We announced our representation of the Tour de France in March and what a year it has been to represent this amazing race, with a British rider winning the Tour for the first time ever.
Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to be invited to France to not only attend a workshop in Paris with the Tour's other international agents, including CPLG's Benelux sales manager Jacqueline Schepman, but to see stages of the Tour itself. It was an amazing experience and a fascinating insight into what is one of the world’s greatest sporting spectacles.
Arriving for the workshop, I was greeted by representatives of the Tour de France organizers, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO). Along with Jacqueline, there were agents from Korea, North America, Australia and Spain in attendance – reflecting the sheer breadth of the property’s global reach – and we were able to immerse ourselves in a full brand update. Other agents, including the North American team, have been working on the brand longer for several years and it was interesting to hear more about the great partnerships they have built, which reinforced our belief in the power of this property.
The workshop was followed by a visit to the main Paris store of Official Technical Apparel and Sportswear Partner Le Coq Sportif, before we headed off to Reims in the Champagne region for our first stop. Sadly, travel delays meant we missed the planned champagne tasting, but after an excellent dinner and a good night's sleep we made our way early to the charming town of Épernay - the departure point for the sixth stage.
When we got there I was amazed to see an entire village of tented stalls - including a bakery, a champagne and wine tent and (thankfully) a coffee tent, as well as official merchandise sales stall - that are all moved from stage to stage throughout the Tour. The logistics behind such an operation are incredible and there will have been a lot of people who didn't get much sleep for the duration of the three weeks.
Moving into the technical area as the teams prepared their cyclists for the 200km ahead I was interested in the sheer amount of equipment each cyclist had – not only the bike, tyres and saddle, but helmets, shirts, shorts, shoes, water bottles and sunglasses. With cycling such a popular pursuit in the UK and now the third most practised sport in the country, it struck me more than ever the potential there is for licensed product aimed at the growing band of leisure cyclists.
Around 45 minutes before the riders set off we were collected by our drivers and taken onto the roads they would racing on close behind. The streets were lined throughout with people waving and cheering and, as well as other team support cars, also on the roads with us was an amazing array of sponsors’ vehicles including a plastic baguette on wheels, Vittel trucks showering the crowd with water mist and even one resembling a chicken. Official merchandise trucks with music blaring stopped at the busiest points along the route to sell goody bags of official product to the excited fans.
Reaching the end of the stage in Metz, we jumped out of the car to head to the finish line and, after a five-hour ride, we watched our very own Bradley Wiggins take the iconic yellow jersey at the top of the leader board.
The evening was spent in Nancy where we tried our hand at Pétanque with our own official licensed boules, hand engraved with our names before dinner. CPLG's UK MD Vickie O'Malley was able to join us and we dined on a beautiful square where we were entertained by a classical concert. Okay, maybe it wasn't just for our benefit but it was a pleasure anyway.
The following day we set off from the next departure village in Tomblaine and drove towards the finish of stage seven at the La Planche des Belles Filles ski station near the Swiss border. This was a very challenging mountainous stage and we were again amazed by the size of and sheer enthusiasm of the crowds lining the streets - in particular the number of Union Jacks that were being flown.
In glorious sunshine, a picnic stopover was in typical French style but the plentiful refreshments added to the small problem of lack of toilet breaks; in the end we resorted to using a local family's bathroom - in exchange for the purchase of some homemade honey.
Having seen Wiggins retain the yellow jersey coming in third behind fellow Brit and Sky team mate Chris Froome, who was stage winner, we spent the evening Belfont - another beautiful town and with one bar in particular selling a great strawberry-flavour beer.
The whole experience was fascinating and inspirational – the size of the event and the logistics involved in making it happen plus the enthusiasm amongst all the fans we saw along the way was absolutely incredible.
CPLG has always recognised the strength of the Tour de France brand, but actually being there and seeing the fervent support really brings home the sheer size and power of the race. Not only is it the biggest thing in world cycling, it is one of the biggest sporting events in the world and one that even transcends sport as an expression of sheer Gallic enthusiasm. Vive le Tour!