The Tour Village is La Grande Boucle’s backstage area, an exclusive pre-race enclosure where the event’s various official comestibles vie for attention ina surfeit of sweet stickiness and beer bottles empty at a frightening rate. If your name’s not on the small plastic ID card slung around your neck, you’re not getting in.
With the sun’s rays rippling over cracked tarmac, curtailing gear (and shoe) paparazzi duties to duck into the Village promised a spot in the shade and cold fluid to lower the Tour fever.
The gate has an entrance each for guests and riders. Passing through here after a suspicious scanning of race ID – eyes travelling incredulously to my battered straw hat – the village felt immediately calmer than the barely organised chaos of sunburnt fans screaming at every rider to pass.
Not every Village entrance is guarded both by ASO officials and creepy giants, but Seraing, in Belgium, pulled out all the stops
Perhaps it’s the very smugness of being enclosed with professional riders going about their business that creates a sense of respectfulness not shared by the unwashed masses outside, who can only look longingly in through the wire fencing. That and the fact the officious ASO police would probably chuck you on your arse for any unscrupulous behaviour.
If you’re lucky enough to gain access, the first thing to note is that barring the obligatory gift shop, everything’s free. And judging by the tens of overflowing bins, everyone seems to make the most of this fact. Cheese, ham, bacon, fried pineapple, doughnuts, tarts, cakes, biscuits, pasta – all the essentials for healthy living come in a never-ending flow, pausing only briefly to be spiked on a fancy cocktail stick en route to salivating mouths.
There’s drink too, of course, and I wasn’t the only sweaty, haggard-looking ‘journaliste’ making a beeline for the slushy machines. The fluorescent icy contents of the transparent tubs were churning hypnotically with cold fruitiness to cool the gut and freeze the head.
A cheeky coffee before the start? Don’t mind if I do…
Many riders visit L’espace Café to set their bloodstreams into a caffeinated high before the start, downing a few cheeky cups of the official coffee of the Tour de France or taking cover under awnings to relax with friends from different teams before the racing gets underway. Naturally, there’s also an official wine of the Tour, though no members of the peloton who passed seemed eager to try it.
Despite the clock striking 10am, the stand with the largest crowd was undoubtedly the beer bar. Glass upon glass of the deep golden concoction was quaffed in good-natured rowdiness by well-attired gents barking with excited laughter at the prospect of seeing the riders off – and then presumably drinking more beer. The stack of crates packed with empty beer bottles at the side of the bar was an impressively large construction given the time of day.
Strangest of all was the sight of AG2R’s Jan Bakelants being interviewed as he had his hair cut by the on-site barbershop. Yes, if riders fancy a shave or haircut as they wait for the day’s competition to begin, there’s an official barber in attendance every day. I wondered if the gentleman in question was depressed by his creative crownery being immediately crushed by each riders’ helmet.
All too soon, the race was off and the Village closing. This signalled the time for a brisk exit, where I tried not to look too shifty with my pockets and hat stuffed to bursting with examples of the official chocolate chip madeleine of the Tour.