After a 900 kilometer transfer from Denmark, we are back in France. Welcome, my friends!
It’s not just the team cars and buses that made the move on Sunday and Monday (of course, the riders got on a plane), but also all the vehicles that are part of the Tour de France organization. Think of the race management, the Radio Tour, the stewards, the VIPs, the big trailers for the podiums, the commentary positions and the VIP Village, plus the whole publicity caravan with all its oddly shaped vehicles. Last year we had chicken nuggets, sausages, cartoon heroes Asterix and Obelix, whole washing machines, giant Vittel water bottles, coffee pots and oversized polka dot t-shirts on sale.
The publicity caravan is one of the highlights of every visit to the Tour de France. Hours before the arrival of the peloton, the caravan follows the same route as the cyclists. I mean every way, up and down. They go over the mountains, through hairpin turns and sometimes get stuck like the Cochonou sausage truck did last year. Cochonou are small dry sausages with a lot of garlic. They are individually packed and then thrown out of the most iconic French car in history: the 2CV, or ugly duck as we call it in Dutch. Sausages are always the most popular item in the advertising caravan and have been for 25 years.
The advertising caravan entertains the millions of spectators in a show much longer than the actual pace of the peloton, which on a good day in the mountains lasts 45 minutes and on a sprint day maybe five. The caravan is estimated to be about ten kilometers long with 300 vehicles involved. There are 480 generally young and very enthusiastic people working in the caravan entertaining spectators and handing out gifts.
Today’s finish is in Calais, in the extreme north-west of France. It is located in the Strait of Dover, which is the narrowest part of the English Channel between France and the United Kingdom. The distance is 33 kilometers, or 20 miles. Due to its importance as a port city and its proximity to the British Isle, the Roman Emperor Julias Caesar stationed many troops there to conquer Brittanica. The archives mention between 800 and 1,000 sailing ships, 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 serving as the last stronghold of English kings on French soil. England and France fought many battles throughout the Middle Ages, the longest being the Hundred Years’ War. In total, the conflict lasted 116 years, but who counts.
Look for spectacular images of the White Cliffs of Dover today. These cliffs originated in the late Cretaceous period, think of the last age of the dinosaurs, when this part of the world had a subtropical climate comparable to the Mediterranean at this time. The cliffs were formed in a shallow subtropical sea and are basically the remains of billions and billions of tiny calcium-rich plankton skeletons, which explains the white color of the cliffs.
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