Approach with caution. Slow a little, but do your best not to stop. When you reach the roundabout, proceed with caution… and, all going well, you’re likely to get where you want to go unscathed.
Traffic culture changes significantly depending on where you are in the world.
Driving in France is a little different to anywhere else, quite simply because of the vast, and rapidly growing, collection of giratoires, roundabouts. And in the Tour de France, these obstacles can have a significant influence on the final result.
Driving through roundabouts is a national pastime in France.
Don’t believe me? Turn on the ignition, set off and… oh look, there’s another one.
Drive onward for another few kilometres and you have probably driven through a succession of giratoires – aka. ‘rond-point’.
The roundabout is ubiquitous in France. You see them here, you see them there… they are everywhere.
Road furniture glossary
• Giratoires = roundabouts
• Rétrécissements = narrowings
• Virages serrés = tight turns
• Terre-pleins = median strips
• Ralentisseurs = speed bumps
• Passages à niveau = level crossings
How the roundabout impacts racing
Yesterday, in stage 10 of the Tour de France, we saw echelons form on the approach to Albi. For some riders, the split in the peloton was a costly one: riders like Richie Porte, Thibaut Pinot, and Jakob Fuglsang lost over two minutes to key GC rivals.
The wind and strong surges – initially by EF Education First, then Deceuninck-Quick Step and Team Ineos – was credited for the split. But some riders, including Pinot and Fuglsang, blamed one roundabout for the split.
Quite simply, they took the wrong option: going to the left side rather than the right. By the time they exited the giratoire, they had lost their good position in the bunch.
Rather than sitting in the top 20 in the bunch, as they had done before the roundabout, they were down around 60th position. And that was when EF’s Simon Clarke hit the turbo at the front of the peloton… others joined him and, within a few seconds, there was a split.
By the finish, that error added up to a considerable loss in the GC rankings.
Suggestions for which option to take
Options for getting past the plethora of obstacles are spelled out for riders. Signs are erected showing if they should take the left lane or the right one, or if they can take either.
In 2019, there’s a new innovation at the Tour: digital signs, complete with animated arrows illustrating the choices. Furthermore, announcements are made over Radio Tour for which options are available to the riders (and team vehicles): left, right, or both…
Radio Tour also warns of big speed bumps or nasty median strips and every effort is made to forewarn riders and sports directors of any obstacles. But it’s the Tour, speeds are high, and positioning is already difficult enough. There will be times when a rider will be caught out.
Regular interruptions in France
It’s common knowledge that France is home to more roundabouts than any other country. It’s said that over half of the roundabouts in the world are in France. The exact numbers quoted vary depending on the source of information but one thing is clear: they are growing part of French culture, with ±500 new ones created each year.
The exact statistics about how many roundabouts there are in France is difficult to maintain when new ones are constantly being constructed. In 2019, the tally easily exceeds 30,000.
Given the impact of road furniture on the race, I asked a representative from the department of roads for a summary of how many obstacles there are in total on the route of the 2019 Tour.
The figures don’t lie: there are heaps!
The combined tally of roundabouts, narrowings, tight turns, median strips, speed bumps and level crossings in 2019 is 3,576. It’s down on last year’s record (3,831) but, as we saw in stage 10, the impact on the racing is significant.
Little circles on the Big Loop
Since 1996, there has been a tally of roundabouts and ‘narrowings’; and since 2012, the list has grown to include tight turns, median strips, speed bumps, and level crossings.
In the battle for superiority, it’s a close fight between roundabouts and median strips with the latter taking the title for the most common obstacle in Le Tour 2019: 599 ‘Terre-pleins’ vs 404 ‘Giratoires’.
Last year, the winner was reversed: 593 roundabouts vs 568 median strips.
Last year was a record for roundabout use at the Tour: 593 of them were spread over the 3,351km course, up 196 from 2017 but only 11 more than the previous highest tally, 582 in 2017.
The highest count of road furniture on a route of the Tour since records have been kept is 2018 when there were 3,831 obstacles for the riders to avoid. On average, that equates to something to dodge once every 875 metres!
Yes, there is a lot for the riders to consider during a race like the Tour de France. The wind can wreak havoc, the mountains influence the standings, teamwork is necessary, and vigilance is required to avoid crashes. But the proliferation of road furniture in France is another thing to consider.
One incorrect decision on which way to turn can come with a high price. It can add up to a few minutes lost and even the difference between winning or losing.