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July 28, 2010

Le Tour de France 2010 in the Champs Elysées

by soundlandscapes

The Tour de France 2010 ended in spectacular style in the Champs Élysée last Sunday and I was there to see it and to record it.

The greatest free show on earth with a television audience exceeding any other sporting event save for the Olympic Games and the football World Cup and seen for free by millions of people standing by roadsides and mountainsides all over France, the Tour de France is a spectacular event.

Covering 3,643 km over three weeks in July, this year’s Tour de France began with a prologue in Rotterdam, followed by a total of nine flat stages, six mountain stages, including two climbs of the formidable Col du Tourmelet, three summit finishes, four medium mountain stages and one individual time trial. Not surprisingly, the Tour has been likened to running a marathon every day for three weeks.

For the last thirty-five years the final stage of le Tour has involved a run into Paris and then an eight lap, fifty kilometre, sprint around the Champs Élysée. As with every stage of le Tour a carnival atmosphere prevails. This is helped by the publicity caravan that passes along each stage route well before the riders appear. The publicity caravan consists of highly decorated and very colourful vehicles representing the Tour sponsors. The caravan takes about an hour to pass and as well as being colourful and lots of fun it is also very, very loud.

After the caravan there is a pause of about an hour before the riders appear during which the tension mounts. The huge crowd lining the route can listen to a live commentary and watch the riders on the on the big screen TV’s.

As the riders hurtle up the rue de Rivoli, across the Place de la Concorde and then bear right into the Champs Élysée for the first time the atmosphere is electric. For those who haven’t seen this spectacle before, and even for those of us who have, it is the speed and the colour that makes the biggest impression. 

However, the riders don’t travel alone, far from it. They have a travelling entourage of official cars, team cars complete with spare bicycles balanced on top, police motorcycles, photographers’ and TV camera motorcycles, a doctor’s car, an ambulance, as well as a van to collect any wreckage. As if the rumble of all this rubber thundering over the pavé on the Champs Élysée wasn’t enough there are the ever-present TV helicopters hovering overhead. It’s a very noisy travelling circus.

By the time le Tour reaches the Champs Élysée the overall winner, the maillot jaune, is usually known but that doesn’t lessen the excitement. By convention, the leading rider leads his team at the head of the peloton into the Champs Élysée to tremendous cheers from the crowd. However, this only lasts for the first half lap or so, after that it is the sprinters who begin jockeying for position at the head of the field. Winning the final stage of le Tour in the Champs Élysée is very prestigious and all the sprinters fight hard for the honour.

Here is the atmosphere as the riders entered the Champs Élysée on their first lap.

The end of this year’s final stage was particularly exciting with Mark Cavendish from the Columbia team appearing in exactly the right place at the right time and then, in the last five hundred metres, powering ahead to win this stage and his fifth stage of this year’s Tour.

This was the reaction of the crowd as Mark Cavendish took the lead and crossed the finish line.

Alberto Contador was the overall winner, the maillot jaune, of this year’s Tour finishing thirty-nine seconds ahead of Andy Schleck with Denis Menchov in third place.

Recording le Tour is not easy. With no access to the press enclosures and with a huge and very enthusiastic crowd to cope with, the best one can hope to do is to capture the atmosphere and the excitement. On Sunday, I recorded about five hours of material which I will reduce to make a thirty-minute programme. I suspect that the editing will take much longer than the original five hours recording time!


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