Bringing the Tour to Town

Tour de France arrival

Every year millions of French people have the Tour de France riding through their town or village. Many are indifferent, plenty will enjoy the day and some will fume with rage at the traffic chaos caused by road closures. But on the whole hosting the Tour de France is seen as a good thing and towns pay for the privilege. How much does it cost?

Of course it’s not just French towns, ASO has branded the grand départ and packaged it into a portable sports event. This start is distinct with a high price tag that’s around the €2 million mark. The fee paid to ASO brings the world’s media to the start for several days, typically Wednesday to Sunday and helps put the place on the map.

What’s different is the other towns along the route. There are 36,000 mayors from Paris to villages and most of them would love to see the race visit their corner of France. An ordinary stage costs about €50,000 for the start and often more for a stage finish, perhaps €80,000. The difference is obvious, the finish town is by definition a destination and the media coverage is much bigger as the start of most stages is not live on TV.

The numbers so far are for ASO’s cash fee. Assume 20 stages where each start and finish town is paying €50,000 and that’s 40 times €50,000 or €4 million in hosting fees to add to the €2 million for the grand départ. It’s good business but it’s behind the TV rights money which is ASO’s greatest source of income and also the sponsorship income where, I understand the sponsorship deals for the four jerseys in the Tour de France generate about €6 million alone.

But the cash fee is only the start of it. If possible ASO will arm-twist the town into hosting a stage of Paris-Nice or the Dauphiné, you’ll often find places tested by these races before they appear on the route for July. But the real costs add up. Britain’s hosting of the start next year will cost more £21 million.

Extra costs
On top of the fee for ASO comes a lot of extra costs. The Tour sends a pack with a long list of jobs to complete, for example removing street furniture for the run in to a race. This is subject to negotiation, some towns will pay to rip up the roads in order to showcase their charms. Others find the costs are not worth it and the Tour’s stage finish will take place on some uninspiring outskirts of the town, often by a sports complex where there’s easy parking and a gymnasium to double as a press room.

Thibaut Pinot
Cost of stage: 900,000 Swiss francs. Winning: priceless

All this extra work is not cheap. The numbers in France are not so easily available but Switzerland’s open government helps us. For the 2011 visit to Porrentruy – Thibaut Pinot won – the authorities calculated 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. 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” said Jean-Claude Salomon of Porrentruy.

Winners and Losers
Note the costs and benefits fall on different people. In general taxpayers as whole have to pay via local contributions and on the day many celebrate but a few rail at the road closures. The winners are more obvious, notably the tourist industry. The Tour alone needs about 4,500 hotel beds every night and the race puts a spotlight on the regions charms.
There’s also an interest for the local mayor to say oui. You’ve probably seen the podium ceremonies which finish with the rider shaking hands with various men-in-suits and invariably the mayor is there, a nice photo-op.

But there are losers. The Stage 20 time trial of the 2014 Tour between Bergerac and Périgueux could be a vital moment of the race but it means a town like Périgueux will suffer plenty of disruption. As Sud-Ouest newspaper reports, when the Tour visited Périgueux in 1994 it was bad for the shopkeepers as customers didn’t bother coming to town.

The Tour can be a draw but often only cyclists will make the trip to see the race. Instead it forms part of the summer calendar for towns along the route, alongside the jazz festival or medieval battle recreation, something that’s happening for tourists to enjoy but not always the reason to visit.

Is it worth it?
During the Tour there were many comments on Twitter from people saying they wanted to visit Corsica, the world got to see the “island of beauty” and it probably has helped the tourism industry. But what of the other places like Chorges, Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule or St Malo that hosted a stage start or finish, do you remember them? It’s said a huge audience is watching but the spotlight is on the event itself. 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 so they don’t always have much to write home about.

Tour de France
One of the best stages of the 2013 Tour… but do you remember where it was?

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 functional 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. I think the Vosges should gain but they still won’t be a huge draw as everyone wants to ride up “the Alpe” even if it’s full of traffic because it’s so famous.

Towns pay plenty for the privilege of hosting the Tour de France. Millions of TV viewers will watch, thousands of journalists will arrive. It’s a big deal, you can’t get the Olympics or FIFA World Cup to your town as easily. But just like the riders, not everyone can win with a stage finish.

37 thoughts on “Bringing the Tour to Town”

  1. On the economics part: in 2007 the London leg generated £88 million. This time it should be even more, but I can’t find any estimations. So, it’s surely a very good investment. Though I have to admit, I can’t remember the place where Dan Martin won 🙂

  2. Another interesting piece. Last year on my way to the Col du Colombier I stopped off in Macon at a routier we used to frequent in another life. It was the rest day, the town down by the river was heaving, a couple of blocks out it was dead. Same with the bar which was on the old road to Italy. I run a small business and know what its like to have no money coming in, so you see the signs. Most people think the tour is a licence to print money. There is always some doing pretty alright out of it. But for others depending on your location, you’d be glad when the caravane has moved on. Personally all the bull about how much money people spend at events is completely unrealistic. Happy Days. I don’t think Jacob Fugsland is going forget the name in a hurry! Hoping for even better 2014 for D-Mart and Los Colobianos

  3. “….and the ski resort does a roaring trade in the summer from cyclists.” made me remember back-in-the-day when that was far from the case. In the early ’90’s it was a sleepy place in summer with only a tiny “Bernard’s Bike & Mower” shop down at the bottom and almost nothing open at the top. Really a ghost-town almost. Imagine my surprise when I visited 10+ years later to find a shop selling pretty much everything you can imagine with “Alpe d’Huez” screened, embroidered or engraved on it with clients lining up outside to buy. Countless commercial photo operations and everyone and their frere riding bikes up the thing. The effects of the “modern” Tour I guess.

  4. I agree that there has to be something beautiful to get the tourists beyond a finish straight. It does work though having decided to add a few days in Annecy (as part of a French summer holiday which included a couple of days watching the Alp stages in 2011) based purely on the 2009 TT around the lake. I would never have thought of visiting had it not been for that stage – and I would have be the worse for it.

  5. There’s definitely a balance. I’d love to know whether Liege feel they got value for money; I live an hour away and have never been there and the majority of people I know are the same. I agree about the Alps though; there’s a lot of marquee climbs that are somewhat less impressive when you take away the crowds. As you said, Huez is the standout, an eyesore that smells funny and costs an arm and a leg.

    I almost hope that the Vosges doesn’t get much extra traffic. For me it’s a relatively unsung riding destination for most and as such you can find glorious (or agonising as you prefer) climbs, with almost no traffic or bikes on them outside the obvious places like the Col de la Schlucht.

  6. While the Tour will clearly make plenty of money from next year’s Grand Depart, at least there are also valid sporting reasons for the trip to Britain. How long I wonder, though, before we see a Grand Tour starting in China or the Middle East.

  7. Do you follow cyclocross. Do you have an in-depth knowledge that you can share. Difference between the world cup and the super prestege, bikes the format etc. Started following it on UCI You tube channel. Are there any guys from the Pro or pro conti teams that ride competitively?

    • I can only reply to your last question:

      Yes, some of the best riders in Cross are members of continental teams. Sven Nys is a member of the Pro Continental team Crelan-Euphony. Niels Albert rides for BKCP-Powerplus which also does a small season on the road.

      • Ha, it’s ok! Cross is fine but I do like the big races and the warm weather. This is a blog and not a news site and it’s impossible to cover everything so I stick to men’s road cycling. Like road cycling itself, I’ll take a break from writing about races, previews and post-race analysis in the winter.

        I’ll add Lars van de Haar to Argos-Shimano. But it’s become a very specialist field and there’s less crossover, although the long road season is to blame too, you can’t race hard all year.

        • There are a few who still crossover – Lars Boom of Belkin still rides the World Championships for Cyclocross. Zdenek Stybar I think is now fully committed to road racing, but he was a successful cyclo cross rider.

          Regarding the Vosges, I followed the tour here in 2009 staying at Bussang and watching on a cold and wet down on the Platzerwasel was blown away by the scenery and the climbs.

          There are some great climbs, le Grand Ballon, Ballon d’Alsace and Petit Ballon, really looking forward to it.

  8. Great article again.

    I assume that the towns surrounding the likes of Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez etc don’t have to pay every other year or so for the Tour to visit and it simply comes because ASO want to take the route there?

  9. The towns surrounding the Alps like Gap are a good example of places that ASO frequently use, but doesn’t seem to get much tourism boost even though they are great central locations for athletic vacations.

  10. How are employees of a business in a start village effected by the depart/arrivee? The congestion from the buses, crowds, riders, support staff etc., would perhaps cause those offices within the immediate area of the depart to open later, while offices in the arrivee town would perhaps close early?

    I mean, my cousin lives in Pau, where her office was located just above the rider’s staging area in 2012. Her company gave her the entire morning to watch the riders off.

    • You describe how it works, some will go and see the race. It used to be a tradition for factory workers to get time off if the race was on the route, less so now.

      It’ll depends on the shops and whether they’ll gain or lose from the crowds and disruption. An anecdote: in the Giro this year a seamstress was open and managed to make a quick repair to a torn skinsuit zip.

  11. Thanks Inner Ring? One last question within the subject bike races and costs: why hasn’t Germany tried to initiate any type of tour to attempt to replace the Deutschland Tour? I know the Germans took the doping issue a bit harder than most, but there economy is running relatively well, and with sizable contingent of it’s country’s riders approaching their primes in the near future, it would be a shame not to showcase their talent on home soil.

    • I think cycling, since it was removed from TV, has become less of a mass-market interest sport. I think it will take a German grand tour contender to turn it around properly.

  12. “Others find the costs are not worth it and the Tour’s stage finish will take place on some uninspiring outskirts of the town, often by a sports complex where there’s easy parking and a gymnasium to double as a press room.”

    This appears to be the plan in Sheffield. The final route won’t be confirmed until the springtime but the general route seems to consist of coming in through the north of the city and finishing in the east end at the Sheffield Arena. There were plans to finish at the Don Valley stadium but that will more than likely have been closed by then due to cutbacks.

    Rather than showing the best that my home city has to offer (or what’s left of it) you are going to see an endless selection of factory units, land for sale that used to be steel works and Meadowhall shopping centre.

    It’s a shame really. Sheffield has always been a cycling city in it’s own little way. We are on the edge of the Peak District and 5 or 6 miles south or west from the centre will get you in to some really nice rides.
    I’ll do a google map of the proposed route tomorrow.

  13. I had to laugh at the mention of medieval reenactments – great fun to visit when on holiday, although my teenage children at not as keen as when they were younger.

  14. Thanks for a great article again.

    I assume there must be occasion when ASO comes asking a city to host a stage finish or start. When they want to finish atop the Alpe d’Huez or at the bottom of the Lautaret or Galibier in Briancon, do they arm twist the city or does the city get a discount? For example, Pau which has hosted the tour de France 47 times since 1947 (Wikipedia source) is almost a necessary stop when crossing the Pyrenees. Do they pay the full price each time?

    Thank you

  15. Does anyone know when and why the annually alternating clockwise/counterclockwise Tour route began? Since it’s inception has it ever been run in the same direction consecutively?

  16. I would think that some towns dont have to pay as much as they are logistically in a good place for either the start or the finish – Pau, Bangners du Luchon, Briancon – come to mind.

    Earlier this year I sat in on a presentation Prudhomme gave about the Tour – so much about selecting the Tour route is to do with the logistical requirements of getting the media entourage a big enough venue that they can get in and out of quickly – thats why the Tour doesnt go deep into the Pyrenees anymore. Cautauret of Superbagners havent been on the route for years – mind you there is a stage finish up Pla d’Atet (sp?) next year.

    The footage this year from Corsica did look fantastic.

  17. Great article again Inner ring..Location is Bagnere – de- Bigorre – Dan Martin’s stage win as pictured above.. I was at the finish line with a small group of Irish people cheering Dan on. My partner and I stayed in a campsite 2 km from the finish, great campsite & a nice village. We spent a couple of days in Bagnere, as did several hundred others waiting on the tours arrival. The campsite owner & restaurant owners were hugely positive about the tour and hoped to see it back. I would definitely visit again, Bagnere has some great cycling on its doorstep…

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