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The Tour de France's Real Workers

by Owen Mulholland

Owen wrote this in the 1980s when he was an accredited journalist to the Tour.

All you ever hear about in the Tour are the poor riders. How they suffer on the road. How they don't get to see their families. How they get sick and have to keep riding. How they have to adapt to a new hotel every night. Makes you want to send your entire savings to the Help the Bikies Fund.

Well, let me tell you, in the Tour they have the easiest job. Sacrilege to say, I know, but look what really goes on. All these guys have to do is ride their bikes. Up at eight or so, a bountiful breakfast, five to eight hours touring the countryside, and then a message, dinner, and to bed. And they get paid for this!

Wouldn't you like to have a short work day, come home to a half hour massage, and then sit down to a magnificent meal? Yeah, hard to take.

It's the people who make it all happen who really work. For each of the 180 riders in the Tour there are 17 others helping him. Cleopatra never had it so good.

The service, press, administrative, publicity, and security personnel put in more hours in three days than the riders do in a week.

Early in the morning, while the riders are still enjoying the sleeping quarters of Europe's finest hotels, the army of supporters that makes it all happen crawls forth, fortified for another 18-hour day on five hours sleep.

The average team must maintain two dozen bikes, spending 30 minutes on most, every day. During the Tour the mechanics will change 150 tires and go through 15 series of accessory parts.

How the Tour expects to win friends with their loudspeakers blaring at 7 a.m. remains a mystery, but that's when the publicity caravan sets forth to entertain and hustle the millions who line the roads.

Even before them, the thousands of police, soldiers, and gendarmes needed to secure the course are manning every intersection.

Five hundred press, radio, and TV personnel eat at dawn so they can drive the 50 kilometers to the stage town (the teams have filled all the local hotels.) for rider interviews. That afternoon, after the racers have arrived at the finish, the press begins its real work day doing more interviews, banging out stories, transmitting to their offices around the world, visiting riders in their hotels, and finally, about 9:30 or so, driving to their own hotels. There they eat a quick meal before crawling into bed around midnight.

This Tour litany of long hours and little sleep goes on for three and a half weeks, and at the end it isn't only the riders who are wasted!