Some people who are unfamiliar with the Tour de France are surprised to learn that it is still a men only sporting event. This year is a grand exception. An inaugural women’s race is taking place in Paris on Sunday. I will be able to watch from my Thomson Bike Tours VIP viewing on the Champs Elysees.
(Marianne Vos, the current world champion, won the circuit race. We overcame many obstacles to be able to see the last couple of laps.)
Meanwhile, most of the staff supporting the teams are men, but women are not relegated to sponsor liaisons only. For example, Mariah and Alyssa with team Garmin Sharp are a communications director and soigneur, respectively.
The communications director wrangles television and radio interviews, new media as well as managing press releases and Twitter and Facebook accounts. Both Mariah and Alyssa laughed at the idea of having a narrowly defined job. On the Tour you do whatever is needed.
Alyssa could be assigned to hotel massages when the team bus roles in, or making the bags of food up for the feed zone, or filling water bottles among the many possible tasks. And filling water bottles is not just about filling them with water. Each rider has preferences for their liquids—gatorade, water, water with electrolytes, and so on. Read this article from Ride magazine to learn more about life as a soigneur.
They travel with the team over 200 days a year. Alyssa has been with the “Argyll” team since the beginning and has been living in Spain and will move to Ireland to be closer to family.
My last VIP pass to a departure village was in Maubourguet. Thanks to Thomson Travel we arrived in plenty of time for a coffee and a slice of pear tart in the official Village before the team coaches arrived. Then we went to the area where the team buses park.
Each stage is set up differently depending on the space designated in the host town. This day the road barriers were set up so the buses lined up on one side and the cars parked across in the pedestrian area at a diagonal leaving about one lane for journalists, fans, team cars and racers to pass one another.
Today I noticed how much camaraderie there is among the teams and riders. Racers were stopping on their way to sign in and chatting with friends. Some would get stuck in traffic and oblige signature seekers like me. I had to keep my wits about me so as not to miss an opportunity. Some riders like Marcus Burkhardt spend a lot of time chatting with friends.
My top priority today was getting an autograph from the Kiwi Jack Bauer at Garmin Sharp for my friend Barry Bridgman in St Heliers. Then I moved on to Omega Pharma Quick Step. I got so many signatures that my flag is almost full.
The night before we were awakened by raucous thundershowers. The rain continued lightly and at the start it looked like a wet ride. The wet roads dampened riders’ spirits and created the conditions for a largish crash inside 3 km. This took Peter Sagan out of the sprint finish and may have distracted the peloton enough to allow Garmin Sharp’s Ramunas Navardauskas to stay away and win.
Jens Voigt has a terrific blog on Bicycling.com. He summed up Stage 19 in a very funny and profane rant. I read it on Thomson Spectator Greg’s iPad but it may have been removed for being too irreverent. Bottom line: Stage 19 was s**t!