Mountain Stage Superfan Culture
A nun, a tiger, a grumpy baguette, a phallus, and a slutty cop walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “Hey, aren’t you going to miss the finish?”
No mistaking it. There’s some serious superfan culture of the Tour de France mountain stages. You’ve seen them; the ones who run beside the riders on the long climbs, dressed in what might have been last year’s Halloween costume. The higher you go on the climb, the more creatively dressed (and undressed) the fans get.
Yesterday, as I worked around the 2K-to-go point, I was in the company of a tiger, a kangaroo, a dirty doctor, a thong-clad devil, a slutty cop, and a sort of top-heavy transsexual cheerleader. Tell me where else you get that fan flavor amidst the spread of 21 stages?
It’s not only the costumes that make an impression. The camaraderie among the fans, something lost in translation with a live video feed, is striking. With only one way up and down, and not much roadside parking, those who want to see the final kilometers of a mountain stage will stake out their spot early the night before and make a day of waiting for the peloton.
Many settle in with tables, chairs, and cases of beer or bottles of wine, outside of an RV adorned with their country’s flags or signs for their favorite riders. Others might set up an impromptu bar, complete with music and adult beverages. It’s not just a one-day affair, or even a one-Tour affair. For many, it becomes an annual tradition complete with lasting friendships.
By the time the peloton passes through, sometimes not until around four in the afternoon, bonds have formed, and the excitement of finally getting to put their costumes to work is palpable. How surprised was I when I noticed there was a leader of the fans who instructed the others how to form a line and when to get low to cheer the oncoming riders. Teamwork is at play among them.
With just eight stages under my belt, I’ve quickly realized that the fans, just as much as the other trademark components of the race – like the Champs-Élysées finish, the Maillot Jaune, and the podium girls – make the Tour de France what it is.
Call them crazy, call them wild, and maybe even call them obscene. But just don’t call them tifosi.