So you’ve promised all your friends and family you’d bring them back souvenirs from your Tour de France trip. Although buying everyone a €20 T-shirt will help solve the lingering effects of the European financial crisis, it’s also going to put a bigger dent in your bank statement than those $1,300 plane tickets to France.
Before the start of each stage, a massive convoy of vehicles called the publicity caravan travels the day’s stage route. Imagine a massive carnival on wheels, filled with water-spraying acrobats, comically oversized plaster bike riders and lots of students throwing out free candy, hats, laundry detergent and more to the fans waiting for the race action to begin. Depending on the number of stages you see, you could easily fill an extra carry-on bag with the trinkets.
Advertisers pay tour organizers more than €150,000 for three or more spots in the caravan, which numbers in the hundreds. But with millions of people lining the route over the 23 days of the Tour, it’s probably a solid investment.
An estimated 11 million items are given away during each year’s Tour, and I managed to snag more than a few of them. But there’s one thing that stands out more than any of the others.
Standing on the side of the road leading up to the Col de Portet-d’Aspet, I desperately tried to nab one of the more prized freebies of the day, a green T-shirt modeled after the Tour’s sprinter jersey, but came up just short. When a couple of candy packages landed at my feet, I handed them to the excited young boy standing next to me rather than stuffing them into my jersey pocket (and later, my mouth). His happiness was contagious, and as more items kept landing next to me, I, in turn, handed them to him.
As the caravan began winding down, I began walking away when I felt a tap on my shoulder. The boy’s grandfather held out one of the T-shirts I attempted to grab earlier, the boy standing behind him with that same smile on his face. I held up my hands, attempting to decline the offer – after all, it didn’t seem like a fair trade – but the grandfather put the T-shirt in my hand and clasped my fingers around the fabric. I offered a heartfelt merci, and the two walked away to rejoin their family. I was grateful for the shirt, but the boy’s generosity will stay with me forever.