Much planning goes into the Tour and here is the 2008 route
THE Tour de France starts from Brest, in Brittany on Saturday, July 5 and finishes in the usual spectacular style on the Champs Élysées, Paris, on July 27.
At the end of the 3,554km tour there will undoubtedly be sore legs, the King of the Mountains will have earned his title, new towns will have been visited and there will have been the usual arguments, rumours and scandal that surround this sporting spectacle.
As usual the tour will be accompanied by the circus that includes the team coaches, press and advertising vehicles.
The route the Tour takes is planned three years in advance. Having chosen the starting point there is usually more than 200 towns jockeying for the chance to be stage and stopover points on the route to Paris.
The system used to choose the towns hasn't changed since the first Tour in 1903. The only departments never to have hosted a stage of the Tour are the two departments of Corsica.
Regulations stipulate that the total distance cannot exceed 3,500km over 21 days, which must include two rest days, and the distance of 225km cannot be exceeded more than twice.
The organisers have to plan the flat stages for the first week, followed by the high mountain stages of the Alps and Pyrénées and two days of time trials (one of which is for teams).
The Tour has 21 stages which include 10 flat stages, five mountain stages, four medium mountain stages, two individual time-trial stages totalling 82km, four mountain finishes, two rest days and there will 19 category 1, category 2 and high level passes to climb.
Being a host town of the Tour obviously has positives and negatives for the community as a whole.
They will be in the full glare of the media for the time a small, mobile town of around 4,500 people descends upon it, which doesn't include the spectators who will turn up for the entertainment and the chance to see the stars of the cycling world.
But they will profit through the economy brought by visitors, accommodating the riders, their entourages and the caravan of advertisers.
The organisers scrutinise candidate towns very thoroughly before they make their final decision, although there are towns that are visited more frequently than others; those are the ones situated on the Alpine and Pyrénéen routes.
Once the initial selection is made, secret visits are undertaken to ensure the short-listed towns will be able to safely manage the arrival and/or departure of the peloton not just for the riders but also spectators.
Road widths, parking areas and the configuration of the final bends are all aspects that have to be taken into consideration.
The towns which pass the inspection are notified about a year before the Tour they will be included and from then on it is the responsibility of the municipal authorities to start preparations by following the organisers' specifications which includes barriers for the final two kilometres of the race and provide premises to hold up to 450 journalists from various media mediums.
About eight months before the Tour arrives in the town, announcements can be made public.
A special committee is set up my the mayor to handle all arrangements surrounding the Tour which involves many meetings to discuss preparations for exhibitions, concerts, route plans and any diversions necessary in order that the Tour, the cavalcade and the riders can arrive and depart smoothly and safely.
This year there are ten new stop over towns which include two in Italy; Nevoso and Cuneo.
Before the cyclists pass there is the colourful publicity procession which can stretch for around 20km, there will be about 200 decorated vehicles, approximately 43 brands will be represented, on average 15 million gifts will be distributed and the whole cavalcade will give 45 minutes of entertainment.
The list of participating teams for the Tour de France 2008:
High Road (THR)
Slipstream Chipotle (TSL)
Bouygues Telecom (BTL)
Credit Agricole (C.A)
Cofidis Le crédit par téléphone (COF)
Française Des Jeux (FDJ)
AG2R - La Mondiale (ALM)
One thing is certain, the Tour and the media are inexplicably linked, each feeds the other and needs each other. The Tour needs the media for publicity and promotion, the media for revenue through television viewers, newspaper readers and by selling photographs.
In 1948 the first live television broadcast was made of the Tour's finish in Paris, today the Tour is broadcast in 185 countries.
Whether you are watching the Tour de France live and cheering along in the excitement or watching on television you will witness a spectacle that was planned with precision for three years.
Just that deserves respect and admiration, never mind the cyclists spending hours in the saddle struggling up mountain passes come rain or shine.