Backstage bij de Tour de France tijdens corona pandemie

In 2020 werdeb bijna alle evenementen afgelast, behalve de Tour de France. Hoe was het backstage om tijdens een pandemie een evenement te organiseren terwijl de hele wereld over je schouder meekijkt?

01-03-2021 -  by Kevin Van der Straeten

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Transcript

Hi Stef, welcome to the studio.


Hi Kevin, how are you doing?


You are involved, for twenty-four years now, in the Tour de France. And the last few years, you are responsible for setting up and dismounting the Start and Finish areas. This year was a very special Tour de France for you.


Yes, it was. It was. As, actually, this interview is special, because we're not sitting in the same room. Which always makes it funny for me. But indeed it was. In the Tour de France...

Let me explain, first of all, I'm Operations Manager with Shellter. I'm working, through Shellter and through a Dutch company, in the Tour de France. For twenty-four years now. Setting up the departure. The Relais Etape, which is like a small VIP zone, in between the departure and the arrival line. But, physically, the main job for me is the arrival line. We normally go into preparations.


There already, this year, they were completely different than the other years. Because we didn't go, as many times, to Paris for meetings and stuff. We did go on a roperage, as they say in French. We go and check out the arrival lines and sometimes the departure lines. And most of the times we don't have to go to the locations of the Relais Etapes because it's confined, it's small. We talk to the cities. We see possibilities. And already, in those days, we started to talk about Covid. How they would set up the barriers. How they would go about crowd control. And that was also concerning to us, because actually the Tour is a closed set-up. So, it was not in the Tour itself. It was different, you know?


So, normally, as I said, I go, quite often, to Paris but it wasn't the case. I think I actually only went once or twice. All the rest of it was virtual, as we are doing right now.

The first thing that really confronted me, personally, with Corona, was that I had to undergo a test. It's not a big thing, but still this little voice in your brain, says: wow, maybe I might have it. You get an email. We send the email to A.S.O. And they prepare the accreditation badge you wear during the Tour.


So, the whole crew that was working with you had to undergo the test of France.


Everybody, yes.


To have clearance to even work at the Tour.


And you can imagine...

I think it cost about forty-five euros for me. For a lot of people they did it inside the company and it was up to two-hundred or something. So, it also has a financial consequence because it costs money.

I drove my own car, for the first time. Normally I get into a truck or I drive with someone else to the South of France, in this case. But I said to myself and I said to the guys: I'm going to drive my own car, breathing my own air.

So, when you arrive in Nice, in this case Nice, you go to the permanence in the Press Centre. To collect your accréditation. And there you felt already...

Because you see those guys and, of course, also the ladies...

You see them again after one year. And it's like a happy moment. You want to shake hands. In France they like to kiss. I don't mind. So, no kisses. No embracing. No hugging. You feel it.

The security is also tougher. They check your badge twice. They used to do that for quite a while. Since the attacks in France and in Brussels, it was already tighter and stricter than before. But now even more, which I agree upon. I've never been opposed to any actions to stop proceeding this nasty virus. So, I agreed with it. So, that is the first thing.

You really get a confrontation. It's really quite tough. Because you really tend to grab people and say hello and blah blah blah. My job in the Tour is...

I have about fifty people with me, thirty-five trucks. And as I said, we build and dismantle finish lines, departures and Relais Etapes. That was my job, again, this year but, also, my job was a little bit playing policeman. Taking care of people. And check if they really followed up the rules. And in every group, you get people that don't agree. That Corona is nothing. And: I don't care. And blah blah blah.

We now see it more and more because people get frustrated. But even in those days, you met people that said: this is a load of crap. You know? Why do we have to wear this stuff? And why do we...

Even in...

We really have bubbles, in the Tour de France, apart from the cycling zone. And what I should say as well: when I arrived in Nice, it was a red zone. But it was like there was nothing going on. You know?

I don't know if you know Nice, but they have this really nice area, with all the pubs and bars and restaurants. I had to cycle, one day, through that area. Because I couldn't get through the rest of the city. Too much of a crowd. And I was surprised how many people were actually walking and sitting there. But apart from the site where the racing is going on and the technical zone with the tv-studios and stuff like that, you also have what we call: zones de vie. And there are all the catering units, the trucks where they prepare food. And it was also much smaller, because a lot of journalists, they simply didn't show up. American tv, they didn't come over to France. So, the catering was smaller. For example: Orange and France tv, they used the same restaurant but not at the same time. To have less cooks and stuff like that.


You mentioned before that you, kind of, had a bubble with your team, that was building that.

Besides in the restaurants, were there other measures to keep those bubbles apart?


The bubble in the zone de vie was that we have our own...

We have, like, two trucks and in between those trucks there is, like, a roof, if necessary. And there we have wooden tables. But they used to have wooden benches where you could sit. Now they changed it into chairs. So you can move apart. You don't have to sit, one next to the other.

You couldn't take your own potatoes. And you couldn't cheat anymore on the dessert. Because they would hand it over to you. On your plate.

But another good question is what you asked about outside the zone de vie. When you have to go to the arrival line. I mean, myself, I have an all-clearance badge. And most of the guys, they have badges where they can move, as long as they can get to their structures. But this year, they made a different bubble for the racers and for the busses.

So, one day, as usual, I walked and there is a guard stopping me. And he says: Stef, you can't go there. I said: what do you mean? And I showed him my badge. He said: no, this is a different bubble. So, the people from within that bubble, they could come to the arrival line. But they had a different colour badge. And it was suggested that you wouldn't touch them. You wouldn't even shake hands. Nothing.

And some of them really worked that way. They stood, like, two meters from you and said: be careful, I have to go to the cyclists and stuff like that. When I met Prudhomme, for example, it was different, you know? Normally it's like a slap on the shoulder. Now, we were standing like two meters apart and talking. And talking is more difficult. So, conversations tend to get shorter.


Yes, I watched part of the Tour de France and I noticed, at some points, there were quite some people. Even at the finish lines. How did your organization then manage with...

Because they were very strict to you, in having that kind of bubbles. But then, suddenly, there's a crowd over there. How was that handled?


Well, it was actually handled by our own security but even more by the local security. It was the job of local police and local security people, to keep them away. And they couldn't get over the barriers. Which normally they can't. And even the pass-throughs, where the crowd can cross the finish line when there's no race going on, were very limited. But it surprised us sometimes, you know, that we were working...

And after the race we tried to start working and we had to wait because there was too big a crowd. And it was even more in the mountains, you know? Not so much at the arrival line but in the mountains, where there are no barriers. And I think...

Then again, we...

For us...


Because you had the cyclists' bubble and the crew's bubble, And we really didn't have contact with the supporters, with the crowds, with the people. So, for us it was not really a big problem. But then again, it could've caused the virus spreading within the public. I don't know about that. And it's an open question. I think the Tour de France was one of the few big sporting events that could go through this year. I must say, like every day...

My job is also to go to the daily briefing. Where the Directeur des Sites, Stephane Boury, holds a short briefing. Talking about the past day and the day to come. And the consequences and the difficulties and stuff like that.

Normally we have a Casse-croûte, you know? A sandwich. It almost never happened because it was not done. The big difference also was that you have...

In the Tour de France you have les préventeurs. Those are the people that check if you put on your safety stuff when you climb up a ladder. Now they were focussed on wearing the mask and staying away, keeping distance. And there we had a thing, like: if you build up certain structures...

We build, for example, the press tribunes. We have a crew that stays, only, around that structure. And after a couple of days, those ladies, they saw that people were sweating in the mask and it is not practical. So, they said: okay, every group can, within the group, take off the mask. As long as you stay inside. When you go out, you put your mask back on. Sadly enough, after three or four days, first of all in cities, the crowd was complaining that there were people, working in the Tour, without the mask. And it was going towards the press.

And secondly you saw some of the guys that forgot to put their mask back on when they came out of the bubble. It was not on purpose, but, you know, you...

Even nowadays, sometimes I think: well, I forgot my mask.

And the ladies said: we're very sorry to tell you, but we have a general putting on the mask again. No more within the bubbles. And so everybody was putting on a mask.


And how was that with nervousness within the organization, that something would happen? Or was everything quite under control?


A.S.O. is a very strong organization. I mean, I don't have to explain that to you. So, they are quite self-assured. But they were very, very scared, let me put it that way.

For example: if one of the fifty people that work with me in the Tour, would've gotten sick, we would all have had to go into quarantine and stop. So, there would've been no finish line. Literally. We build the structure. The finish line.

So, it was a big concern. The guys that build…

The guys from other companies that paint the logos on the floor every day and put the barriers and the advertising. It's one team and they sleep in busses. We sleep...

A lot of us slept in little rooms, apart. Some of them sleep together, two people in one truck. With other companies, sometimes they have those big busses, where you can sleep.

So, they were afraid that, if one guy would catch the disease, or even get positive, it could've been a disaster. Luckily, and that is one of the things I remember, nobody got sick.

It was also: if you didn't wear a mask and you got caught two times, you were put on a bus and you go back home.


Was there a back-up plan? Because you say: if your team...

If one of you got sick, that you had to go home.

Was there a back-up team, like yours, standing by to take over in that case?


Yes, we had people and, of course, as I said before: départs, Relais étapes, arrivée are already different bubbles. Even on the arrival line, within those people, you had, like, bubbles.

You could've tested and maybe some of them could've stayed. And we had people, of course, on standby that could've gone, straight away, to France. But I think we should consider ourselves lucky, that nothing like that happened.

I think there is a doses of luck, also, with this. And as I talked yesterday with one of the guys, he said: let's hope the new viruses don't spread too much.

Because nowadays it's the new one. It's spreading a lot easier. So, it could be...

But then again, we're still far away and everybody's optimistic. But we feel the same stuff.

As I told you: I do stuff for Tomorrowland. With my two buddies in Shellter. And it's the same thing. When Glasbury gets cancelled, people say: wow, what is happening? With the Tour it was the same. And still...

I have some collector's items. Because I have a book from the Tour de France in August and September. It has never happened before. And I'm not one for collector's items. But in a matter of speaking it was really an exceptional thing.

And when you mention many people on the road, I must say for us it was a pleasant surprise. That when we were driving, there was almost no traffic. While in July, some weekends you get into red motorways and you are stuck.


Thank you, Stef, for sharing this backstage story of an inspiring that took place last year.


Yes.


Thank you very much.

And you, at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.

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