Hosting The Tour

While you’re enjoying this year’s Tour, next year’s route is near to being signed-off and the 2021 route is taking shape too. There can be up to 300 towns applying to host a stage of the Tour de France each year and race organiser ASO can thread the race among these towns, but also make a detour here and there to visit places that haven’t asked but could be good for the race and usually they say yes. Towns pay for the privilege and we’ll see how much below but the income from the hosting fees isn’t as important as it used to be and this might give the race more opportunities to visit remote areas if they can provide a spectacle.

How much? The standard tariff is €70,000 for a stage start and €120,000 for a finish, plus VAT. For a grand départ it varies but this year’s start in Brussels is reported to be €5 million, a lot more but it’s the destination with the team presentation and three days of racing. Still the grand départ fee is bigger than all the hosting fees for the other stages combined.

For race organiser ASO these daily fees are a source of income not what it used to be. In the past the hosting fees could deliver half the race’s income, these days it’s more like 10%. Anecdotally host fees have risen above inflation – they were €50,000 and €100,000 not long ago – but ASO’s coffers (see the blog post “The Finances of ASO” for more) have swollen more thanks to the sale of TV rights and race sponsorship whether the major partners like Skoda, LCL, Leclerc or the smaller ones in the race caravan.

Is it worth paying for? At first glance yes given there’s usually a queue of towns to host the Tour, often 250-300 candidates for the 25-35 start and finish options, the price isn’t putting towns off. But it’s more complicated than this, if a small town wants to host the Tour it might find it too expensive but it can get funding from from other layers of local government like the départment and région. This is just the hosting fee. There are often more costs on top, like roadworks which could go from some fresh tarmac to removing a whole roundabout. Then there’s a marketing budget on top for the event. Visit towns along the route in the days before the race and it really does feel like something special is coming.

What does a town get back from it? It depends. For some places it’s one event on a sporting and cultural calendar packed with hundreds of activities, for others it’s the biggest thing to arrive in town for years; for most it’s somewhere in between. The payment goes out but there are benefits in return. For start all the Tour’s caravan arrives in town, a travelling circus with a reported 4,500 people needing a bed for the night as well as food and drink. Then there all the visitors who come to see the race itself. Plus there’s the chance to promote the town, perhaps you’ve seen the Pont du Gard on TV or other places and would like to visit next time? Images are beamed around the world and the Tour is a three week tourist promotion event. You probably watch for the racing but opinion polls have shown a large share of the TV audience tunes in to see France in the glory of summer.

Ski resorts like the Tour. Alpe d’Huez has established itself as a summer destination thanks to the race’s regular visit to point where thousands of cyclists winch their way up every day. The Alpe and the Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of the climb have established a cycling economy with far more bike shops than the local population could sustain and there’s a flourishing trade in bike rental, souvenir t-shirts and more. All this has taken time though, the Tour first visited 1952 and it wasn’t until the 80s that it visited regularly and with this it became a cycling destination, complete with La Marmotte, the first cyclosportif of its kind.

With the decreasing importance of the hosting fees for ASO’s business there’s probably more flexibility. Once upon a time the race had to visit venues who’d pay in order to make ends meet, now if the hosting fees are 10% of the race’s income then there’s room to think about visiting areas for free if it makes the race more exciting and so boosts TV viewing which in turn makes the broadcast rights more value. Take the Prat d’Albis, it was labelled as Foix as well because it’s sort of above the town and presumably Foix helped to pay but there are more remote places which would be valuable to visit in sporting and commercial terms but they may not have the hosting fee. But maybe the moment ASO waives a hosting fee every other mayor starts to expect this too?

Towns apply to ASO and there are meetings with the organiser sending teams to visit the area, scout areas and so on. Tour boss Christian Prudhomme can meet many mayors and local officials in the year including plenty during the Tour and part of his job is sell the race but apparently it’s an easy job. Sometimes a local mayor likes cycling, this year’s stage to Epernay in the Champagne vineyards happened in part because the mayor Franck Leroy is a cycling fan. He told Europe 1 radio the other day that he even suggested the sharp climbs amid the vineyards because he wanted Julian Alaphilippe to win… which he did.

With so many places wanting to host the Tour, one way to jump the queue or at least prove how things can be done is to host another race first. While everyone wants the Tour, hosting a stage of the Dauphiné or Paris-Nice probably helps bring the Tour. Obviously this is out of the question for many regions because of geography. ASO also owns the Vuelta a España and this helps explain why the Vuelta started in Nîmes two years ago (pictured). Yes the Roman town has Spanish connections with its corrida but in hosting the start of the Vuelta, Nîmes probably shot to the top of the list to host a Tour stage this year that was a start and finish as well as hosting the race for the rest day. Similarly the Vuelta has visited Pau too and ASO can use its portfolio of races to cross-sell.

16 thoughts on “Hosting The Tour”

  1. Is there a similar system for the Vuelta & Giro? Or is this a distinctly Tour de France thing?

    As an aside, I stayed in Vaison La Romaine last month, which the race passed through for the intermediate sprint today. Admittedly, thats a local base for Ventoux cycling so an easier pick, but these little quaint towns are so buried within the French countryside, you can see why they would invest in having the Tour circus pass through. It must be so genuinely exciting.

    • Yes, it’s similar for the Giro and Vuelta but the sums involved are much smaller, (as are the TV ratings and the entourage and number of fans etc) so it’s proportional to some extent.

      As a French political journalist remarked people in smaller villages along the route see the Tour as something enduring, along the lines of “they can close the post office, shut the school but at least we have the Tour”. It is something special to many places which explains all the decorations like old bikes sprayed yellow etc, a fleeting image for riders and TV viewers a like but part of a month or more of build up to the race passing.

    • Not for the hosting, or at least it’s not heard of. But it helps with the police costs, normally it would cost a lot more to have the huge police presence. The Tour is now so big and security has become an issue in the last few years that there aren’t enough police for the race and the firemen, road workers and others are also being drafted in to help with road closures.

  2. I find it completely baffling the sheer number of stunning towns/routes/roads climbs the Tour has to choose from. A ‘mediocre’ region/climb visited every once in a while by the Tour would likely be the annual centre-piece for other countries’ stage races. I find myself constantly saying it when I visit the Alpes – “this would be the Mecca of climbs back in the UK”. That La Planche des Belle Filles was only ‘discovered’ in 2012 is a case in point. If like you say, hosting fees are becoming less important, who knows how many hidden gems they are going to uncover. What an unbelievable country.

  3. Does Paris bother with a hosting fee for the final stage? Surely they’re in a position to call the Tour’s bluff, “fine, don’t finish on the Champs Elysee, thrn”.

    • Good question and there’s a start fee (linked to cross-selling Paris-Nice starts too) but the value of the Champs Elysées stage finish and the imagery it provides is priceless to the Tour. This year’s route is adjusted after talks with the Paris mayor’s office, it’ll show off more of Paris including a ride past the Sénat, the Courts of Justice and even into the Louvre’s courtyard around the glass pyramid before onto the regular Champs Elysées circuit.

  4. Great piece. It must be cost effective for the towns when you consider how often the likes of Pau feature (when did the tour last NOT go to Pau?)

    How does l’Etape de Tour figure into this. Do towns bid for this too? With the number of entrants, this could be of bigger value to the local economy

    • I don’t know the economics of the Etape, just that it is a logistical consideration as they can only run it now somewhere within range of a good-sized town or city that has enough accommodation but as you say it is probably valuable too for the hosts.

      • Pau is by far the biggest town near the high Pyrenees and, as a Victorian resort adored by the British, has plenty of accommodation. The local authorities probably factor in the Tour’s fee into their annual financial projections.

        • Arguably without the Tour, Pau has to organize several of their own sporting/cultural events. So the Tour/Etape at the right price might be justifiable.

          • The town has really bought into the Tour, it’s got a park with a section decorated with “totems” for all of the Tour’s winners; there’s a street with the winners painted on the road etc. But it’s got other things like the motor racing circuit and its grand prix. It’s also a student town and probably the most lively place in the region, it beats Tarbes as a place to visit/stay.

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