Etape du Tour 2009 - Some Thoughts

Well, it was a great day out for everyone who participated in this most prestigious of ‘sportive’ events - wasn’t it?

For some years now, the organisers, ASO, have sold a number (3000 this year I believe) of entries to tour operators in various countries.  Those tour operators offer a variety of packages, including one where you buy only the entry, and make your own travel and accommodation arrangements.  These are up to 10 times (yes ten times) more than you would pay if you entered through the Velo magazine application form.  Fair enough, it’s a money making venture.  Some years, including this year I believe, if your postal address was in a country served by one of those tour operators, you had to enter via a tour operator.  If you applied directly through the application form published in Velo magazine, your application was rejected.

The result?  On rolling up to the start line, you saw hundreds of cyclists who, with all due respect, would look less out of place in a darts match.  But, hey, they paid the money, so why shouldn’t they be on the start line to find out what it’s like to “ride a stage of the Tour de France”?

Well, I can think of three reasons why not.

First, you didn’t need any background in sports to realise that these guys (yes, they were guys) wouldn’t make it as far as the second climb, let alone the finish.  They’ll go home a few thousand pounds worse off, exhausted, and utterly disillusioned with cycling.

Second, it’s going to cheapen the image of the event.  Why would you want to pay for and train for for an event like this if anyone with the required cash, regardless of athletic ability, can enter it?

Thirdly - and this is a moral rather than financial argument - there are many fit, dedicated, experienced riders who happen to live in countries served by these tour companies who can’t, or won’t, pay tour company prices.  Their places are being hijacked by people who will pay, but haven’t a clue about what preparing for and riding an event like this involves.

Cycling is not “the new golf”.  It requires months of sacrifice and preparation.  It’s physically exhausting.  It demands a thorough understanding of how your body reacts to physical stress.  And we don’t wear argyll trousers.  The etape should recognise this and bring back some sort of entry criteria rather than just allow anyone who can pay tour company prices.