The EF Dispatch: Creating moments to treasure at the Tour
A kilometer from the top of la Planche des Belles Filles, near the finish line of stage six, the asphalt runs out and white gravel continues to map the route to the summit. The steep gradient maliciously pulls the peloton apart, exposing a thousand expressions. Grimaces, gritted teeth, poker faces, strands of saliva swinging from chins. A scene unfolding in front of your eyes showing the visible effort of these sportsmen fighting the pain that’s saturating every muscle in their bodies, gradually grinding them down meter by meter.
It’s a showdown accompanied by a tunnel of noise, people roaring, banging fists on the metal barrier boards that line the road, encouraging the riders not to give in, to keep going to the line 300 meters away. But still some crack spectacularly, weaving across the road, vision becoming hazy as the brain tries to put an end to their exertion. But no one wants to stop because this is the Tour de France.
During an interview with race director, Christian Prudhomme, he says everyone who follows this race roadside will take moments such as this away with them. These precious snippets of time stay with us forever.
Each year he adds more to his memory bank full of treasures, that has been accumulating since he was a young boy stood roadside himself. It’s a race that everyone should experience at least once in his opinion, because once you do it will get under your skin and keep you coming back. There are moments when the Tour de France digs deep into your heart and pulls its every string. These moments, so vivid, become imprinted in memories and remain there for years to come.
Created by a famous French publication, L’Auto, in 1903, the Tour started out as a marketing ploy to sell more newspapers than their rival, Le Vélo. The race has evolved over the years from heavy old single-speed steel bikes to the aerodynamic lightweight carbon speed machines, that flank the roads and zip down mountains today. But even after 116 years, the formula remains pretty much the same. The one who reaches Paris with the least amount of time recorded on the clock gets to don that yellow jersey on one of the world’s most famous boulevards, the Champs Élysées.
Mike Woods sums up what it means to race the Tour de France, “I just don’t feel like I can say I’m a proper pro-cyclist until I complete the Tour de France,” he says.
Every pro cyclist dreams of sliding their arms into that iconic yellow jersey, more commonly known as the maillot jaune, on the top step of the podium. It brings most to tears if they manage a single day in yellow, nevermind taking it all the way to Paris. The Tour de France this year celebrates 100 years since the maillot jaune was first introduced. It’s one of, if not the most recognizable sporting symbols in the world. This year, history was made as Egan Bernal, of Team Ineos, became the first Colombian to win the Tour de France, and at 22 years-old is the youngest rider ever to win the yellow jersey.
But this race is more than just a yellow jersey, thousands of people transcend upon France each year to make sure this travelling roadshow keeps its momentum. Around 12 million people will line the roadsides over the 21 stages to watch the race fly past. Some have been returning year after year, for others it’s their first time discovering what is cycling’s most prized gem.
Race director Christian Prudhomme recalls his first memories of this great race, “When I was a kid, I remember a stage finish in the Alps where my mom and my grandmother were next to each other. It was my mom’s mother-in-law, and they didn’t necessarily always have a great relationship, but here they were next to each other and they were encouraging [rider] Raymond Poulidor.
“In this moment, I told myself ‘the Tour de France is incredible, mom and granny are together next to each other and everything is going well.’ That is the Tour de France, it’s the exploits of champions but it is also those memories that each one of us share.”
And as the world’s biggest three week yearly festival came to a close on a Champs Élysées bathed in a golden sunset haze. The seven laps between the Arc de Triomphe and Place de Concorde winding the race to a close had an atmosphere that makes hairs stand on end. Another 21 stages marked into the history books, with a trove full of memories to take away and treasure.