It was only a matter of weeks ago, at the recent Giro d’Italia, that I was rambling on to anyone who’d listen about my disapproval of the fact that Grand Tours (the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, and Vuelta Espana) often start in other countries.
In recent years we’ve had the Tour de France roll off the start ramp in Liege, Rotterdam and Monte Carlo, before it finally found it’s way to the roads of France. And when I watch the Giro d’Italia on TV I want to see the self-styled “greatest race in the most beautiful place”, not the “greatest race on the way to the most beautiful place”.
Starting in Belgium, Denmark or Northern Ireland is just three days of stalling tactics before the Giro becomes the Giro. I’ve got nothing against Appledoorn in the Netherlands, but as the 2016 Giro headed off the start line I did find myself skim-watching (if such a thing exists…), and waiting for the race to hit Italian roads.
Of course, as a resident of Lancashire, and therefore right on the border of Yorkshire, I was delighted when the Tour de France spent three days on ‘my’ roads back in 2014.
Also, when the Tour started in Corsica in 2013, that was pretty cool.
But, y’know, apart from that.
This year in 2016 it’s a French affair. The opening stage takes in the impossibly beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel on the coast of Normandy and spends three days in this corner of France. But the riders will be making up for this lack of a foreign Grand Depart by visiting three other countries mid-race; they skirt into Spain, spend three days in the mountainous paradise of Andorra, and finish Stage 16 in Bern, Switzerland.
Bern, incidentally, is Fabian Cancellara’s home town – is that a little tip of the cap to Fabs in his retirement year?
Maybe, but I think I’ve figured out what’s really going in here. With no Grand Depart on foreign soil, and the lack of subsequent airport transfer, the riders, teams, and general Tour de France entourage are clearly missing out on their annual duty free splurge. Andorra is a well know tax haven, offering all manner of duty free goodies…et voila!
Perfumes, watches, jewellery, alcohol and chocolate can be liberally purchased by all involved. Families the length of Europe, cruelly kept apart by this ridiculous bike race, will not have to go without their annual sorry-I’ve-been-away-for-three-weeks-here’s-a-big-bag-of-presents-to-make-up-for-it.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bern is the home town of Toblerone, and what return home from a jaunt around Europe would be complete without a massive bar of that?
So that’s all bases covered then.
Interestingly, the old part of Bern still features road signs that are colour coded. This apparently harks back to 1798 when the town was conquered by Napolean. Because his troops were largely illiterate, the colour coded signs were installed to help them find their way around, so the quarters of the old town are split into yellow, white, green and burgundy.
Rather conveniently, with the Tour in town, this almost corresponds with the jerseys of the race; yellow for the leader, green for the top sprinter, white for best young rider, which just leaves the polka dots of the mountain classification.
If the authorities in Bern don’t have all those burgundy road signs polka-dotted come July then not only are they missing a trick, but they are completely misunderstanding the fact that the Tour de France is as much marketing opportunity as bike race.
Did all those farmers in Yorkshire polka-dot their sheep for nothing?
Come on Bern, you know it makes sense; a big homecoming parade for Fabian Cancellara featuring polka dot road signs, endless images of alpine meadows and cowbells, and free Toblerone for every spectator.
We’re expecting nothing less.