Chasing Le Tour: a Corsican Grand Départ

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The 100th edition of the Tour de France starts today in Porto-Vecchio, a town of some 11,000 on the south-eastern tip of the French island of Corsica. It’s noticeably quieter at the departure village than it has been in previous years, probably due to the remoteness of Porto-Vecchio. But there’s still plenty going on and a great vibe around the place.

As the biggest annual sporting event in the world the Tour de France requires an incredible amount of planning and organisation in the days, weeks, months and even years before the riders take to the first stage. Starting the race on Corsica — an island roughly one 10th the area of Tasmania and located 170km south east of France’s Cote d’Azur — only complicates the problem. Over the past week the teams, officials, organisers, supporters, journalists and more have been making the trip to Corsica, some by air and many by ferry.

To give you an idea of the scale of the operation, check out these stats. The 2013 Tour de France features:

  • 4,500 people, from riders to organisers to media to members of the publicity caravan and so on
  • 10 emergency doctors, 1 anaesthetist, 6 ambulances, 1 radiology truck, 2 doctor’s cars
  • A 12km long publicity caravan that includes 180 vehicles, 600 people and that distributes nearly 15 million items to fans
  • 2,000 journalists working for more than 350 media outlets
  • TV broadcasts into 190 countries

(Click here for more stats about the 2013 Tour de France).

After being overlooked for the first 99 editions of the Tour, Corsica will this year host the first three stages: a flat opening stage from Porto-Vecchio to Bastia along the island’s east coast, a hilly second stage from Bastia to Ajaccio, raced south west through the island’s mountainous interior, and another hilly stage up the west coast from Ajaccio to Calvi. (Click here to see a preview of all stages in this year’s Tour.)

While Corsica is anything but a flat island — it has more than 20 peaks higher than 2,000m — we’ll almost certainly see a sprinter in yellow after stage 1 and possibly even after stage 3 (here’s looking at you, Sagan).

For every stage of the Tour de France the organisers set up a media centre in the stage’s finishing town; a place where journalists can go and get stuff done, whether they work in TV, radio, print or online. The media centre for the Corsican chapter of the race is located on board a giant ferry, the Mega Smerelda, one of the ferries normally used to transport people and vehicles between Corsica (and Sardinia) and the French mainland.

For the first three stages of the race the ferry will make its way around Corsica, docking in each of the towns that host a stage finish.


This will be our office for the next few days

We’ve been on Corsica for a couple of days, having caught a ferry here from Nice with a group we’re staying with through Bikestyle Tours. The voyage took the best part of six hours and we’re staying in Ile Rousse a town some 25km north east of Calvi where stage 3 finishes.

We drove the 180km down to Porto-Vecchio yesterday to pick up our media accreditation which will get us behind the scenes and allow us access to the riders and the race route over the three weeks.

While in Porto-Vecchio we wandered around and checked out the press centre, sat in on the Cannondale press conference, visited a few team buses to check out the new bikes being used in Le Tour and more.

Over the next three weeks we’ll bring you daily coverage of Le Tour, including big, beautiful photos, feature articles about the stories behind the race, and stories and photos from the rides we manage to do with the folks at Bikestyle Tours.

We’re excited to be here and very much looking forward to sharing the 100th edition of the Tour de France with you. Enjoy the race and we hope you enjoy our coverage!

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