First up don’t get visions of thousands of Frenchmen waving banners and going on strike. Protests are small but nevertheless the arrival of the Tour de France at the Planche des Belle Filles ski station is filling some pages of the French press.
It all comes down to the finish of Stage 7, in fact the last few hundred metres. As you can see in the picture above, the top of the hill is being landscaped and terraced in order to include an extended finishing ramp as well as a car park. It’s a lot of work for a ski station that has four runs and three lifts.
Some of the local troubles seem to involve local rules and politics, with the work going ahead without consultation. Ecologists claim the works amount to “urbanisation” which seems to be pushing it whilst the local authorities claim this is merely a “timely improvement of the local roads” which is also stretching things. The secrecy of the Tour de France route meant the usual consultative process was sidestepped, the award of a stage finish and the need to do the works was kept quiet by the regional government.
The Tour de France is a big deal, an army that marches across the landscape. When it arrives it needs a certain amount of space for the finish line and related logistics, like the broadcast units and media trucks, VIP zones and more. 12-15km of power and fibre optic cables are deployed to c0nnect the finishing village. All this is supported by diesel energy generators with enough power to keep a town of 18,000 people going. Given all this you can’t put the finish line anywhere, a large space is needed. It’s just in remote mountains that this rule applies, when the race visits a city sometimes the finish line is not in the historic centre of town but instead is placed on the edge of town, on the edge of a retail or industrial park or near the local sports stadium and its ample car park.
The Tour is experimenting with a finish zone “lite”. When Andy Schleck won on the Galibier last July (incidentally the highest finish point ever in the Tour de France), the finish line was reduced to the bare essentials. The top of the pass has a small car park, enough for passing tourists to park and take a photo but no more. The rest of the media and ancillary services were deployed further down the mountain. It can be done.
It’s all a reminder that whilst cycling is normally a peaceful and harmonious activity, the world’s biggest bike race is not. Back on the Planche des Belle Filles the hope is that the ski station gets some cycling notoriety, giving it a role in summer as well as winter. The road won’t become Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux but if cyclists are heading near the region, many will want to give this a go.
Works to accommodate the Tour de France are causing a small controversy. It’s a sign of how big the race that these works go ahead. But the race organisers are experimenting with ideas to reduce the size of the finish zone. This isn’t just for environmental reasons, a more agile zone will be able to visit more places, to provide more spectacular finishes and bigger audience figures.