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The Tour Comes to Town

At the dawn of the 20th century, this chic lady was sunbathing as she took in the race. In 2017, that might be impossible. The reason why is that over 10 million spectators gather alongside the roads, around 20 percent of whom are tourists from other countries.
On TV, the Tour de France is broadcast in 190 countries on 100 channels, of which 60 channels show the race live.
It is one of the world’s great sporting events, right up there with the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.
That fact is even more impressive since, unlike those other quadrennial events, the Tour happens every year.

Spectators Stay an Average 6 Hours, 15 Minutes

On a day with a long route, the racing lasts for around five hours. If we assume the leader pedals for exactly five hours and the cutoff time is 10 percent, then most of the competitors will pass by any given spot in 30 minutes.
Even if you nab a good vantage point, you only get to watch the cyclists for 30 minutes at best!
And yet according to an announcement by the organizer, the ASO, in 2017 the spectators stayed in their spots for an average of more than six hours.
So just what are they doing in that time?

The Caravan Turns the Race into a Festival

The fun of the Tour de France goes beyond just watching the competitors whizz by. Many people look forward to the Caravan that travels ahead and heralds the riders’ approach.
The Caravan was started in 1930, but back then there was no TV, so the parade began as an effective way of getting nationwide publicity. Over the years it has grown larger in scale.
In 2017, the Caravan stretched for 12 km, with 35 brands, 170 vehicles, and trucks loaded with characters and giant balloons that handed out 18 million novelty goods. The merchandise ranges from T-shirts to keychains and product samples. People crowd the streetside to get the goodies.
These novelty items are so popular that they sell for considerably high prices at flea markets in the Clignancourt district of Paris and elsewhere.
The Caravan itself gets little airtime in broadcasts of the race, but perhaps you’ve noticed spectators wearing the same caps together or T-shirts or ponchos on TV.
When the weather is chilly or rainy, tossing out these items from the Caravan is a way to get spectators wearing them shown on TV as the cyclists pass by.
Unlike stadium sports, no admission fees are collected from the people assembling along the streets. So this is how the Tour de France works.

Reference material:

ASO “2017 Tour de France Key Figures”

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