05 July 2011

Word of the Day at the TDF: Boucle

Boucle: loop

The nickname of the Tour de France is La Grande Boucle, the big loop. The grand loop is indeed big, and in 2011 the riders will ride a total distance of 3430.5km in a sort-of-circle (more like a zigzag this year) around France. The word in French for zigzag is zigzag, so for 2011 I am changing the name to La Grande Zigzag.

Beginning on the Passage du Gois on July 2nd, the route runs counter clockwise ending in Paris on July 24th. I am often asked which direction the Tour travels, the direction is easy to track because the race route alternates every year. The loop alternates clockwise one year, and then counter clockwise the next year.

The route of the Tour de France always includes the mountains of the Alps and the Pyrenees. If the race begins by climbing the Alps one year, the next year it will end with the Alps. It makes planning to attend the Tour de France easy. The race always begins the first weekend in July, is 3-weeks long, and alternates directions finishing in Paris.

The word Boucle also means yarn fabric, but in reference to the Tour de France, boucle means loop. We are talking about this kind of boucle -

Not this kind of boucle -

The route (parcours) of the Tour de France now traditionally ends in Paris on the Champs-Élysées, however the race starts in different cities, and even different countries each year. In 2010 the Tour de France started in Rotterdam. In 2011 the race started in France, next year it will start in Liege, and in 2013 the Tour de France is said to begin in Corsica. Barcelona and Florence are on the table for 2014.

The host cities also change every year. Paris, Bordeaux and Pau are the most commonly visited cities. Amaury Sports Organization (ASO) begins to secretly (sometimes) scout the route 5-7 years in advance. The route is set 2 years in advance, and finally announced under great fanfare in October/November prior to the race start in July.

A city must formally, in writing, request to be included in the Tour de France. Approximately 250 bids are received every year. A reconnaissance is completed to determine if the town can meet the requirements to support personnel, equipment, utilities, and access of the Tour de France.

The most important consideration is geography and that is why the main man behind the planning of the Tour de France route was a former geography professor. Jean-Louis Pagés (Directeur des Sites) travels around France up to half of the year to complete the selection, planning, designate road entrance and exits, and clarify improvements or changes needed in the host cities prior to the race. Can you imagine how well Pagés must know France?

It costs to host a stage of the Tour de France. The fee paid by the towns to the organizers of the Tour can be €45,000 or more for a stage start and double for a stage finish. If a city wants to host the grand départ start of the Tour de France, it will cost 2-3 million euro. I have no idea if Paris needs to pay A.S.O, since the operating costs must be enormous to close down so much of the city on the final day.

A cyclist needs to ride a bike very fast to complete a loop of France within 3 weeks. In 2010 Alberto Contador, the winner of the TDF, took 91 hours 58 minutes 48 seconds to complete La Grande Boucle. Andy Schleck came in second, after over 91 hours of bike racing he was 39 seconds behind, and lost the Tour de France. Think about that the next time you wait for someone 39 seconds.

1928 grande boucle of the Tour de France,  Image found on Velorunner.com
When a boucle was a boucle and not a zigzag

Regulations: the total mileage of Le Tour must not exceed 3,500 km, spread over 21 days’ racing (2 days of rest compulsory), during which the distance of 225 km cannot be exceeded more than twice. Towns must provide barriers for the final two kilometres of the race and provide sufficient space for all press and equipment. The local organizational role rests on the shoulders of the town's Mayor. Read more on the official Le Tour website.

My favorites: I like Pau, I do not favor Bordeaux to watch the Tour. I understand Lyon is very nice. I also like the small villages like Bourg d'Oisans or Luz-St-Sauveur, where the tour passes through. If you are not at the start, I think the fun is happening out on the road or on top of the nearby mountain. Wherever you watch it, one thing is for certain - a GPS in your car in France is a very good thing!

View the complete route of the 2011 Tour de France