The Tour de France is one of the biggest sports events of the year, watched by 3 billion people annually in 188 countries. 2,000 journalists from all over the world attend, and a typical year will see 12 million spectators watch it in the flesh. These are undoubtedly amazing figures*. What makes them even more impressive is when you remember that this yearly event doesn’t take place in a designated stadium or enclosed space: it takes place on the roads of France itself. So for the event’s home nation, it’s a part of life in the summer as much as the annual rained-off BBQ is for Brits.
The route changes every year, so each region gets its turn in the spotlight as the years go by. Some are perennially popular – and it always ends in Paris – and others crop up only now and then. Bagnères de Bigorre, where we were living this summer, has been a relatively popular town with the Tour de France. It sits at the foothills of some of the hardest climbs in the Pyrenees. The town is hemmed in on two sides by mountains, and signs point out of town to places like Mongie – a ski village – and the Pic du Midi de Bigorre, an observatory at 2,872m high. They both rest around one of the most famous cycling climbs: the Col du Toumalet.
The week that Le Tour comes through any town in France, everything blossoms yellow. Every shop window has something to do with cycling behind the glass: cycling cakes in the patisserie, signed memorabilia in the pharmacie from local Tour de France legends, and even yellow bike decorations on the shelves in the supermarket. The gendarmes bring out their well rehearsed plans for the day, workers leave their desks, and the cafes stock up for the expectant crowds.
Here’s what one town looks like when the circus of the Tour de France rolls by.
*figures from the Le Tour Yorkshire website here