Tour de France 2017 Behind the Scenes: Stage 6

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Looks like there’s going to be a bit more cycling on the blog this week. At least for today. Don’t despair runners – there’s non-cycling stuff soon arriving!  And if you like cycling? Don’t despair there either, almost more of that coming too.

And for you swimmers?  Umm..go outside and enjoy lounging in the sun by the pool after completing your workout?  Sorry.

In any case – I made the trek yesterday down to the town of Troyes, which is about a 2 hour journey from Paris by car, or about a 90 minute train ride.  I grabbed a Zipcar, simply so I could make some stops along the way.

For this stage I’d be going to the finish, rather than the start.  In the many, many, many Tour de France stages I’ve been to – the vast majority of the time I visit the start, or somewhere in the middle (like a mountain stage).  It’s actually fairly rare for me to go to a simple stage finish. That’s largely because the whole thing is over in a flash, and there’s little for me from a tech sense at the finish (as bikes are quickly shuttled away and out of sight).

But I had a few things I wanted to meet folks on, so this stage and this finish did the job.

Like the last few days I’ve been at the Tour (I’m popping in and out a bit, which is mostly easy from Paris), I tweeted out a ton of behind the scenes stuff.  I got a bit stymied by the cellular coverage for a short period right after the finish, but was soon able to catch back up.  For those that missed it all – I bring you once again the consolidated version of that, plus maybe an extra photo or two.  I’ve got a totally separate post coming up in the next couple days though with a very detailed behind the scenes look at some cool tech going on at the Tour.  But more on that in a bit.

Let’s get onto it!

The journey took about 2 hours, including getting out of some of the Parisian traffic.  But once on the gigantic and screaming A5 highway, it’s smooth sailing.  It’s really hard to beat the big highways in France.  They’ve got rest stops every 10KM or so and rarely have traffic.

I’m not sure if I’ve been to Troyes before, I don’t think so, but it’s a really pretty town.  I have to imagine that a bunch of old ladies knitted these various TdF jersey’s and TdF themed tree warmers.  They all certainly looked hand-knit.

I got there just in time to see the caravan swing by, which is the huge parade that follows the route ahead of the riders.  For spectators the goal is to get free stuff, like many of the hats and swag items you see fans wearing.

For example – check out all those blue, yellow, and red hats.  Those are all from the TdF caravan that just came through.  They were especially generous today in this area.

This building caught my eye, with residents perched outside on their balconies awaiting the finish, at merely the 150m marker.  The apartment building doesn’t much match the rest of the area in terms of style/design, and it sits atop a gas station.  But today, they had a great setup!

As you sit there on your phone or computer in what is likely a temperature controlled environment looking at the below photo – just remember these fans were willingly getting on a trainer when the temperature was about 97*F/36*C.  And that’s outside in the shade, let alone in this giant oven of a tent setup out of the breeze.  But, it’s all for a good cause!

Most people don’t realize the TV commentators sit in what is basically akin to a call center on wheels.  If you’ve ever worked or been in a call center, the employees are packed in like sardines.  Here it’s the same.  Just a tiny bit of space to do their commentating while watching the screens in front of them.

Except NBC and Eurosport.  You could do an entire Cribs episode on their setups.

Additionally, while commentators may have a small setup – the TV and media related trucks occupy an enormous area.  For some towns like Troyes, they’ve got the real estate (large parking/etc areas) to accommodate this.  But other smaller towns may not, making setup and tear-down even more challenging.  This entire thing gets setup and torn down each day, along with moving to a new town.

There are actually multiple press ‘areas’ for media to wait and watch and work.  There’s the press center (more on that in a moment), the press interview area (also more on that in a moment), as well the press area alongside the finish chute to watch the race.  All of which is different from (though sometimes adjacent to) the ‘technical zone’ that encompasses the area above.  In the case of the below, the right side of this photo is the finishing chute, and a crapton of journalists are watching the last couple kilometers to know the right questions to ask riders after they finish. You know, like, that elbow.

As soon as they cross the finish the above press center is opened up into the finishing chute, so media members can chase down riders as you see on TV daily.  But concurrent to that, the jersey winners are quickly ushered into a closed area near the podium.  Chris Froome, for example, made an immediate turn, giving no media a chance to talk with him prior to the podium.

This little secured zone is largely a media-free area, though it appears the main feed (provided by France TV) is allowed in for video purposes.  Media can watch from the outside over the fences though (if you’re tall).  It’s impressive how quickly they get on their trainers, especially Froome.  They stayed on them for about 10-15 minutes before heading into that little shack to clean up before the presentation.

Directly behind the podium is this small tent and van.  It’s where the podium gals get ready to head out onto stage.

While all that is going on, UCI is doing sweeps of bikes.  It’s always funny seeing some of the reaction to this, despite this being more or less the third time I’ve posted this same sweep process in the last week.  In this case, this was actually a secondary sweep of the bike.  I just wasn’t recording fast enough to catch his first go.  Keep in mind this bike would have been scanned likely once if not twice at the start.  Also keep in mind that UCI is doing additional motor-focused testing on-course at this year’s Tour that’s not seen by the public (for better or worse).

The whole podium presentation actually drags on for quite some time.  I could see how if you were at the Tour daily as a photojournalist or even someone like Froome who is spending an extra 30 minutes for the entire process for three weeks, that it might get a bit old.  Time-optimized it is not.  Still, it’s a key part of the allure of the Tour, and if you didn’t pick up a jersey each day – then it’s likely the highlight of your entire professional career.

I saw our man again, the Team Sky animal keeper.  I’d love to know if his actual job description paper says “Responsible for herding of stuffed animals at podium presentations.  Also, responsible for dragging the Wahoo KICKR back from the podium area.  Further, responsible for the gifting of flowers to nearby women.”  If so, that’d be #Winning.

After, as well as alongside the awards presentation, riders make their way to the various TV areas.

One press area that’s a little wonky is where rider interviews can occur.  These are divided up into the type of credentialed press you are.  Within the Tour, the king of all media are those ‘broadcast rights’, which basically means they run the roost.  These include big names like NBC, Eurosport, and other TV channels that have rights to broadcast within their country (like SBS in Australia).  So they too have their own section here, though realistically for the biggies they’ll pull the rider into their studios on the finishing chute.

Below being one of my posts that got slightly out of order due to cellular connectivity.  But this is what powers much of the technical zone where all the broadcast trucks live.  I’m sure on Day 1 it starts off looking fairly neat, but by the end of the Tour there are zero F’s given.

Moving inside, we’ve got the media center.  It’s actually more than just that though, it’s also where there are ASO folks to get clarification on things from as well as logistical assistance.

I find this section interesting.  On one hand, it would make sense to have dedicated Ethernet ports to minimize upload times.  But on the other hand, simply installing better WiFi would resolve that.  The upstream connectivity to the interwebs certainly isn’t gigabit speeds, so it’s basically still speed-restricted just after the point you plug your computer in.  I saw equal numbers of photographers and video folks inside this mini dedicated section compared to in the main media room.

Like being at a travel agency, they’ve got all sorts of things to entice you elsewhere.

And if you’re lost trying to find that elsewhere? No problem, there’s probably a sign for that too.

I think the packet I saw somewhere said there’s something like 2,000 accredited vehicles with the Tour.  Which makes sense, after all my vehicle number is nearly 1,300 – and I picked up fairly early on the first day.  This is just a small portion of that accredited vehicle pile. Also, I can’t overstate enough how useful having vehicle tags are for folks covering the Tour.  The main goal for those spending three weeks at the event is minimizing time in travel.  Travel is a massive and very real part of every day on the course.  You’ll spend hours each day doing it.  Thus avoiding getting lost on small roads or having to circle in a tiny village to find parking and then having to walk 30 minutes to the press center is actually a big deal.

As I was walking across that parking lot to my car (which of course I neglected to park in that parking lot but rather that 25 minute walk across town), I stumbled onto Cycling Maven’s car.

As I made my walk back to the car, much of the finish line was already torn down.  These barriers for the final few hundred meters were already waiting to be picked up by a truck.

After reaching the car and cruising on home I saw endless sunflower fields.  I had to get a couple quick shots.  I did this on my DJI Spark, and while I did some Auto Shots, these ones were actually manual.  Twitter compresses things pretty heavily on upload, so it’s not nearly as pretty as the actual files.  But still, it’s cool.

I did a bit of a double-take on this one.  But sure enough, it was an accredited Team Sky vehicle.  One driver in the front and it looked like two folks in the back.  My guess is they were zipping back to Paris to be dropped off for a flight or something.  At this point, they were well over an hour away from the stage finish, and going in very much the wrong direction for tomorrow’s stage.

And about 2 hours after leaving the finish (inclusive of my brief sunflower detour), I was back home.  Not too shabby!

If you missed my other three Tour de France 2017 posts, here ya go:

Tour de France 2017 Behind the Scenes: Stage 1

Tour de France 2017 Behind the Scenes: Stage 2

Tour de France 2017–The Trainers, Power Meters and Gadgets of the Pro Peloton

And if you want to see all my past TdF posts (mostly behind the scenes), they can be found here.  Plus, my spectator guide here.  I’m not quite sure which stage I’ll pop into next, so stay tuned to Twitter!

With that – thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

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7 Comments

  1. Marcie M

    Those jerseys in NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES were all hand knit by a group of women who “yarn bombed” the town (it’s a real thing for knitters). They New York Times had a very nice article about it and NUITS-SAINT-GEORGES today. link to nytimes.com

  2. likepend1

    just amazing how well oiled everything goes. the whole technology part (power supply, communication/IT – broadcasting (motorbike/heli&planes), timekeeping, on screen overlaying the ruder data (on climbs & sprints) ….) …. wow.

  3. Tyler

    Came here for the Euro hatch/wagon team car porn.
    Leaving disappointed.

  4. Ya’all might have seen this. Intersting link to velonews.com

  5. Jackson

    Ray – you might find this to be very cool – Flightradar24 as you now (as an air enthusiast) tracks the aircraft that act as TV signal reflectors for cameras on the TDF motorcycles. here is an example of their track

    link to twitter.com