So the spectators are in place. What are you going to do to keep them amused while they await their fleeting glimpse of men, machines and multi-coloured lycra?
Arguably you do nothing. They haven’t paid for tickets to be there after all. Let them amuse themselves.
And yet for over 80 years the Tour has done more than that in a neat solution to the logistics of keeping the show on the road.
The tour begins with 198 riders, their team management, mechanics, soigneurs, chefs, medics (including some unofficial pharmacologists no doubt) and more. Then add in Tour officials, gendarmerie, and the media. They travel to every stage of the tour too, and who pays for them if not the spectator? Ultimately it all boils down to sponsorship.
There are sponsors of individual teams who bear the name of their backer, sometimes sole sponsors such as Sky (though the riders also display the logos of Jaguar who provide their team vehicles, and Pinarello who provide the bikes) but more often than not a combination of sponsors, leading to some multisyllabic challenges for the commentators such as Omega Pharma Quickstep. This team which includes the Manx Missile, Mark Cavendish, is funded by a pharmaceutical company (no comment) and a flooring manufacturer. Then there is Lotto-Beliso, supported by the Belgian national lottery and a door and window producer, or Lampre-Merida who combine metal sheet production with bicycle manufacture. Naturally these sponsors will be accompanying the tour too.
But then there are others, prize sponsors such as French bank LCL (Le Crédit Lyonnais), who fund the Yellow Jersey, or supermarket group Carrefour, sponsors of the polka-dotted King of the Mountains competition.
Now add in more general sponsors who advertise on finish line hoardings etc. Any town that hosts a tour stage must be able to provide accommodation for 4000 members of the tour entourage, but given that the Tour itself requires the closure of so many roads, how do you get them from A to B?
The answer lies in the Tour Caravan. An unabashed PR exercise for all of those involved, in which branded floats and cars, team vans and official transports travel ahead of the riders, waving to the crowds and throwing giveaways to those lucky enough to snatch the occasional fragment of largesse from the air above them.
What are you going to do to keep them amused? In ancient Rome, Juvenal recognised the value of bread and circuses. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!