Signs of the Tour

From sponsors to podiums, how signage forms a central part of the iconic Tour de France. Grand Tour cycling is a spectator sport on the rise. It’s very nearly left behind the dark days of doping and audiences are hungry for more, both in the flesh and on television.In the UK, ITV’s viewers increased between 2013 and 2014 by about 4 million, and the race is set to attract even more viewers this year as three of the four winning jerseys (at the time of writing) sit with British riders.  
Throughout its history, this has been an advertising-centric event. In fact, the race owes its very beginnings to the industry; when a group of disgruntled French magazine advertisers launched their own publication in 1903 which they sold on the back of a new bike race around France.It is from this sales-based conception that you can see advertising reflected everywhere in the signage of the Tour de France. 
There are a massive 450 advertising barriers just making up the race finish line. So it comes as no surprise that this event is big business for sign makers – advertising hoardings, banners, event signage, interview backdrops, car wraps. The list of products is considerable and is so synonymous with the event that it is noteworthy in its own right.
Le Tour is the third largest TV sporting event in the world, after the football World Cup and the Olympics, but it’s not just for the screen that the banners are up. Advertising plays a considerable role in building the race atmosphere, with 47% of spectators attending first and foremost to see the advertising caravan which precedes the cyclists themselves. Nowadays, this aspect is very much to do with the free stuff that is handed out. 14 million bits of ‘stuff’ to be precise! Then when the race proper passes by, we are watching teams that go by the names of their sponsors. Advertising is indeed all around!flagsOver and above the advertising, we must think about the physical reason for the barriers being there. To keep cyclists from spectators and vice versa. They do not line the entire route (all 3,519 kilometres this year) but are situated in a way that balances the demands of the sponsor and the safety of everyone involved. So we find them where television crews will be capturing points and stage winners, and where riders will be picking up speed and jostling for position. That’s not to say that there is no incident of course.

Looking back to 1994 and the famous ‘policeman crash’, we saw the unfortunate Wilfried Nelissen colliding with a policeman who was standing alongside the advertising barriers. Then this very year, the inflatable 1-kilometre advertising arch collapsed a split second before British rider Adam Yates hit it, sending him over his handlebars and making him the proud owner of several chin stitches.  But this is all part of the appeal of Le Tour, and admittedly these episodes do draw attention to the branding plastered along the hoardings and overhead.

What we like best about the Tour de France, and indeed other Grand Tour races is that unlike their larger cousins, the football World Cup and the Olympics, the signage sits in the thick of it, getting down and dirty with the spectators. And thank heavens for that.

For the sport of cycling is unique in one sense, it’s not just the look of the advertising hoardings that matters, but the sound of it!

As the riders pelt down the Champs-Élysées for the eighth time, the sound of spectators banging the hoarding is deafening, and legendary. You only get this with good old fashioned board signage. Long may it continue!