It’s all about the parking

22 07 2011

There are two more days left in the Tour de France. But for all intents and purposes three weeks of some epic bike racing will come to a climax in Saturday’s individual time trial in Grenoble.

For three weeks I’ve been living in a Tour de France bubble. It’s all Tour, all the time, viewing most stages twice a day, live in the early morning, and then again in the evening. In between, I devour the various cycling websites for news tidbits, analysis, commentary and photographs.

Sporting events that are played out over days or weeks tend to be all-consuming like that. When the Olympics are on television, it’s pretty much all we watch. It was even more intense last year when the Winter Games were right here in our backyard.

Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to cover some sporting events that would end up occupying my time for a number of days, like a couple of Memorial Cup junior hockey championship tournaments back when I was working at a paper in Oshawa, Ontario, the Canada Games in Kamloops, the Indy car races in Toronto and Vancouver.

Covering events like those can be a lot of fun; you get a fancy badge to wear around your neck, people hold doors open for you, you get free access to areas the paying spectators can’t, you get to hang out with other media colleagues. But they’re also a lot of work.

Big sporting events have a way of distilling your life to its most basic necessities; getting to and from the venue, parking and food. If those things are taken care of, you’re free to concentrate on just getting the job done.

A sign like this is manna for the media assigned to cover this week's Canadian Open golf tournament in Vancouver; one less thing to worry about!

Experienced event organizers know this; that’s why they usually provide media with shuttle buses, parking privileges and free food.

Meanwhile, the paying spectators who thought they'd found free parking nirvana along the bike lane at UBC soon found their vehicles towed.

The Indy race, which is sadly no longer a part of the Vancouver sporting scene, was especially adept at the latter. Their salmon barbecue for the media on the Saturday afternoon was a culinary highlight. In the event’s latter years they arranged for some of the city’s bigger hotels to provide the meal service for the other two days.

I can’t imagine the logistical challenges and complications of covering the Tour as it circumnavigates France. I get dizzy just thinking about the photographers and cameramen tasked with telling the race’s stories as they’re perched on the back of a speeding motorcycles, twisting and leaning up and down mountain passes, enduring rain, wind, scorching sun.

When I was at the Tour in ’03, I heard stories about the splendor of the Village D├ępart, a sort of inner sanctum for racers, team and tour officials, sponsors and media to relax, enjoy a beverage or meal, exchange gossip and just get away from the non-stop circus that is the Tour de France. To my mind, their privileges are well-earned.