Tifosi; how these mega-fans enriched our experience at the Tour de France

They know the stats behind each jersey. They are unfazed by buying a plane, train, or bus ticket to THE cycling event of the season. Although shade is scarce and the day is sweltering, they camp out hours in advance to secure a prime viewing spot. In fact, they live for those 15 seconds of delicious return, reveling in the rush of air that glides off electric bodies when the athletes finally come soaring past.

In the cycling world, these die-hard fans are known as Tifosi.

Although he follows the cycling world, Pop doesn’t fall into the category of the frenzied tifosi. However, when it turns out that the trip you’re planning to Paris coincides with the final stage of the Tour de France, you certainly want to go. 

Here’s the count, an honorary tifoso!

Our first day in Paris, we meandered to the the Champs-Élyssées around 5:30 p.m., eager to take in the hubbub surrounding the Tour de France. There were quite a lot of fans already waiting by the temporary guardrails, but, since the street was so long, the crowd was not yet several-people deep. We settled in behind the other spectators and waited for the race to begin.

There are an estimated 250 vehicles each year in the advertising caravan

Around 7 p.m. the crowd started to murmur more than normal, and restless kids perked up as the publicity parade known as the “caravan” put on a show for anxious fans. During this time, the race’s sponsors precede the riders in all sorts of attention-grabbing cars, vans, and floats. We saw cars shaped like tires, water bottles, even muffin tins!

Have you seen the muffin van? The muffin van? The muffin van!

Most cars blasted music and honked their horn as they went by; songs included Gangnam Style, Danza Kuduro, and everything Black Eyed Peas

According to Wikipedia, “Advertisers pay the Société du Tour de France approximately €150,000 to place three vehicles in the caravan”

With all this noise and color, you can bet that I wasn’t the only one standing on tip-toe to lean in toward the display. There were two girls directly in front of us who were doing exactly the same. At one point we started talking to them, and got to know two true tifosi. Serena and Nathalie had traveled from northern Italy to take in the spectacle, and it was hardly their first time to do so. The two had been raised in families which took cycling seriously; Serena had even followed the Tour around France with her father in previous years. Both girls had volunteered at a cycling training center in northern Italy, where they got to see all sides of the athletes. Talking to these two mega fans totally changed our Tour de France experience, putting a more human face on the riders.

A jet left streaks of red, white, and blue (for the French Tricolore flag) in the air to signal the approximation of the riders

Nathalie and Serena bubbled with information about the cyclists; which cyclists trained near them in Italy, superstars who were not present today, their picks for who would win today’s stage from Versailles. Cavendish, Cancellara, Contador, last names I’d heard with only one ear open when dad had mentioned them in the past, were brought to life by their stories. They spoke animatedly about not only today’s race, but also the Giro d’Italia, the Tour of California, Milan-San Remo. Dad would ask and they would answer: who was less-than-stellar at going downhill, which riders were humble or cocky in real life, why they still chose to sport canary yellow Livestrong bands. Talking and laughing with these cycling aficionados enhanced our Tour de France experience so much more than if we had simply elbowed our way to the gates, watched the race, and left; their enthusiasm was infectious.

First sight of the riders!

Finally, at 8:20 the riders finally arrived at the Champs-Élyssées. I was prepared for them to whiz by, but the speed at which they flew in front of us still surprised me. Even more impressive was they way they kept in such a tight ball, which is cycling terms is known as the peleton.

Gee whiz, guys!

Can you see the riders going the opposite direction in the background? This is because they rode up side of the Champs-Élyssées and then double back around the other.

The cyclists actually go around the Champs-Élyssées ten times; on the following rounds, they were more spread out

Not only were they generous with their insider knowledge, Serena and Nathalie were also generous with their front-row seats. When the peleton came by, they insisted that dad and I squeeze up into the space they had been saving. At first we said no, that we couldn’t take their hard-earned spots, but Serena insisted. “You’ve come  lot longer way than me!” she reasoned. (You have Serena to thank for the shots I have here!)

Serena and Nathalie lean in for some action shots

 Nathalie’s nails: when painted with the colors of winning jerseys, you know you’ve found true fans

Where were our two new friends headed after the race? To meet up with the cyclists, of course! We said our adieus and thanked Serena and Nathalie for making the waiting time pass so quickly with their entertaining stories. Their info was also educational–I learned more about cycling in the three hours that we spent waiting for the peleton than I ever had before. Part of this was learning about the culture of fans, which made me consider the cycling world in a new light.

Dad gives the cyclists a hand

Are you into cycling? Have you ever meet fans who were so passionate about their sport that they engaged you and pulled you in? I’m curious to hear your stories!

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4 Comments

  1. Wow! What a cool experience. Thanks for the insight on the tifosi, a term I’d never heard of!

  2. Cassandra

    Thanks, Kaley! Since we peeked into a life so different from our own, it was one of the most culturally-rich moments of our trip.

  3. Álex de luxe

    As far as I know tifossi is a term used in football related to Italian “hooligans”.
    Regards.

    • Cassandra

      Yes–tifoso, tifosa, tifosi, etc. can be used to describe fans of several different sports, not just cycling!

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