit that reaches beyond local commerce and politics.

The Inner Ring October 20, 2011 at 10:58 am

jkeltgv: Monaco is a sanitised place, people go there to avoid tax; Liguria has a lot more colour but then so does the French coast beyond Monaco. You’ll enjoy the roads in the Jura around Porrentruy but might find the Grand Colombier easier to reach via the more accessible Geneva.

PJ: ASO has just signed a deal with French cycling, ending several years of conflict and mistrust. There’s not much of a direct tie in but this summer cycling schools – where kids start cycling with a club for fun – were booming thanks to Voeckler.

Kasper October 20, 2011 at 11:41 am

It’s a very interesting topic. In Denmark we are wondering the same thing. With the Worlds in 2011 and the Giro next year, obviously the authorities must think that there is some kind of value.

There will be many tourist around in the days of the event, but the lasting effects are harder to grasp. As a dane I turned to British Eurosport during the Worlds Time Trial event. The organisers had prepared a wonderfull press kit for all journalists, where all the trademarks where pointed out with history and everything.

During the Time Trial event I didn’t hear the commentators refer to any of these one single time. Even thoguh the riders passed through some of Denamrk most famous institutions like the royal family’s castle, the parliament etc.

Interesting topic none the less. It would be interesting to see some calculations from independent analytic-firms to get a feel.

David Walker October 20, 2011 at 12:43 pm

It’s true that I don’t remember the names of places at first but you get an association. One unmentioned thing is the advertising for France as a whole. Here in Australia the pictures of the race make me want to visit France and the towns help narrow down the choices for next 2012 or 2013.

Tom October 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm

The towns that benefit most are the ones born of fortunate geography and ample size that do not feature in a start/finish but figure prominently along the route.

I wonder what Briancon paid last year if anything. No stage started or finished there, but on two consecutive days of racing the tour came through. From Gap to Pinerolo the race came through the village of Briancon up a steep 10+% hill of around 400m. Spectators packed both sides and then the hotels, bars, cafes & restautrants. The next day the racing took the riders from Pinerolo to the top of the Galibier – again through Briancon and the scene was much the same.

Were they expected to make a contribution? Not only was the town filled with cyclists & TDF followers like me, but hotels were loaded with team cars, support vehicles and more.

RaphBxl October 20, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I was in Porrentury with my bike for the summer vacation, and I can tell you it is prime country for cycling: nice hills (not too harsh, not too easy), beautiful sights and clean roads with few cars.

And btw, it is actually where Christophe Moreau lives now. He had been living in a nearby town for quite a few years.

Darren October 20, 2011 at 9:01 pm

To be brutely honest, when watching a race (no matter which race or where) I am only interested in the race itself, and couldn’t give a flying snake’s ass where it is taking place! I only care wether it is a cobbled classic, one week stage race, and if a sprinters parcours or climbers parcours!!! For example I remember that 2 stages of the 2011 TDF ended in Lourdes and Gap, only because I am a fan of Thor Hushovd and he won both stages in memorable fashion! Other than that I believe there is also a stage that ends in Paris!!! ;-)

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