Ecological protests against Tour de France

Planche des Belles Filles

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.

17 thoughts on “Ecological protests against Tour de France”

  1. Being an event organizer, it was with great interest that I was able to observe the finish of a stage from what ASO calls the “Technical Area” for a finish of the 2007 Tour. This is indeed a village in and of itself. How this much equipment gets set-up and moved is impressive in itself. The fact that the layout changes each day based upon the size and shape of the available real estate in each town is truly a marvel.

  2. Great post. Interesting not only because of the small controversy but also to read about the enormity of the task in staging a Tour finish. Another thing I’ve always wondered about is how the Tour erects and dismantles all the course markers, inflatable kilometer markers etc. for each stage.

  3. Can’t help thinking that the protests are a bit hypocritical given the fact how much skiing has done for the mountain landscape; and on a much larger scale than just a mountain top. But then again, skiing provides a steady cashflow for years, a cycling finish is just a single event. So it occurs to me it isn’t about the landscape, really, but about the money–as always.

  4. “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”
    Not really. This has been discussed during the “conseil général” meetings early September and early October (you can see still see the video of one of these meetings in my article at—rumours-on-the-race-course-and-stage-cities-.html ; cf. update on 3 October for the 7 July stage). The necessary modifications have clearly been announced but I’m not sure the project has been voted at that time since the decision doesn’t appear in .

  5. interesting post & paradox – part of the pleasure of watching the tour is the fights in the picturesque French mountains.
    Ecologists & local politicians all have their agendas, I believe that AOS has a role to play it leaving these places as they were found – while searching out new routes and cols –

  6. I think it’s a bit rich for the ASO to have certain ‘lite’ hilltop finishes and then expect a new summit finish to construct an unsightly car park beside the hilltop just to facilitate the media.

    For me the spectacle of riders battling up sparse hillsides thronged with people is the best part of the Grand Tours. Why should one small town have to construct a car park while others do not? I understand this summit does not have the prestige or mythology of the Galibier, but i believe that ecologists are right to oppose a long term besmirching of their countryside for the sake of 10 minutes in the global spotlight.

  7. Thomas Vergouwen: my point was that this was discussed but only as “updates to the road network” and not redesigning the summit to accommodate the Tour. So perhaps not the same full consultation, the “appel d’offre” / invitation for tender?

    haps: there are many more roads to use, a personal frustration is the way the Tour reuses the same roads again and again, although this is changing.

    Ronan: indeed, it is because they could get the finish zone but there is no way you can do this on the Galibier. But it shows many have issues with the size of the race, even if the protesters say yes to the Tour.

  8. Nice piece. It’s funny that the Giro and the Vuelta go greater lengths to place finish lines at impossible places (Angliru, Plan de Corones, Zoncolan, Lagos de C0vadonga, and especially, Bola del Mundo) with only the odd ecological group sometimes taking a stance. The TdF takes a more “middle of the road” approach (ski resorts, or traditional mountain passes). I think it won’t be long until the Tour starts finding remote mountain-tops too: it’s not only better for the “spectacle”, but also for touristic promotion. After all, “tourism” comes from “Tour”, right? My next bet: the Col du Parpaillon.

  9. La Planche-des-belles-filles is the finish of the major French granfondo Les 3 Ballons… better don’t underestimate that little short thing! The first k goes up 18% for a short while!

  10. Did these same folks (or maybe their grandparents) complain when the ski lift and all that stuff went in years ago? Seems a bit like making the mountain top “more pregnant” rather than destroying a natural area. LeTour is about promotion, someone had to pony up the euros to get Le Grand Boucle to come there in the first place I think, so are they ragging on them AND the profits that would seem to come their way as a result? I doubt anyone things cyclists riding around up there is going to be any real profit, Alpe d’Huez was a sleepy place in the summer for many years despite LeTour’s promo efforts. These mountain things (including those in Italy) are more about the affluent winter skiing tourists, getting them to consider Dolomiti Stars, etc. is what it’s all about. Regarding the setup/takedown of the finish line stuff, it’s a major project with guys out there early (or the day before) putting up the direction arrows, etc. I remember once being stranded at the roadside on the way to Albertville very late one night and seeing the finish-line crews with all their stuff going past in the wee hours of the morning. I would guess those guys then slept all day while another crew took over and set up all the stuff for that days finish. As for “finish-lite” I think it’s a great idea — I remember so many times thinking or saying “why don’t they finish atop X or Y?” only to hear there was not enough room for all the equipment and cars needed for a finish. There’s not much room for this stuff atop Passo Stelvio but somehow the Giro organizers will set up enough of it to have a proper finish while keeping (I assume) a lot of the usual stuff down in Bormio, probably running shuttles up there for the journo’s etc.

  11. I’ve always imagined that ‘winning’ stage starts/finishes gives towns an excuse to upgrade the local infrastructure, providing long-term benefit.

    The Gold Coast (just south of Brisbane) in Australia is currently bidding for the Commonwealth Games. I’m not particularly keen on the disruption – but on balance I’m ‘pro-bid’ because I know there’ll be lots of road and sporting facility upgrades/builds happening as a result.

    So long as the local environment isn’t trashed, but is instead made ‘more accessible’ (yes, its possible to do both!), then it surely must be a good thing…

  12. not sure of Giro but I’ve seen some of the Vuelta finishes in the last few years and it is definitely ‘lite’ – both Bola del Mundo, Angrilu etc. have minimal infrastructure at the finish and limit the number of vehicles that come up, hospitality tents etc. were further down those climbs. La Farrapona (Stage 14, 2011) definitely didn’t have much at the finish. The riders usually have to take their chances descending among the crowd to get to the team buses. That thought reminded of Xorret del Cati from 2010, the buses were all at a nearby town down on the plain.

    From all accounts though, the Tour is a far bigger show and even the lite version is going to be a reasonable size. Besides which, where will they put the camper vans !!!

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