AN ECONOMIC TOUR DE FORCE
The prestigious Tour de France got under way last Friday when 210 bicycle racers set off on a 2.86-mile time trial in the Paris suburbs. Twelve months from now the 1987 edition will begin with a 60-mile race starting at the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and proceeding along the Kurf�rstendamm, a chic boulevard of boutiques and caf�s in West Berlin.
The Tour de France...in Germany? That's right, and the explanation is money. This august event is the privately owned enterprise of two Paris newspapers, Le Parisien Lib�r� and the daily sports journal L'�quipe. As such it is a commercial venture to be marketed and sold. The West Berlin government will pay $1.25 million, plus the racers' transportation back to France, for the privilege of hosting next year's start. "We try not to lose money," says Tour director Felix Levitan. "We don't actually do it for profit. This is the way it has been since 1903."
Others claim that the race, whose financial reports are not disclosed, is a veritable cash-making machine. "The Tour de France is a very profitable operation," says Jean-Yves Donor, a journalist with Le Figaro, a rival newspaper in Paris.
The Tour's annual budget, which has grown to $7 million, is underwritten through corporate sponsorships and rights fees paid by every little Pyrenean village on the route. Tour de France sites fall into three classifications: famous cities, such as Bordeaux, that are visited every year; stopover towns selected by race organizers; and small villages that sponsor sprints or special competitions. "The stopover cities are asked to pay $50,000 each," says Levitan. Donor claims the fees are not uniform. "Bordeaux and such cities pay the minimum price," he says. "The towns that ask to be part of the Tour, especially unknown tourist sites that benefit from the media coverage, are asked to pay more."
Criticism of this selling of the Tour is mild, in part because two leading periodicals obviously won't criticize an event they sponsor. Even the West Berlin start hasn't drawn much fire. "Everybody realizes it was done as a financial move," says Donor. Germain Simon, president of the French Cycling Federation, says only, "In principle, I prefer that the Tour de France begin in France. Of course, there are precedents. The Tour started in England once and in Belgium. But, yes, I do prefer that the Tour de France start in France."
Former University of Kentucky basketball coach Joe B. Hall is now a vice-president with the Central Bank & Trust Co. of Lexington. Hall, who always wanted his backcourt to pass rather than shoot, is the butt of a new joke around town:
Did you hear Joe B.'s gonna be fired down at the bank?