9 tips to painting the road at the Tour de France

9 tips to painting the road at the Tour de France

22nd May 2017 2 By Biggsy
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Every year the Tour de France rolls into town. Once again you’ll see those magnificent men on their cycling machines taking on the best the mountains can throw at them. Back in 2009 Mont Ventoux was on the route and we had the unoriginal idea of painting the road. We daubed a big Union Flag across the tarmac near the top of the mountain! And you could too!

Our Union Flag and WIGGO on Mont Ventoux

Our Union Flag and WIGGO on Mont Ventoux

Was painting the road an impulse thing?

We’d always planned to visit the penultimate stage of the Tour that year (Montélimar to Mont Ventoux), flying into Marseille and driving up the mountain before heading straight to the final stage along the Champs Élysée. I hadn’t planned to paint a flag in the early hours of the morning, but maybe my friend Al maybe had. So at the base of the mountain he suggested we buy some red and blue gloss paint, some white emulsion, a roller and a paint tray before heading on up the course.

Getting our paint supplies from Mr Bricolage

Getting our paint supplies from Mr Bricolage

It felt like we were being a bit naughty

The three of us overnighted in our Fiat Punto hire car but not before our artwork had been laid down on the tarmac just below Chalet Reynard.

In the end it was just me and Al who had the commitment to stay awake and put “paint to tarmac”. It was just before midnight that we began. Admittedly the English flag might have been easier to replicate, rather than the unexpectedly intricate Union Flag, what with it’s thinner and thicker white edges. We had a cloth Union Flag with us so that was laid out on the floor for us to gauge how and where we should roll out our design. Our head torches serving extremely useful in the dark, mountainous night.

Painting the road at 1am in the morning

Painting the road at 1am in the morning

Oh no! Are we about to be rumbled?

Halfway through creating our masterpiece we were interuppted by some French Gendarmerie approaching in their blue police car. We instantly assumed the game was up, or worse, but they simply wanted to know which side of the road to drive on to cause least damage to the drying paint. Now that was rather nice of them! So don’t worry! Painting the road is perfectly allowable during “the Tour” in France.

However I did make a rash decision to slop some thicker white emulsion on the first ‘G’ of ‘WIGGO’ out of sheer laziness. This lead to a car leaving a tyre print off the bottom edge of the flag but I’ll let myself off for that.

Adding to our enjoyment was subsequently finding out that Phil Liggett had mentioned our artwork on ITV4 as the live TV helicopter flew overhead.

“As the flag of the United Kingdom is on the road there and they’re there for Bradley Wiggins and he’s right here”.

Mentioned on ITV4. The yellow jersey (Lance Armstrong) in the bottom of the pic!!

Mentioned on ITV4. The yellow jersey (Lance Armstrong) in the bottom of the pic!!

Ventoux just below Chalet Reynard on race day!

Ventoux just below Chalet Reynard on race day!

Stored online for prosperity!

Even better than the ITV4 mention was it consequently appearing on Google Maps! Using the history function (which shows the same stretch of road over the years) we could even see how long it took for the flag to disappear. About 4 years in this case, with the red and blue gloss paint lasting longer than the white emulsion.

Google Maps - our Union Flag just 2 months on - September 2009

Google Maps – our Union Flag just 2 months on – September 2009

Google Maps - our Union Flag 10 months later - May 2010

Google Maps – our Union Flag 10 months later – May 2010

Google Maps - our Union Flag 5 years on - May 2014

Google Maps – our Union Flag 5 years on – May 2014

Google Maps - our Union Flag 5 years on, pretty much gone! - July 2015

Google Maps – our Union Flag 5 years on, pretty much gone! – July 2015

Top Tips

  1. Bring a head torch
  2. Take an actual flag with you if that will help you with your design
  3. Buy the paint when you arrive
  4. Use gloss paint to make your image last that little bit longer
  5. Don’t worry about the Gendarmerie stopping you
  6. Paint your design later at night when less cars are driving backwards and forwards
  7. Enjoy watching lots of people taking photos with your artwork the next day
  8. See if it appears live on the TV or in the highlights package
  9. Check out Google Maps a few months later to see if it’s still there

Has anybody else been out there painting the road? 🙂 And if you’ve liked this post check out my experience of cycling up Alpe d’Huez, plus riding around London with Tour de France winner Cadel Evans!

Read more about the famous mountain in Jeremy Whittle’s book Ventoux