The French national Tricolore and French regional flags are inseparable parts of France’s famous bicycle race. On the route and in the finish line areas thousands of flags are flown by tourists, fans and compatriots of the riders.
The world’s biggest bicycling race is the Tour de France: Three weeks and 3,500 kilometres of dramatic, demanding and sometimes quite dangerous bicycling up and down the beautiful French countryside from the fair farmland in the north to the the steep mountain roads of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Massif Central in the south.
The first race was in 1903. Today, many years and many doping scandals later, the Tour de France is still loved and watched by millions around the world. It draws fans and tourists from all over the world to France every summer.
This year’s winner, Christopher Froom, who also won the yellow jersey in 2013 and 2015, was born in Kenya of British parents and has represented Kenya and the United Kingdom in professional cycling. In 2016, too, he and his UK based Team Sky had a loyal following in France made visible with lots of UK flags.
Traditionally the flags of Belgium and Flanders have been waved prominently in the history of the Tour de France. This year the Flemish Belgian Thomas de Gendt came second in the mountains classification. The number one mountain climber in 2016 is Rafał Majka of Poland. His red and white polka dot jersey matches the flag of Poland perfectly.
The flag of Slovakia goes together with the green jersey. Five times the Slovak Peter Sagan has won the prestigious points classification. He and the runner-up, Marcel Kittel of Germany, as well as Michael Matthews of Australia, who is third in the points classification, are sure to find supporters en route waving their national flags.
Columbian flags along the roads of France indicate the staunch support for Columbians Quintana and Pantano. And Norwegian flags fill the traditional “Norwegian corner” just across from the golden statue of Joan of Arc on the final stage of the Tour, in Rue de Rivoli in Paris.
Not only national flags are in widespread use by spectators during the Tour de France, French regional flags are too. Flags of regions and historical provinces as well as flags of national minorities can be seen on the roads and in towns and villages which are part of the race’s route.
Compared to other big European countries like Germany and Spain, France is more centralized politically and linguistically. The historical provinces may not be very well known and the contemporary regions may play a lesser role in the life of the French Republic, but regional identity is manifested by the use of sub-national flags by locals, tourists and bicycling fans.
The red-white-green Basque flag is widely displayed, not just in the Basque lands of the western Pyrenees. The same goes for the black and white flag of Brittany. The Catalans of the Pyrénées-Orientales department use the horizontal red stripes. The very similar, but vertical red stripes of Provence have Catalan roots too: A count of Barcelona married the heiress of Provence in the 12th Century.
The Occitanian cross, yellow on red, is a popular symbol on flags in the former regions of Midi-Pyrénées and Languedoc-Roussillon which were merged this year. In a wider cultural and linguistical sense Occitania covers almost all of southern France.
I the departments of Savoie and Haute-Savoie the Savoyard cross, white on red, is equally, if not more, popular. On a windy mountain top this flag can easily be mistaken for the flag of Denmark, also a white cross on red. Danish camping tourists and cycling enthusiast have been known for bringing the Dannebrog to Savoy and other holiday destinations.
France’s cities and landscapes are certainly worth exploring at the hight of summer, whether or not you do it by bike, or bring your own flag.
Read also: Tour de France 2017.