With Blighty’s two week annual love affair with Wimbledon now over, along with our dreams of Euro 2016 glory, I’ve already turned my attention to this year’s Le Tour de France. What you may not know, is that after the Olympics and the World Cup, Le Tour is the world’s largest sporting event brand. What’s more, we actually have a good chance of winning it for the fourth time in five years!
Since a young boy, I’ve always been in awe of the extraordinary achievement and determination of those crazy enough to take part – who this year, are riding 3,519 km in three weeks. At the end of 2015, I made the decision to do something you could call courageous, or stupid. With very little experience, and barely any preparation, I registered for this year’s L’Etape du Tour. An opportunity for cycling enthusiasts, or impressionable fools, to follow in the tyre tracks of their heroes.
L’Etape du Tour is the penultimate stage of the 2016 Le Tour de France, 146 km of brutal mountain climbing from Megeve to Morzine, the section most likely to determine who win’s this year’s maillot jaune – the coveted yellow jersey. I’m hoping that taking part will give me an insight into what makes this annual sporting mecca such a fascinating and resilient brand.
It’s no secret that professional cycling has been somewhat tarnished by the Lance Armstrong scandal, among others. But scandal in cycling is nothing new. As far back as 1904, defending inaugural champion, Maurice Garin, was disqualified when it emerged that he had employed the unimaginative, but devastatingly effective measure of forgoing his bicycle in favour of a railway carriage during some of the longer stages. Mechanical doping for the 1900s.
Even Tom Simpson, Britain’s greatest cyclist pre-Boardman, Wiggins & Froome, died in 1969 on the final 2km climb of the legendary Mont Ventoux, due to a combination of sheer exhaustion and a cocktail of amphetamines and cognac. It’s hard to imagine many other brands in the sport or business world that could bounce back like Le Tour. Whatever the headlines, year after year, it emerges as popular as ever. The secret?
compelling brand story
Created in 1903 by French newspaper, L’Auto, Le Tour de France is a great example of successful brand partnership. Coverage of the race gave L’Auto a competitive advantage and helped them increase their flagging paper sales. At the same time, the staggering tales of human endeavors that unfolded helped make Le Tour a brand in its own right. With roots in commercialism and storytelling, Le Tour has a rich history, and a well-defined brand story. It contains stories of success and failure, good vs. bad, and invites fans to celebrate their cultural passions. It has it all.
Iconic brand assets
Le maillot jaune – the yellow jersey – is worn by the race leader, and was incorporated into the race to reflect the yellow paper L’Auto was printed on. It has since become one of the most iconic brand assets in the world of sport. This coveted jersey is well complimented by the polka-dot (King of the Mountains), green (points) and white (young rider) jerseys, all tokens of the heraldic and collectable prestige of Le Tour.
Unique brand experience
The rituals and brand experience of Le Tour are totally unique, and although it now embraces many other countries en route, it is still spectacular, eccentric and unmistakably French. As it sweeps through the towns and villages of France and beyond, it brings with it the commercial tawdriness of la caravane publicitaire – a convoy of vehicles advertising before the riders. It creates feelings of excitement and hope, along with incredible exposure people pay good money for. In a way, it does the French Tourism Office’s job for it.
But the effect doesn’t stop there. Le Tour is a global brand that’s helped spread a love for cycling around the world, and given rise to a number of other events. You can participate in L’Etape Australia or Brazil, or even Le Tour De Yorkshire, the home of our very own Elmwood headquarters. As the influence of Le Tour spreads, it brings with it new supporters and cycling enthusiasts, cementing the brand’s future.
Fans play a central role
Le Tour would not be Le Tour without its fans. An estimated 12 million spectators gather on the roadsides, providing a colourful and passionate backdrop for competitors throughout the race. There’s something incredibly overwhelming about the rainbow of nations, who have painted the names of their heroes on the narrow mountain passes.
Le Tour is the perfect combination of riders, corporate partners and most importantly, the fans. But above all, it is the gallic emotion that makes it truly special. Brands could learn a lot following the tracks of Le Tour. As a brand, its strength comes from its authenticity. Le Tour invites its fans to form and become part of its brand story and shape their own experiences. That’s why, despite the scandals that will undoubtedly crop up over the years, Le Tour will always ride on. It’s relentless.
My quest is partly about a sense of achievement, to find out what makes this race so special, and of course to raise money on behalf of the good folk at Rainbow Trust. But above all else, it’s about the dream – to be wearing le maillot jaune, climbing the final summit of the Col de Joux Plane, as the crowd parts so I can just make out the unmistakable name ‘Baxter’ painted on the road.
Support my quest by donating to Rainbow Trust here. Thank you.