Nice has been preparing itself for years for this past weekend, and especially today, because the Tour de France is in town! Despite the fact that Joel and I get most places by bike these days, and that we both joined the Church of Spinning six or seven years ago, I’ve never been seduced by the whole Tour de France thing, though I know it can be hypnotic if you watch it on TV, and it’s definitely a huge part of the culture here in France. You know that it’s very significant when you learn stuff about it even if you’re not trying, as there are radio programmes in the background, endless newspaper articles, posters, references in conversations…
Because I haven’t paid attention to the Tour de France my entire life, I didn’t realise that the Caravane Publicitaire is something akin to… the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade? With free stuff? According to our local newspaper, Nice Matin (a dubious though entertaining source of information), 39% of people who come out to watch the Tour de France don’t give a damn about the cyclists: all they want are the free goodies. The Caravane Publicitaire is a “veritable farandole”, says Nice Matin. That’s what it felt like when I went down today, swimming through the crowds on my bike.
This seven-mile long parade of mini-floats precedes the cyclists themselves . The floats are built onto small cars (they have to negotiate rural roads and climb mountains over the next two weeks, remember), but that doesn’t mean big imagination. Air Corsica, for example, had a whole mini-jet attached to one of its cars. Pretty much every float is equipped with pretty girls, who throw the goodies at the crowd. Personally, I was terrified. The cars go past at 30mph, chucking goodies into the crowds. Lots of French brand names are here, among them, Haribo, throwing sweeties; La Banette, throwing bread; and Reflets de France, who produce regional specialities, and who will be throwing the local stuff from whatever region the Tour de France goes through, apparently. I don’t know what they gave out here, as I ducked. I ducked every time a float came by, convinced I would be blinded or knocked out by the enthusiasm of the delivery. At one point, a pink keyring landed with inches of my foot. Before I even had a chance to move, a child-size hand was zipping towards it at ground level. I thought very briefly of stamping on the hand and grabbing the keyring myself, but I realised a parent must be nearby. Another float, sponsored by a supermarket, was throwing out vegetables and packets wrapped in red-checked paper, which the Tannoy said was the fish of the day. Hmmm. Considering it was 28degC in full sun, I doubt it. Probably a fish-of-the-day voucher? The Tour de France souvenir trucks, which stopped every now and then along the route, were selling yellow umbrellas. At first I thought they were intended for use as sun-shades, but pretty soon I understood they were to protect yourself from free flying sausages, fish, sunhats, keyrings, candy, etc etc etc.
When the cyclists did come by, it was pretty exciting. A police motorcyclist preceded each time-trial team. Everyone jumped out of whatever tiny bit of shade they’d found, and yelled and stamped and took pictures… and then with a loud, brief whine of wheels, they were gone.