• Home province advantage… Nacer Bouhanni hails from Epinal in the Vosges province that Vittel is also part of. (AFP)Source: AFP
Most days, this commune in the Vosges department in northeastern France has a population of some 6,000 people. Today, there will be rather a few more…
Cycling Central
4 Jul 2017 - 3:42 PM 

Despite its size, Vittel, thanks to its mineral springs, thermal baths and of course, its eponymous bottled water, punches above its weight in terms of stature. It was way back in 1854 when some marketing genius decided to flog the town’s H2O along with its claimed associated benefits (vitality, virility, and all that jazz), before the company was sold to Swiss food and beverage giant Nestlé in 1992. Eleven years on, in 2001, some other marketing geniuses (yes, there’s a lot of dem types) at the world’s largest food company decided it would be a good idea to sponsor the world’s largest bicycle race, beginning with the Nestlé Aquarel brand and extending to Vittel, Powerbar, Nesquik, and Ricore; a business association that continues to this day.

Mountain passes & hills
Km 170.5 - Col des Trois Fontaines: 1.9 kilometre-long climb at 7.4% - category 4

“Having the trust of a group like Nestlé, a leader in the areas of health and well-being, illustrates how an event like the Tour de France can be interesting for mass consumer brands wanting to get closer to the centres of interest of their consumers. It’s an unparalleled communication platform for brands,” Jean-Etienne Amaury, president and CEO of the Amaury Sport Organization Group, who eight years ago replaced the divisive Patrice Clerc as chairman of ASO, owners of the Tour, said in 2009. The terrifying irony of Monsieur Amaury’s words, of course, was that the very thing sponsors like Vittel were attempting to associate themselves with during the 1990s and early-to-mid 2000s was been ridiculed by many (most?) of the riders and teams, who were quenching their thirst and sating their appetities on almost anything other than bread and water.

Even before the naughties, Vittel’s image was juxtaposed with the death of British cyclist Tom Simpson at the 1967 Tour, undone on the scree slopes of Mont Ventoux by a heady cocktail of amphetamines, alcohol and altitude, when it hosted the following year’s Grand Départ under the tagline ‘Le Tour de la santé’ (the Tour of health). In 2009, the last time La Grande Boucle came to Vittel, Nicki Sørensen attacked his breakaway companions to win solo and record his finest hour; eight months after retiring, the Dane admitted to doping early in his pro career.

That the Tour has endured such testing times and lost few of its longtime sponsors shows one - or all - of three things: great loyalty; great ignorance; great pride.

So long as Vittel’s water continues to run, Le Tour springs eternal, it seems.

Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“Passing through Schengen before returning to French territory, the peloton will have confirmation it can go around freely… Without major difficulties, this stage should offer a second opportunity to the sprinters. Though beware, the roads of Meurthe-et-Moselle could be swept by the wind and that could represent a menace for the title contenders.”

Finish line: Avenue Georges Clemenceau, at the end of a 700m finishing straight (350m by line of sight). Width: 6m

Weather: 22°C and partly cloudy at start, 0% precipitation, 54% humidity, wind 7km/h NW; 26°C and partly sunny at finish, 0% precipitation, 38% humidity, wind 9km/h N.

Who will win Stage 4 of the 2017 TdF?
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