Economy, tourism and diplomacy: For the Tour de France, leaving abroad becomes a norm

Economy, tourism and diplomacy: For the Tour de France, leaving abroad becomes a norm
The Tour of Italy started from Budapest. The Tour of Spain will start from Utrecht and the Tour de France is about to start from Copenhagen, which would have been the city of departure in 2021 without the Covid-19, replaced for their greatest happiness by Brest and Brittany. We can already hear the curmudgeons, who have nothing against Hungary, the Netherlands or Denmark but lament: “This is no longer the Tour de France!

What can you say to them, except that this chronic indignation has lasted for sixty-eight years? In 1954, the Tour de France, which had already stopped in Geneva in 1913 (we will not count the incursions into occupied Alsace-Lorraine), left Amsterdam. When you have a national marvel, why refrain from exporting it?

In 1909, Henri Desgrange cherished this wish, writing in Car : “Didn’t I dream (…) that next year the ‘Tour de France’ (the quotation marks are his) could go from Nice to Tunis to go to Algiers and return via Perpignan?“Certainly, Algeria and Tunisia were French at the time, but the founding father saw well beyond the borders.

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Henri Desgrange in his office.

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Already eleven (and soon thirteen?) since the year 2000

The demand is so strong that, since 1954, the big departure has been given twenty-three times from abroad, counting Monaco: six times from the Netherlands (in addition to Amsterdam, Scheveningen, Leiden, s’Hertogenbosch, Rotterdam and Utrecht); five times from Belgium (Brussels and Liège twice, Charleroi); four times from Germany (Cologne, Frankfurt, Berlin, Düsseldorf); twice from Luxembourg; twice from England (London and Leeds); one from Switzerland (Basel), Spain (San Sebastian) and Ireland (Dublin).

We therefore add Copenhagen and Denmark, for which the landing of the Tour from July 1 to 3 constitutes a major event on which Queen Margrethe II even dwelled on December 31, in her message of wishes: “This summer, the biggest cycling race in the world, the Tour de France, will cover several stages in Denmark. Departure will be in Copenhagen, and the journey will go from Roskilde over the Great Belt Bridge and end in Sønderborg. It will be a great event where we can also show how wonderful Denmark is.”

Two months later, Queen Margrethe, 82, will celebrate her fifty years of reign. We will see if, in terms of popularity, the Danes equal the English of Elizabeth II who, from London to Leeds, had triumphed at the Tour in 2007 and 2014.

The incredible crowd on the Cambridge-London stage during the 2014 Tour.

Credit: Getty Images

For the host country and for the Tour, it’s a win-win or, as we would say now in the peloton, “win-win”: the Tour will advertise beyond its borders, justifying its international character, and the excellence of its organization ensures its total success. All that’s missing is the coronation of Unesco.

In exchange, the host countries benefit from tremendous publicity for their cities, their landscapes, their roads, their gastronomy, etc. Which advertising campaign is more effective? Along the way, France is also taking some lessons, for example in terms of road development and cycle paths. The proof came again from the roads of Hungary during the second stage of the Giro in May: amateur cyclists were seen trying to follow the peloton safely for tens of kilometers, on wide and well-marked tracks, the riders exchanging even friendly signs with their ephemeral companions. On which road can we do this in France?

If we have to express a reservation, it is on the multiplication of departures from abroad: two in the 1950s, one in the 1960s, three in the 1970s, four in the 1980s, three in the 1990 but eleven since the year 2000 (2002-2004-2007-2009-2010-2012-2014-2015-2017-2019-2022), pending Bilbao in 2023 and, subject to confirmation, Florence in 2024 (the great departure was never given in Italy) with a possible final arrival in Nice, a few days before the Paris Olympics, according to the Gazzetta dello Sport. This is perhaps a bit too much and the exception should not become the rule.

The Grand-Place in Brussels celebrates the start of the Tour in 2019.

Credit: Getty Images

Two years before the fall of the wall

Beyond the economic and tourist aspect, departures from abroad can also play a political role: when, in 1987, the Tour departed from West Berlin, the message was clear. The Berlin mayor, Eberhard Diepgen, compares this departure to “an oasis of freedom in the communist world“While Jacques Chirac, who came to give the start as French Prime Minister, addresses a message to Mikhail Gorbachev, then master in Moscow, in front of the Reichstag:”How better to show that a new spirit reigns in Europe than by destroying the obstacles which today prevent (…) citizens from meeting as they want and where they want?

The idea of ​​an incursion into East Berlin had obviously crossed the minds of the organizers. One of them, Xavier Louy, tells in his book Save the Tour! that the idea had been passed on to the authorities in the East by Michel Zilbermann, sports adviser to Georges Marchais, general secretary of the French Communist Party. Margot Honecker, Minister of Education and wife of Erich Honecker, President of the GDR, was in favor. As they say, Gorbachev, all about his ambitions of openness. But the authorities of the East German Communist Party had finally said “nein”. Too bad for the symbol. The runners had therefore seen the East from afar. Half of the peloton was still going to urinate along the wall before the start of the stage, a way like any other to start a destruction that will take place two years and four months later.

Irony of sport: when leaving Berlin, it was the Pole Piasecki who wore the yellow jersey, inspiring this title in The Team : “Piasecki passes to the west.” This result had no doubt delighted the Polish Pope John Paul II, who was praying (and not only) for the end of the Soviet Union. How not to dream that one day, to welcome the return of peace in Europe, the Tour could leave from kyiv or Mariupol?

The great ritual of the 1987 Tour in Berlin: posing in front of the Wall. It will be demolished two and a half years later.

Credit: Getty Images

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