Cycling Superfans: A Tour De France Tradition

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reviewed by Rory McAllister
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Cycling enthusiasts know that the annual Tour de France is about much more than the competitors battling it out across a grueling 3,500 kilometers.

In the midst of this epic athletic event, another breed of competitor emerges: the Tour de France superfans.

They are as integral to the Tour’s vivacious atmosphere as the spinning wheels and the strained muscles of the racers.

Their commitment to the race, spanning all corners of France and all walks of life, brings a colorful, vibrant, and often eccentric dimension to this iconic event.

Join us as we delve into the world of these superfans, discovering their traditions, exploring their iconic locations, and sharing their infectious spirit that fuels the electrifying energy of the world’s greatest cycling spectacle.

From Dutch corners to jogging bananas, this is a journey through the heart of the Tour de France, from the sidelines.

We’ll be covering:

  • The Making Of A Superfan
  • Iconic Fan Locations And Traditions
  • The Publicity Caravan
  • Memorable And Eccentric Fan Behaviors
  • Incidents With The Riders
  • Fans From All Over The World 
  • The Impact Of Superfans On The Riders

Let’s dive in!

A Colombian Tour de France fan waits by the side of the road, taking a nap in the shade of his car.
© A.S.O./Bruno Bade

The Making Of A Superfan

Becoming a Tour de France superfan isn’t something you claim lightly.

This is no ordinary race-watching experience from the comfort of your couch or checking race updates on your phone. No, being a superfan requires an almost obsessive level of dedication.

Just picture it: waking up at the crack of dawn to secure the perfect spot along the route. You settle into your folding chair or plop down on the ground with your picnic spread out before you, ready to soak up the atmosphere.

Sometimes the weather isn’t exactly ideal – scorching sun, chilling winds, or even relentless rain. But does that discourage them?

They come prepared, sporting raincoats or sun hats, armed with binoculars, cameras, and an endless supply of enthusiasm.

Tour de France fans line the roads in the mountains.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

They’re here for that electrifying, adrenaline-charged moment when the cyclists whiz by in a blur of color and motion. It may only last a few seconds, but those memories last a lifetime.

Superfans come from all corners of the globe, forming a diverse tapestry of passion. All ages are represented, from wide-eyed young children to seasoned seniors who’ve witnessed the cycling circus for decades.

They come from various backgrounds – doctors, teachers, retirees, students – but they share an unyielding love for this grandest of Grand Tours.

Iconic Fan Locations And Traditions

The Tour de France is renowned for its rich history and captivating routes, but it’s also famous for certain fan locations that have become legends in their own right.

The Dutch Corner

No superfan hotspot is as celebrated as the Dutch Corner on the Alpe d’Huez, sited at “Corner 7”.

In the 1970s, Dutch riders started dominating the Alpe d’Huez stage. In their honor, Dutch fans claimed one of the 21 hairpin bends on the climb.

Over the years, this corner has transformed into a wild orange sea of fans – the lively and proud Dutch Corner.

Dressed head-to-toe in vibrant orange, superfans turn this corner into a raucous party at the crack of dawn on race day.

They arrive in droves, donning everything from simple orange t-shirts to elaborate lion suits (the lion being the Dutch national symbol). The atmosphere is electric, filled with songs, chants, and even the occasional brass band playing lively tunes.

Campers And Caravans

Tour de France superfans wait besides the road with their caravans in the background.
© A.S.O./Thomas Maheux

But superfans’ dedication isn’t limited to the mountainsides.

Caravan lovers are another quintessential Tour tradition. These devoted groups follow the T across its entire route, covering over 3,500 kilometers and spanning three weeks.

Living out of their camper vans, these superfans form a migratory tribe, moving from one location to another to cheer on the riders.

They create a tight-knit traveling community, forging friendships over shared meals, collective cheers, and a shared love for cycling.

For them, the Tour is not just a race to watch; it’s a lifestyle. It’s about experiencing the excitement, the anticipation, the highs, and lows, day in and day out.

The Publicity Caravan

Birds-eye view of the Tour de France publicity caravan.
© A.S.O./Aurélien Vialatte

One of the most beloved and distinctive features of the Tour de France is the publicity caravan.

Imagine a parade of colorful, extravagant vehicles, each more creative than the last, driving through every town, village, and city along the route.

This pre-race procession is a unique blend of carnival, circus, and mobile advertising, a tradition as integral to the Tour as the cycling itself.

The caravan consists of about 160 vehicles, all decked out in gigantic 3D models, bold designs, and vibrant colors representing various sponsors. You’ll spot towering loaves of bread, oversized water bottles, enormous cows, and lions.

The possibilities for these outrageous mobile displays are endless. As the vehicles make their way along the race route, lively music blares from the loudspeakers, building anticipation for the approaching peloton.

But the fun doesn’t end there. What makes the caravan truly special and beloved by superfans is the tradition of tossing freebies into the crowd. Just imagine a rain of keychains, hats, bags of sweets, product samples, and promotional T-shirts.

Thousands of hands reaching out to catch these souvenirs create a spectacle of its own.

These goodies not only serve as promotional items but also become cherished mementos, tangible pieces of the Tour’s infectious atmosphere.

About an hour before the race starts, the caravan embarks on its journey, lasting around 45 minutes. The excitement gradually builds, creating an electric buzz.

By the time the cyclists appear on the horizon, the crowd is already buzzing, ready to witness the thrilling spectacle.

Every honk, every wave from the caravan crew, every souvenir caught sends ripples of joy through the spectators, amplifying the atmosphere and turning the Grande Boucle into an unforgettable celebration.

A young cycling fan roars the Tour de France past.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Memorable And Eccentric Fan Behaviors

Year after year, superfans bring their unique blend of creativity and enthusiasm, transforming the sidelines into a vibrant and often surreal spectacle that adds an unforgettable dimension to the race.

Picture this: a sea of flags from different nations waving in the breeze, a kaleidoscope of colors representing the global reach.

These flags are more than just displays of national pride; they’re symbols of unity and camaraderie that the race fosters, connecting fans from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

A Grand Costume Party

Didi the Devil waits at the side of the road for the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Aurélien Vialatte

Superfans show up in a dazzling array of outfits, ranging from replicas of historic cycling kits to extravagant ensembles. You might see a herd of spotted cows, a group of Vikings complete with horned helmets, or even a squad of superheroes.

One of the most iconic characters to grace the Tour is Didi the Devil. His real name is Dieter Senft, and he’s been a fixture at the race since the early 1990s.

Didi is known for his red devil suit, trident, and exuberant leaps as the peloton zooms by. His devil-may-care antics have made him a beloved character, the ‘unofficial mascot’ of the Tour de France.

And then there are the jogging bananas and half-naked Norwegians. Yes, you read that correctly.

The “Banana Men” sprint alongside the riders dressed in bright yellow banana costumes, bringing smiles to the faces of both fans and riders alike.

The Norwegians, on the other hand, are known for their patriotic display, often appearing shirtless with their faces and bodies painted in the colors of the Norwegian flag, no matter the weather.

But the creativity doesn’t stop at costumes.

Some superfans go all out, investing considerable effort into creating large-scale installations that dot the countryside, visible during aerial shots of the race.

These fan-made creations range from intricate bike sculptures made of hay bales to gigantic painted messages that can only be seen from above.

They add to the Tour’s charm and character, representing a unique interaction between the fans and the global audience watching from home.

Incidents With The Riders

While the Tour de France is undeniably an exhilarating spectacle, it has witnessed impactful interactions between the riders and fans.

One notorious incident occurred in 1975 when five-time winner Eddy Merckx was punched in the stomach by a spectator while climbing the Puy de Dome.

Merckx was leading the race at the time, and this unexpected assault severely impacted his performance, ultimately costing him his sixth victory.

More recently, during the 2016 edition, three-time winner Chris Froome was forced to abandon his bike and run up Mont Ventoux after colliding with a motorbike that had been obstructed by overly enthusiastic superfans.

Perhaps the most sobering reminder of the potential risks of fan interaction was the disastrous crash in 2021.

On the first stage of the race, a spectator holding a large sign and looking at the camera instead of the approaching peloton caused a pile-up that resulted in numerous injuries and led to several riders withdrawing from the race.

This incident, now infamous as the “Opi-Omi” crash after the message on the sign, highlighted the dangerous consequences of irresponsible fan behavior.

These incidents have left a significant impact on the riders, leading them to call for better crowd control measures during the race.

Race organizers have had to adapt by implementing stricter guidelines for spectator behavior and increasing security presence along the race route, although it couldn’t prevent Steff Cras or Lilian Calmejane from falling in this year’s edition.

For the Tour de France superfans, these events serve as reminders of their responsibility as spectators – to respect the safety of the riders while contributing to the vibrant atmosphere of the race.

Fans From All Over The World 

A Colombian mother and daughter wait at the side of the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Pauline Ballet

Thanks to modern broadcasting technology, the race reaches billions of viewers worldwide, extending its influence far beyond the borders of France.

And at the heart of this global spectacle are the superfans, whose passion and dedication have transformed the Tour de France into a phenomenon that resonates worldwide.

Superfans don’t just celebrate the Tour; they embody it. Their infectious energy, vibrant costumes, and spirited antics are not confined to the sidelines.

Through television and internet broadcasts, these colorful displays of fan culture are shared with audiences across the globe, showcasing the universal appeal of the Tour.

The superfans’ fervor often sparks interest in those who may not typically watch cycling

They present the Tour de France as more than just a sporting event. This accessibility and engagement attract new fans to the sport, expanding its reach.

Superfans also serve as ambassadors for their respective countries, proudly displaying national colors and symbols. This not only adds to the colorful spectacle but also fosters a sense of international camaraderie and friendly competition among superfans.

The Impact Of Superfans On The Riders

The Tour de France climbs up Alpe d'Huez with fans lining the road.
© A.S.O./Charly Lopez

Imagine yourself pedaling up a steep mountain climb, muscles screaming, lungs burning, exhaustion threatening to overwhelm you.

Just when you feel like giving up, you hear the roar of the crowd, their shouts of encouragement cutting through your fatigue.

You catch sight of a sea of faces, ablaze with enthusiasm, urging you onward.

That’s the power of superfans.

Many riders have spoken about the psychological boost they receive from the energy of the crowd. The shouts of encouragement, the personalized banners, the painted roads – these tangible displays of support provide a much-needed mental lift.

They serve as a reminder that the riders are not alone in their struggle; they carry the hopes and admiration of thousands of fans with them.

Countless cyclists have shared stories of memorable interactions with supporters. Some have been inspired by a particularly enthusiastic fan, while others have shared laughs over outrageous costumes.

Riders have been touched by the lengths superfans go to show their support, whether it’s traveling long distances or creating elaborate roadside displays.

Take seven-time green jersey winner Peter Sagan, for instance. He’s known for interacting with fans during the race, sometimes even high-fiving spectators as he zooms by.

These interactions create lasting memories not just for the fans involved but also add a touch of joy and humanity to the intense competition for the riders.

Didi the Devil poses for the camera at the Tour de France.
© A.S.O./Marcel Hilger

We Want To Hear From You!

Have you ever been a part of the Tour de France as a spectator? Have you ever felt the adrenaline surge through your veins as the peloton whizzed by? Do you have a memory that stands out in your mind?

Leave a comment below and share your experiences. Share your memories, your favorite moments, and what the Tour means to you.

After all, every fan has a story, and we can’t wait to hear yours!

Photo of author
Quentin's background in bike racing runs deep. In his youth, he won the prestigious junior Roc d'Azur MTB race before representing Belgium at the U17 European Championships in Graz, Austria. Shifting to road racing, he then competed in some of the biggest races on the junior calendar, including Gent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Flanders, before stepping up to race Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Paris-Roubaix as an U23. With a breakthrough into the cut-throat environment of professional racing just out of reach, Quentin decided to shift his focus to embrace bike racing as a passion rather than a career. Now writing for BikeTips, Quentin's experience provides invaluable insight into performance cycling - though he's always ready to embrace the fun side of the sport he loves too and share his passion with others.

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