The Tour de France is a well-oiled machine. So is the Europe 1 motorcycle the station uses to cover the event.
Each morning it’s there at the starting line waiting for the gun to go off. A technician from the station drives it, carrying a reporter who, prior to the start, has already begun preparing several segments for the station to air throughout the day to convey the atmosphere of the event.
“The driver has to be a technician, but above all, an experienced biker! When you’re heading up a mountain at 30 km per hour, you can’t stall. And… when heading down the mountain at 70 or 80 km you can’t get in the way of the race!” explains Axel May, a journalist in Europe 1’s sports department. He is covering his 6th Tour de France, which runs from Aug. 29 to Sept. 20.
Shortly before the cyclists set oﬀ, the Europe 1 motorbike is already on the road. When the racers catch up with it, it lets the cyclists overtake so that it can follow them.
“The station airs the ﬁrst ‘bike roundup’ in the early afternoon at around 2 p.m. local time,” May continues. “You position yourself behind the breakaway group. If there is no breakaway group, you follow the troupe and report on air every hour or every half hour, depending on what is happening.”
Autonomous Mobile Equipment
Europe 1’s BMW 1200 RT packs into its storage compartments a Nagra Seven, an AETA Scoopy codec and a backup satellite link. May uses a headset to communicate with the driver, the studios in Paris and the other reporters, in position at the ﬁnish line since coverage of the Tour is a two-reporter operation.
A second journalist provides the live race commentary and the “bike roundups” on air. The bike is completely autonomous during the race. Being dependent on a standard telephone network, it’s not free from white zones, particularly in the mountains.
“Sometimes you can get ahead a little to ﬁnd a viewpoint looking out over the race, where it’s covered by a network,” May notes. “During the ﬁnal 50 kilometers, the bike heads for the ﬁnish line to support the other journalist providing the race commentary. The motorcyclist then makes the trip back to Paris with the Europe 1 adviser who is present at the Tour.”
Weathering the Storm
“Covering the Tour de France involves a lot of running around. You have to be everywhere. The reporters work from 7 a.m. until 11 p.m., 7 days a week. The technicians have one day oﬀ. The bike covers around 7,500 km. It’s very pleasant when the weather is good, but when it rains, hails or snows, like last year, you appreciate the heated seat!” May jokes.
“This year’s event is in September and the weather may not be as good as it is in July,” he continues. “Storms can complicate matters and have an impact on the quality of communications.” Either way, this year Europe 1’s Tour de France coverage will not be on the same scale as previous races, which normally take place at the beginning of summer.
“This year we’re reducing the of reports to avoid disrupting radio programming for the return from summer holidays,” notes May. “We only have two journalists, a technician and a motorcycle driver. It’s a ‘commando version of the Tour de France!”
Memories of the Tour
An event like the Tour de France, which takes place over the course of three weeks, naturally creates a wealth of emotions, reminiscences and anecdotes. When you ask him about his last Tour, May recalls July 26, 2019, when the 19th leg, between Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and Tignes was halted due to a hailstorm.
“Another time, a phone fell out of my pocket. The bike stopped 500 meters further on and I ran to retrieve it. We lost quite a lot of time, but we were operational just in time. You tell yourself straight away that you really can’t aﬀord to slow down!”