I’ve seen many cycle races in France and Belgium as well as in the UK but I’d never actually witnessed a stage of the Tour de France in France. So this would be an opportunity to see Le Tour as it swept through a small town in the middle of northwest France.
The tour caravan would pass through around 2pm with the riders following behind about 3.50pm. So I planned my day so as to arrive just before the first of the commercial elements — the caravan — of the stage arrived.
The Tour is an import economic event for the places it passes through, with the start and finish towns and cities reaping the most commercial benefit from the attraction. Many of the shops in Lassay had special Tour de France displays in the windows but apart from the bars, cafes and restaurants most of the shops and businesses appeared to be closed. Presumably a holiday took place with the town’s inhabitants and business people taking the afternoon off to cheer on Le Tour.
A lot of organisational effort is put in and a large number of Gendarmes (French police) are employed along the route and to accompany the caravan and riders. The caravan and riders pass at an average speed of 40kph or more and the Gendarmes warn people to stay on the pavement and only emergency vehicles are allowed to cross the roads.
For each stage a special programme is produced showing the route and featuring articles on various riders and teams, and many adverts.
Official Tour memorabilia vans set up along the route to sell hats, shirts and other commemorative items.
After a few police motor cycles pass through the main commercial caravan appears and sponsors throw out free samples and souvenirs to the crowds as they pass through.
This goes on for about an hour with groups of vehicles belonging to various sponsors passing through.
If you are lucky you get some nice souvenirs if you are quick enough to grab them as they are hurled from the vehicles. I was grateful for a free cloth shopping bag which came my way. I got hit in the face by some packets of small cakes as an extra bonus.
In between all this there is a lot of waiting and those on the sunny side of the street start to look a little wilted.
Finally the 22 teams of up to nine riders pass though. If you blink, you’ll miss them. I failed to photograph the first riders of the breakaway group as they whizzed past at about 60kph due to the road sloping down hill through the town.
There are around 200 cyclists and probably many more motor vehicles. It’s quite an event.
A small French town like Lassay provided atmosphere without the hoards of people associated with viewing the Tour in a large town or city. I had a very enjoyable afternoon.
British rider Mark Cavendish won the sprint at the end of the stage in Fougeres with Andre Greipal and Peter Sagan a close second and third. Chris Froome took the yellow jersey as race leader.