WHEN the 97th Tour de France hits the road on July 3 a couple of hundred cyclists will be furiously pedalling their way to win one of a plethora of coloured jerseys.
Perhaps less impressive in terms of human endeavour but a curious alternative is the 2CV Tour, which will be travelling around France at roughly the same time.
The 2CV Tour is the brainchild of Jean-François Goineau (president of the 2CV Owners’ Club 49) and Sylvain Charozé (vice-president).
“About three years ago, we had this crazy idea of doing a Tour de France in 2CVs. Like all crazy ideas it just got the better of us and before we knew where we were, 20 2CV owners were signed up and ready to go,” says Jean-François. This is not a race, more of “a leisurely drive around France” say the organisers. “It is an opportunity to amble through some of the most beautiful countryside of La
Douce France, at the wheel of a remarkable car and meet other 2CV enthusiasts along the way.”
“Amble” is the right word. The average speed of the 42 cars taking part will never be more than 60kph.
“Speed is going to be a problem,” admits Sylvain. “The 2CV was never designed to be a fast car.
“The original models never got much above 60kph, though later models from the 70s and 80s are capable of a top speed of just over 100kph. Petrol is another problem. Nowadays it’s all unleaded and all these cars run on leaded petrol, so we have had to buy plenty of lead additive.”
In his original 1936 design brief for the 2CV, Citroën boss Pierre Boulanger told his engineers to come up with a car to transport two clog-wearing peasants and 100 kilos of farm produce, across unsurfaced country roads or fields at 60kph using no more than three litres of petrol per 100 kilometres.
The 2CV Tour de France sets out from La Chapelle d’Aligné in the Sarthe on July 1 and will stop off in Niort, Carcassonne, Cassis, Avignon, Valence, Nîmes, Montpellier, Moulins, Mâcon and Pont-l’Evêque, hitting Paris on July 13.
Drivers decide whether they want to drive through or around the capital – no 2CV parade down the Champs Elysées is planned as yet.
When the Tour finishes on July 16 back in La Chapelle d’Aligné the drivers and cars will have covered about 3,000km, with each day’s stage varying from 170km to 250km.
Pottering round country roads in a 2CV might sound idyllic, but the cars are a less than comfortable experience – and if you thought after a hard day on the road the participants were staying in luxury hotels, you are mistaken: they are camping all the way, a nightly bivouac in the Paris-Dakar tradition. As for the participants themselves, ages range from 19 to 77, proving the 2CV bug is not reserved for oldies – as the bumper sticker on many a 2CV proclaims “this is not a car, it is a way of life”.
For enthusiasts, though, the 2CV is a car for life. “Just look at it” beams Pierre Marie Wolniak, of the 2CV Owners’ Club Berry Deuche and participant in the rally. “This car is every car – an economical family car, a cabriolet when the roof is rolled down, and the original off-roader.”
This is only the third 2CV Tour de France and Brigitte Malard, President of the Berry Deuche club says: “The first Tour took place in 1955 when Citroën engineer Jean Dagonet wanted to test a new 2CV carburettor. It was fitted to six cars that were then driven around France.
“There was a tour similar to this years back in 1998 but we think this is only the third ever Tour.”
That is all the more surprising because when Citroën stopped making the 2CV in 1990 it had sold more than five million.
Catch the Tour
If you want information and context, the best place to watch the Tour de France is on the new HD telly you bought to watch the World Cup on.
On TV you catch all the details: the tactics, the chats between riders; by the side of the road you may just catch a whiff of sweat as the riders sweep by at up to 50mph. Still, there is no beating the atmosphere of the live event – hundreds or even thousands of people crowding the road with up-to-the minute commentary from every radio around. The Tour starts in Rotterdam in on July 3 and its first four stages are outside the country. It then heads for the mountains in Jura, the Alps and across the Cévennes before a long, punishing stretch in the Pyrenées. If you want to see it for yourself, get there early to catch the commercial “caravan”. It is an hour-long procession of bikes, vans, cars and floats of the race sponsors throwing freebies such as baseball caps, sweets, biscuits and other gizmos – great for children.
Near the start of the day’s racing the riders are bunched, often not even travelling very fast but still pass in little more than a minute.
Towards the end of the day the action is more spaced out. The Tour covers 3,596km in 21 stages and the most exciting legs – and the strongest ones – are in the mountains.
This could be the last chance to see US legend Lance Armstrong, a record seven-times winner, who at 38 may be on his last Tour.