Finweek English Edition - - COVER - BY GLENDA WIL­LIAMS

Plung­ing down the pre­car­i­ous de­scents of a nar­row moun­tain road, the cy­clists reach speeds of over 100km/ h. Even the dar­ing mo­tor­bike rid­ers with their cam­era­men are un­able to keep pace as these dare­dev­ils throw their bikes around the hair­pin cor­ners of the moun­tain’s switch­backs. The aerial scene, beamed from one of the many he­li­copters above the race, re­veals the tricky, tech­ni­cal de­scents on the snaking moun­tain road that these rid­ers charge down at break­neck speed. With no bar­ri­ers to pre­vent the cy­clists from cat­a­pult­ing over the edge and into the ravines be­low, it is not for the dizzy or the ner­vous. Pan­ning around, the he­li­copter cam­eras re­veal mag­nif­i­cent vis­tas of moun­tain peaks with their nim­ble moun­tain goats and soar­ing ea­gles, plung­ing wa­ter­falls, age-old chateaux and abbeys while the com­men­ta­tors se­duce view­ers by re­gal­ing them with juicy rhetoric about these spec­tac­u­lar sights. Back to the mo­tor­bikes whose cam­eras pick up the chase across the val­ley be­fore the cy­clists come to an al­most grind­ing halt as they hit the slopes of the gruel- ling climbs that will take them through a wall of colourful, cheer­ing spec­ta­tors and as­cents that veer up­wards at im­pos­si­ble gra­di­ents into the rar­efied air of the high sum­mits with their lu­nar land­scapes.

Com­pelling? It is, and it is the live cov­er­age of the world’s pre­mier cy­cling race, the leg­endary Tour de France. Chances are you will be hooked af­ter a stint or two in front of the TV even if you are not a cy­cling fan.

Per­haps it has some­thing to do with the se­duc­tive and spec­tac­u­lar aerial im­ages beamed from the he­li­copters, or the per­sonal ag­o­nies and tri­umphs of the cy­clists, cap­tured as they hap­pen by the mo­tor­cy­cle cam­era­men cov­er­ing the pelo­ton. What­ever the rea­son, it is a sen­sory over­load and the most watched sport­ing event in the world. Road­side spec­ta­tor num­bers alone reach a stag­ger­ing 12m to 15m and TV view­er­ship is es­ti­mated to be 3.5bn. Nope, it’s not small, not by any stretch of the imag­i­na­tion. It is af­ter all, the world’s largest an­nual sport­ing event.

The three-week an­nual event has grown from hum­ble be­gin­nings in 1903 to the world’s most iconic and cap­ti­vat- ing cy­cling event that it has now been for decades. It show­cases not only France and the other coun­tries that the Tour vis­its, but also the many spon­sors who ap­pre­ci­ate the re­turn on their sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment and value the Tour holds for mar­ket­ing and build­ing their brands.

Cy­cling is big busi­ness. Team Sky’s ti­tle spon­sor ini­tially com­mit­ted £40m (R725m) to fund the pro­fes­sional World Pro team for f ive years but that f ig­ure is likely to have swelled as 2011 fig­ures re­veal that the team’s in­come from their ti­tle spon­sor for that year amounted to £10.5m (R109m) with an­other £ 3m (R54m) com­ing from co-spon­sors.

But it is not only the cy­clists whose ac­tions on the road pro­vide much-needed cov­er­age and brand aware­ness for their spon­sors. As much a part of the event as the race it­self, is the Tour de France pub­lic­ity ‘car­a­van’, a collection of some 200 dec­o­rated ve­hi­cles rep­re­sent­ing around 40-odd brands. The car­a­van, in true fes­ti­val na­ture and f loat style, pre­cedes the cy­clists by about an hour and dis­trib­utes about 15m gifts to the throngs of spec­ta­tors lin­ing the route.

Ma­jor sport­ing events gen­er­ate global me­dia at­ten­tion, and the pub­lic­ity of the event and the event it­self is an ex­cep­tional chan­nel for coun­try, re­gion and city recog­ni­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally as well as for pro­mot­ing tourist at­trac­tions in these ar­eas. The events are of­ten ac­com­pa­nied by re­lated ac­tiv­i­ties and en­ter­tain­ment, re­gen­er­a­tion of ar­eas, em­ploy­ment and gen­eral up­lift­ment of com­mu­ni­ties. The ini­tial short-term boost to an econ­omy of­ten be­comes long term.

Plenty coun­tries view cy­cling as an ideal medium to pro­mote tourism. Un­like other famed sport­ing events such as Wim­ble­don, cy­cling’s draw­card is the aerial cov­er­age by he­li­copters as well as the mo­tor­bike cam­era­men who track the cy­clists along the route each day dur­ing the three-week race. The su­pe­rior feed not only al­lows view­ers to see live im­agery of the race un­fold­ing, it trans­ports them into the heart of the pelo­ton and takes them on a jour­ney that in­cludes breath­tak­ing views of the sur­round­ing ter­rain and the points of in­ter­est through which the Tour passes.

Cy­cling races and the Tour de France in par­tic­u­lar, at­tract a grow­ing num­ber of tourists even to ar­eas that typ­i­cally could ex­pect to see lit­tle rev­enue from tourism. Even lit­tle vil­lages and towns that the Tour passes through, as well as those near the race route, ben­e­fit from a healthy in­jec­tion of funds. With cy­cling fans ar­riv­ing well in ad­vance of the Tour, ho­tels, car­a­van parks, restaurants, su­per­mar­kets and even tem­po­rary businesses thrive as a re­sult of the Tour bring­ing in vi­tal in­come to even re­mote ar­eas along the route. These ar­eas also ben­e­fit sig­nif­i­cantly from the TV net­work cov­er­age. With bil­lions of view­ers around the world in­tro­duced to a re­gion they may not have been aware of or thought of trav­el­ling to, it’s a help­ing hand to the re­gions that the Tour passes through. Its im­pact is felt as tourist num­bers to these re­gions grow as a re­sult.

As the pop­u­lar­ity of the Tour de France grew, so did the broad­cast­ing rights fee for French tele­vi­sion. From a mere € 250 000 (R3.6m) in 1986, by 2009 that fee, which in­cluded the rights to other Amaury Sport Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ASO) events – like the fa­mous cy­cling clas­sic Paris-Roubaix and the Dakar rally – had grown to a stag­ger­ing € 23m (R330m). Even small coun­tries like Is­rael, re­al­is­ing the value that could be gen­er­ated from the Tour de France cov­er­age, paid € 500 000 (R7.2m) to broad­cast videos and com­mer­cials about Is­rael through­out the three-week race, in a bid to en­cour­age tourism to their coun­try. It’s no won­der the scram­ble to se­cure ad­ver­tis­ing space, broad­cast­ing rights or the host­ing of a stage. The French have found a money-spinner in the Tour de France and ev­ery­one wants a piece of it.

The pelo­ton me­an­ders through the un­du­la­tions

of the York­shire dales in what proved to be a more test­ing course than was ini­tially en­vis­aged.

The jersey lead­ers line up at the start of Stage 2 where 25 000 spec­ta­tors packed York’s race­course to see the start.

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