The smell of fresh tarmac

La Patrouille

They say the Queen must think the world smells of fresh paint because everywhere the British monarch goes it is likely that the buildings have been smartened up with a fresh coat of paint for the occasion. It’s not that dissimilar to France at the moment, where with the Tour de France just days away, final preparations to the roads, towns and even fields along the route are underway.

The image above is from France’s regional newspaper Ouest-France (curiously the world’s largest selling French-language newspaper) and depicts officials from a layer of regional government viewing a section of the Tour de France route. “Potholes, gravel on the corners, badly positioned drain covers: nothing escapes them” says the piece.

If the staff were savvy enough to turn the moment into a photo-opportunity, the inspection of roads is something happening across all of France right now. At the same time, flower baskets are being tended too in villages, roundabouts are being decorated with bicycle-inspired designs and even France’s farmers are getting in on the act, sunflowers are being coaxed in order to be ready for that clichĂ© and soon hay bales will be arranged to spell “Vive le Tour” or some other similar message.

Tour de France roundabout
Le Tour des Rondpoints

This is detail unafforded to any other race. When Paris-Nice or the DauphinĂ© rolls though, it’s often an inconvenience because roads have to be closed and if some enjoy the spectacle, a fair share of locals get irate, indeed a few mayors even make a point of saying non to the disruption.

But le Tour is different. Even if it’s a fleeting moment, few towns seem to want to look drab when the race passes through. It’s all a lot of work for a few seconds on TV. I’ve seen small villages hire road-sweeping machinery to scrub the tarmac to almost hygienic levels. But never underestimate municipal pride and remember France is still a very rural country. There are large parts of the country where, for good or bad, nothing ever happens. Open some regional newspapers and it’s an account of village festivals and minor road traffic accidents. So the idea of this huge race rolling though is a big deal and for some places, the biggest thing to happen all year.

Of course, this isn’t to say every section of road is brand new nor that the route has been swept of every bit of gravel. Plus many road repairs in France seem to use a form of bitumen that melts when the summer heat arrives. But big efforts do go into fixing the roads and when you see the race flying through the countryside, enjoy the additional colours that many have worked hard to bring to the race.

10 thoughts on “The smell of fresh tarmac”

  1. I can absolutely verify this post! I rode up the Col du Telegraphe a couple of weeks ago and found the road being resurfaced about half way up. In fact I had to stop at the lights for about five minutes. While that was – truth be told – welcome respite on a blistering hot day, the covering of hot tar and grit my tyres received over the next 500m was less so!

    Ah well – I still can’t wait to see them covering the same ground in a few weeks’ time.

  2. Yes, here in Northumberland all the potholes on the circuit for the National champs were filled in last week and roadside verges were mown. By the By it was a great days racing with Sky totally dominating the event, so Mr Wiggins will be easier to spot in the helicopter shots during the Tour and indeed for the next 12 mths 🙂

  3. Whatever the preparations, they can’t control the weather: I was sat in a cafĂ© at the base of the Galibier last week, hoping to ride it on my motorbike, but instead watched the rain bounce down on the car park, the peaks hidden by clouds. It was my second such visit. I’ve never ridden it. And won’t risk going back either engine or leg powered. I’ve never been to the Alps without it raining.

    Anyway, today I’ll book leave from work to watch stages 18 and 19. Officially excited!

  4. Belgium roads are pretty special, but whenever the most horrible roads get a new tarmac layer, one can be sure a bigger race will pass through there. They even resurfaced the road up to the Vaalser Berg from the Belgian side, a road I though of long lost in the plans of the local administrations.

  5. Well this makes me hope the Scotland 2016 grand depart bid is successful cause thatd mean my local roads would finally get the attention they deserve.


  6. Getting very excited here. We’re off to Le Bourg D’Oisans for 4 days to watch the Galibier and Alpe D’Huez stages. Hopefully going to ride the Cols as well.

    Not long now……

  7. A year ago to the day I was riding the Madeleine for marmotte training and they were resurfacing both sides. Which ruined a perfectly good pair of pro race 3s

  8. 2 years ago on a trip to Roussillon to watch the tour in France, Spain, & Andorra, I did a long ride through the hills & vineyards with the plan to loop back onto the tour route ahead of the caravan and finish with watching it go by with my wife & friends. I timed my loop poorly and arrived onto the tour route just as the caravan started to pass. I ended up stuck in a small country village for a few hours until both the caravan and race passed. It was a great experience hanging out with the locals and, while they spoke little english & me less french, it was clear they were proud of their village and that the tour was passing through. I especially liked the local gendarme who was having a great time holding court at his post as the one 90 degree turn though town center.

  9. So even for the non-cycling-loving locals, having the Tour de France coming through your village is likely seen as a good thing then??

    A bit like cities that win the Olympics – many hate the diruption, but are happy to see the sudden massive investment in infrastructure that comes with it….

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