Magnus Cort (EF Education-EasyPost) rides through fans wearing their brand new oversized polka dot t-shirts given out by the publicity caravan during stage 3 of the 2022 Tour de France.

Hors Course stage 4: The Tour and its publicity caravan make landfall in France

Stage 4 takes the peloton - and the Tour de France caravan - from Dunkirk to Calais on the Strait of Dover. Look out for the white cliffs.

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As heard on the Tour Daily podcast, José Been is taking us off the race route for some local historical and cultural context for each stage, from Denmark all the way to Paris.

After a 900-kilometre transfer from Denmark, we are back in France. Bienvenue, mes amis!

It’s not only the team cars and buses that made the transfer on Sunday and Monday – the riders hopped on a plane of course – but also all the vehicles that are part of the Tour de France organisation. Think of the race direction, Radio Tour, commissaires, VIPs, the big trailers for the podiums, commentary positions and the VIP village plus the entire publicity caravan with all its weirdly shaped vehicles. Last year we had chicken nuggets, sausages, cartoon heroes Asterix and Obelix, entire washing machines, Vittel water shaped giant bottles, coffee makers and super-sized polka dot jerseys on offer.

The publicity caravan is one of the highlights of every Tour de France visit. Hours before the peloton arrives, the caravan rides on the same course as the riders. I mean every road, up and down. They go over the mountains, through tight hairpin turns and sometimes get stuck like the Cochonou sausage truck did last year. Cochonou are small, very garlicky dried sausages. They are individually packed and then thrown out of the most iconic French car ever: the 2CV, or ugly duck as we call it in Dutch. The sausages are always the most popular item in the publicity caravan and have been for 25 years.

The “most iconic French car ever”, wrapped in Cochonou branding and part of the publicity caravan on Stage 2 of the 2018 Tour.

The publicity caravan entertains the millions of spectators in a show that is considerably longer than the actual passage of the peloton that on a good day in the mountains takes 45 minutes and on a sprint day maybe five. The caravan is estimated to be around ten kilometres long with 300 vehicles involved. There are 480 usually young and very enthusiastic people working on the caravan entertaining the spectators and handing out freebies. 

Today’s finish is in Calais in the most northwestern tip of France. It is located on the Strait of Dover which is the narrowest part of the English Channel between France and the United Kingdom. The distance is 33 kilometres, or 20 miles. Because of its significance as a port city and its close proximity to the British island, Roman emperor Julias Caesar stationed many troops there to conquer Brittanica. The archives mention 800 to 1,000 sailing boats, five legions of soldiers and 2,000 horses. 

After the Roman era and well into the Middle Ages, Calais spent many years under English rule, sometimes even as a final stronghold of the English kings on French soil. England and France fought out many battles throughout the Middle Ages, with the longest one being the Hundred Years’ War. All in all, the conflict lasted 116 years, but who’s counting. 

The chalky-white cliffs of Dover.

Look out for the spectacular images of the white cliffs of Dover today. These cliffs originate from the late Cretaceous period, think last dinosaur era, when this part of the world had a sub-tropical climate comparable to the Mediterranean right now. The cliffs were formed in a shallow sub-tropical sea and are basically the remnants of billions and billions of tiny and very calcium rich plankton skeletons, which explains the white colour of the cliffs.

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