Checking out Stage 4 of the 2014 Tour de France: From Le Touquet to Lille

Things started early this morning – approximately 6AM.  Which, for you early birds is indeed early for this non-early bird.  From there I’d catch the RER train 10 minutes up to Gare du Nord, where I’d change to a regular SNCF intercity train for the 2.5 hour trek out to Le Touquet, a semi-swanky beach town that faces the English channel and UK just beyond it.

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It’s here that I found the start to the first French stage of this year’s Tour de France.  The first three stages were just across the channel in the UK.

I arrived just in time for things to go from almost nothing going on, to full-on pre-race rush.  The announcer was just getting the crowds at the starting line worked up, but for those ‘in the know’ – that’s not at all where you wanted to be.  Nope, you’d ultimately want to be down near all the team vans and cars, which were just barely starting to come in.

However, before all the teams started unpacking for the day there was the daily caravan to take part in.  That’s the parade of sponsor vehicles that precedes the race each day, following the exact race route – all many thousands of kilometers of it.  Because the parade is moving a fair bit slower, they start about 2-3 hours ahead of the riders.

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Of course the real value in the parade is the free loot that’s tossed to the crowds.  There are certain iconic items that everyone tries to get (like the Carrefour polka dot king of the mountain hats), and then there are a bunch of smaller freebies that usually hit you upside the head when you least expect it (like a pen from BIC).

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Everyone gets into the diving for goods action.  Especially little old grandmas going after madeleine’s (a little pastry/donut thing of sorts).

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While there was loot to be had, it appeared the throwers weren’t really fully warmed up yet – since about half the vehicles hadn’t even started throwing things at this point.  Still, I did fairly well and came away with a Skoda hat, a LCL Le Tour bag, a Festina poncho, and a packet of juice mix.

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Once the parade finished up (takes about 30-45 minutes) I went ahead and swung back towards the staging area for the teams.  In today’s stage it was simply along the main route beginning about 400-800m from the starting line.  It then extended for another 400-600m beyond that.

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Here you’ll find team directions, staff, and of course the riders themselves.  In most cases the atmosphere is pretty friendly and easy going.  And as you’ll see, fans are allowed right up close (I haven’t to date bothered to apply for ASO media credentials for the Tour), so everything you see in this post is just as any regular spectator would have access too.

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My primary goal in here is actually to get stock photos of most of the bikes – specifically the sports technology aspects.  So I’m looking at things like power meters, head units, and as is popular this week – action cameras.  It provides an opportunity to see what teams are actually using when ‘it counts’, as well as to note interesting discrepancies.  And lastly, simply having photos on hand of all the configurations for the rest of the year in case something pops up that I need to use one for.

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I’ve got some additional power meter news/details coming up in the next 24 hours or so, so hang tight there.

This year, my spotting also included a surge of teams using action cameras.  This was largely initiated by Giant-Shimano back at the Tour of California this spring.  Today they were sporting two riders equipped with cameras – one front facing (#108 – Albert Timmer) and one rear facing (#103 – Koen de Kort).

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I’m fairly impressed with the the size of the Shimano unit, it seems comparable in size to that of a GoPro turned on its side.

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Shimano’s released some pretty cool footage in races this spring with it – though, not too much terribly exciting yet up till today.  Still, it has potential.  For those curious – yes, I will definitely be reviewing it.  I have one working its way towards me now.

Meanwhile, the Garmin VIRB was also installed on two teams – first up was Cannondale, who had Fabio Sabatini using it.  Hopefully they fixed/changed the angle of the camera prior to the start, as otherwise that angle won’t exactly be awesome.

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And then Team Garmin-Cervelo also had a rider (Alex Howes) with one setup on the front of his bike.

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I happened to be there when Howes came out and picked up his bike to hear the exchange between the team staff (unclear if mechanic or coach) about what exactly to do with the VIRB.  It was pretty funny because clearly neither of them were given any instructions beyond “put it on the bike”.  Which led to the two of them deciding to just use it adhoc whenever he felt like it.

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Interestingly, a reader noticed via Twitter that Howes isn’t actually riding with the Garmin Vector power meter.  He has the Vector branded pedals, but there’s no pods attached to said pedals.  Some Garmin riders are by the looks of it also riding SRM, though by time I got there I saw otherwise only legit Vector installs (see earlier photos).  But many Garmin Pro riders had already left to the start by then.

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With everything in the bike area set the riders were making their way off to the start line:

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Though, they first had to navigate past the massive team vehicle stack-up:

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I headed down near the start line, just in time to find them lining up while some official ceremony occurred at the actual line:

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Then, the different jersey holders (i.e. sprint jersey, etc…) got some photos with what I assume to be the mayor.

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After that there was about 2 minutes before things headed on out.  This gave time for the final lead official vehicles to get moving.

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And then just after that as the countdown finished the peloton slowly slinked forward across the start.  Given it’s still early in the Tour almost all the riders are still present, so it’s quite a much larger pack compared to what you’d see two weeks from now.

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In all of perhaps 45-60 seconds they were gone, off for the 163.5 kilometer journey to Lille.

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Which, left me following in their tracks.  Or rather, train tracks.  From here I’d catch a TGV train 90 minutes to Lille.  Well, I suppose that’s after I walked an hour back to the train station from the start line.

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Ninety minutes (+60 minutes) later I found myself in Lille, home to the finish line.  Unfortunately, unlike many of the stages in the Tour, the finish area in this case was nowhere near the main train station.  But rather, a number of miles away across town.  So I had a bit of a decision to make – do I take the ‘safe’ option and just watch from the road near the train station where the route went past…

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…or do I grab a bike-share bike and head across town?

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Well, the problem was I was indecisive, so I sorta tried to do both – and that ate into precious time I didn’t really have to give up.  So, I slightly missed the main peloton near the finish, though, I did at least see some of the stragglers:

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That’s alright, you can’t win them all.  Plus, I knew it was going to be tight even seeing them in Lille to begin with.  From there I bike rather fast back to the train station to just barely catch my onward train back to Paris:

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By time I got home I had clocked 16.72 miles of walking on my activity tracker.  In case you haven’t been to Le Tour before…you do a lot of walking.  The gaps you see (7AM till 9AM, 3PM, 6PM) are the train rides.  And then the later gap when I went out for my workout (I generally don’t take it with me when working out).

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There was only one thing left to do – knock out a 90-minute high-intensity bike/run brick, starting around 9:30PM.

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And…done.  With that, I’m exhausted.

Thanks for reading!

To see all my past photo-filled Tour de France posts from previous years, simply click here.  I warn you though – you might just burn a few hours in photos!

25 Comments

  1. Stephen Cooper

    There are some good shots, and very brief commentary, in the Bike Radar TdF slide show about the Garmin riders being obligated to use the pedal bodies, although most of them apparently use SRM power meters.

    Reply
  2. ken

    Ray,

    awesome Blog again, would love to see "Le Tour" live, but reading your blog is just like being there.
    And after a early start and a long day. you still have juice to knock-out a 90min intensive Run/Bike brick???

    Geezzz!!!

    Thanks for blogging,

    Ken

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Oddly enough, sometimes my best workouts are post-redeye flight or other similar semi-exhausted states. Go figure.

      Reply
  3. Bruce Burkhalter

    BikeRadar has a big photo gallery of the bikes and the tech on them. About 40 photos in they have some info about the pod-less Vector pedals.

    link to bikeradar.com

    They also have another article on bike mounted cameras.

    Reply
  4. Martin Smith

    It looks like the UK had a very cut down caravan, we certainly didn't get the lion come through, or half the bits you managed to catch.

    Though as they came past us doing about 40mph, there were come huge cheers if anyone managed to catch anything :-)

    Reply
    • James Paul replied

      I was on the Cote de Buttertubs on Saturday for Stage 1, it was amazing, 10,000 people, fantastic atmosphere. Yes, the caravan was a bit different but maybe thats due to certain products not being market outside of France In fairness, Jens Voight could hardly fit through the crowd at the Buttertubs so the lion had not a chance.

      Managed to grab myself a King of the Mountains hat, to be honest it doesn't fit so if you would like a swap Ray i'll take one of your time trial bikes, seems a fair swap :-)

      I've uploaded a 14 minute video recording on my Facebook page if anyone wants to see if the riders go past on the climb. Hope no one minds. Started recording from when we heard the helicopter and the crowd started to get excited. Wasn't expecting Jens to come through on his own as our radio batteries were flat and you couldn't get a mobile signal up there. Fantastic day out and I love the fact it put my Yorkshire on the map, we're very proud of what happened Saturday and Sunday :-)

      The link

      Reply
    • James Paul replied

      Sorry, the link again Cote de Buttertubs video

      Reply
  5. Ian

    Were you able to spot whether the SRAM-sponsored teams were running the wireless version of Red?

    Reply
  6. life is precious ! you live it wholly and that's great !

    see you back in Lille in septemmber ? ;)

    Reply
  7. Hi,
    I'm wondering why teams are using actions cameras ? Are they allowed to use the images in real time in coaches cars ? Or is it for later ?

    Thank you for your work.

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      To draw fans into their brand. The savvy ones will have videos published by (at worst) the start of the next day. Some are collecting footage for later montages.

      Right now none of the major action cams support streaming over cell (and last I checked the UCI rule change from two summers ago still prohibits them anyway). And the WiFi streaming most of the units support wouldn't really work given the cars don't tend to be within range. Note that there was a handful of action cams that supported cell streaming that I saw at CES this year, but none were major brands.

      Reply
    • LoKan Sardari replied

      Thank you very much ! ;-)

      Reply
    • Scott replied

      Also, Jensie "Shut Up Legs" Voigt posted some great inside the peloton footage from the Tour of California a couple months ago for Shimano. It really changes the fan/spectator's view on the action, total night and day difference. You get the full on frantic energy of the experience.

      Reply
    • Stephen replied

      Giant-Shimano are posting daily updates, here is the video from Day 3 > link to teamgiantshimano.com

      Reply
  8. Hoss

    Ray, thanks again for your TDF "coverage." As in past years, I find your perspective quite different — and more refreshing in many ways — from the NBC/media coverage of the event. Your fan's-eye view is terrific.

    Reply
  9. So cool! Thanks for the behind the scenes look!

    Reply
  10. Thanks for that Ray. A nice supplement to my nightly TDF sessions. A great perspective for if/when I ever get to chase the tour for myself. I also appreciate the shot at the end of your home setup for the brick session.
    Wiz

    Reply
  11. FarAway

    DId you get some chance to snap a picture of the bike computer used by the Bretagne-Seché team in this TDF?

    It is the size of a Edge 1000, seems even bigger.
    It definitely doesn't look like a garmin, a SRM or a Polar. Maybe a Mio but I did not find a proper picture of it and the team communication doesnt mention anything about it.

    Reply
    • FarAway replied

      oups just found a better picture, it's the polar V650, my bad :)

      Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Got a link by chance? Curious myself. The challenge with getting photos of head units is that the team's don't typically put them out till the very last second. Often times the rider just has it in his hands. Usually it's due to concern of someone grabbing it since most bikes are within reach of people with VIP/media passes (which is approx half the world).

      Reply
    • FarAway replied

      I found this picture pic.twitter.com/8Q9tDCXACy where you can see/guess the polar logo and the main red button of the V650.

      It's funny because Polar is indeed one of the team sponsor but when you watch the photos of the previous races and training camps on the team site they seem to use a mismatch of garmins and SRMs...

      Reply
  12. Samuel Medway

    Hey Ray, great photos!

    I;m interested in photo 10. The Cervelo S3 (nice looking bike) has Garmin Vectors on Rotor Q Rings. I thought the Vector wasn't meant to be accurate on non-round chain rings?!?!

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yes indeed.

      Reply
    • Samuel Medway replied

      Thanks Ray. As a recent Vector owner myself (largely thanks to your reviews) I would be happy to see this functionality in the case that I want to try non-round rings at some stage.
      Do you think that in the photo case, the rider is:
      A. Displaying Vectors for show only?
      B. Has some software that enables accurate readings of the Vector on Q Rings?
      C. Is managing with a known inaccuracy and perhaps calculating the numbers in his head, on the fly.
      D. Something else??
      Appreciate your opinion Ray.

      Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      1) Some riders are clearly for show, while other riders are actually riding them and using them. But even in the case of SRM, with non-round rings there it's still not accounting for them.
      2) I asked a bit back around the Giro and they noted they were not running anything unique on the team with respect to non-round.
      3) I'd guess the rider just doesn't care.

      Cheers.

      Reply

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