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TOUR DE FRANCE: and You Thought You Knew Logistics!

cargo bikeThe most famous bicycle race of all is celebrating it's 100th Anniversary in 2013. It is much more complex than just a race: it includes an advertising caravan (parade) and a tent carnival. But there is a tremendous effort behind the scenes to make it all happen. From a logistics standpoint, it ranks up there with an army fighting a war or a circus traveling around the country.

The actual race is run by 22 teams of 8 or 9 bicyclists each.That means about 200 participants; but the actual "show" involves about 4,500 people.

The advertising caravan (goes ahead of race and distributes advertising "gifts" like hats, candy, etc consists of 180 vehicles representing 44 companies, but the number of "official" vehicles (team cars, scorers, et al) may be 10 times that. Then you have "suppliers". Vittel Water seemed to have several tractor-trailers to capitalize on being the official supplier. Going back into history, preceding the race was more attractive to advertisers because spectators gathered by the road long before the race or could be attracted from their houses. Advertisers following the race found that many who had watched the race had already gone home. The advertisers distribute publicity material to the crowd. The number of items has been estimated at 11 million, each person in the procession giving out 3,000 to 5,000 items a day.

The tent carnival (I like to call it a "vendor village") moves as the Tour moves: tents up, tents down, crowds in, crowds out. Norbert Dentressangle has been the Tour's official partner for more than 30 years, transporting all the facilities and equipment required to set up the start and finish villages at each stage, along with ancillary items including safety barriers and advertising hoardings. The company also transports all the equipment needed to organize each stage at different points along the route, such as intermediate sprints and arrival at a pass. In total 22 tons of equipment is transported from stage to stage in support of the event. A fleet of 20 Norbert Dentressangle trucks and trailers and a team of 33 drivers will be accompanying the riders along the way to the finish line in the Champs Elysee in Paris.

There are more than 12 million roadside viewers (many behind steel barriers that have to be moved every day); but there are 600 million TV viewers. Two major networks (France Television and NBC) plus some smaller independents. These folks have "sky cranes", independent power plants, and even helicopters. The whole press coverage boils down to roughly 120 TV channels, 70 radio stations, 400 newspapers and press agencies, and 55 websites. End result: 2,965: hours of TV coverage.

This year had an additional wrinkle. The race started on the island of Corsica. The stage of the race on Corsica ended Monday afternoon and the next stage started Tuesday at 1pm on the mainland. It took a Herculean effort by the "Corsican Navy" to move the show: At 6am Tuesday there were 4 mega ferries in the Port of Nice and a fifth one waiting for dock space.

The race runs (2013) from the 29th of June until the 21st of July. It is NOT a continuous route. They "hop" from one town to another. Sometimes a small distance, others hop 300 or 400 kilometers. They actually race 3,497 kilometers, but cover the whole country. Interestingly, in 1926 they raced 5,745 kilometers.

The towns they stop and start in make a big difference as far as feeding, sleeping and supplying this "army". No problem in Nice or Paris, but several of these towns are only a couple of thousand people, if that. Not a problem, the teams have, I will call them buses, they call them "vans", but, they are hotels on wheels. Talked myself into a tour of MOVISTAR's two vans. (no, I didn't see Nairo Quintana, but his manager loves him and so do I).

The Tour's "supply chain" has an advantage over most companies: PUBLICITY. Suppliers pay for the privilege of supplying the Tour. For this, they get all kinds of publicity and the right to label their products as an "official supplier". Just imagine! Searching for the HIGH bidder rather than the LOW bidder!

Watching the race, you see all those team cars loaded with extra bikes. A world class bike is usually made from carbon fiber and costs between $7,000 and $14,000. You can buy bikes exactly like the pros ride at your local bike shop. It's up to you to make them go fast, however.

Other cool stuff that takes a lot of planning:

  • Number (or miles) of barricades erected and torn down for the race: 217 miles
  • Number of gendarmes (French military police officers) on the Tour: 13,000
  • 8,400: food bags distributed at feeding stations throughout race
  • 25,055: number of security personnel.
  • 42,000: water bottles used by teams in race

Check out an operations view behind the screens of the Australian world-tour team: Orica GreenEdge. See a beautiful example of visual project management:

Last question, where are the women?
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