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It started with painting names of riders on the tarmac but the artwork on the roads of the Tour has evolved over the years…

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Driving the route for the 14th stage of the 2018 Tour provided plenty of scenic treats. There’s a lot to take in as you weave your way past the crowds and although this is one of the cooler, windier days on the race this year the mood of the spectators was still most festive.

Usually you drive by, waving occasionally to those on the roadside who behave as though they know you, and only stop when there’s a need for coffee or the subsequent nature break. But it’s not always easy to find a patch of road to park, especially in the Ardèche, Gard and Lozère departments where there’s rarely a straight stretch of road longer than a few hundred metres, and little space next to the bitumen.

After staying at the Pont d’Arc overnight, I found myself on the course and instead of taking the ‘hors itinerary’ – ie. the fast way from start to finish, not taking in the race route – I drove the same roads as the race… hours in advance of the peloton.

It’s a gorgeous, rugged part of the country and the atmosphere is friendly everywhere you go. With the ‘presse’ sticker on the car, I was waved along by the gendarmerie and generally made to feel very welcome… and there was one group on the way to Mende who I decided I’d stop and have a chat to.

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It’s far from finished art but those responsible were still proud of their work…


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Sprawled out on the right side of the road – not even trying to get out of the way of traffic – was a group of nine French lads. Each with a beer in hand, at 11.00am, they had clearly decided to watch the race pass and lubricate themselves for much of the day.

This scene was on the Col du Pont San Eau – a fun name in its own right, and one that raised a dry smile on what becoming quite a slow, long 150km drive. I wasn’t in a hurry and it was easy to strike up a few conversations along the way; alas, flat batteries denied me the chance to record some discussions and post them as interviews. Still, the ‘creative’ impulse – if you could call it that – of the beer drinkers prompted me to at least ask a few questions.

What caught my eye was the large syringe painted alongside the spray of words: “Sky = Dopers”.

‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘I’ve got time: why not ask their thoughts on these messages…’

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Ah… road painting in 2018. No other caption required, is there?


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With the car parked on the far right of the road (on top of a second syringe painting) I sauntered over and introduced myself.

Ça va mec?” All good, mate?

Oh… ça va.”

They asked where I was from and when I said Australia, they cheered. They were happy enough to chat in broken English, which was nice. And it was certainly a friendly exchange. They asked if I wanted a beer but I declined, pointing to the car and telling them I had to get to Mende. They understood. And then we strolled around the bitumen together as they pointed at various diagrams they’d painted on the road a few hours earlier, presumably while working on emptying the bottles that were now stacked up beside them.

I’ll spare you images of some of their work, and refrain from even explaining some of the more graphic explanations of elements of their paintings… needless to say it was particularly blokey. They howled with laughter as they talked about what they’d done earlier in the day.

When I asked what inspired it all, they just shrugged. “Bored,” came the reply. “Why not?”

“What about the words: ‘Sky = Dopers’?” I asked. “Do you really dislike the team?”


“Why paint it?”

“Bored,” one repeated.

“It’s cycling, you know?” joked another. “It’s part of the sport. You ride, you dope.”


Okay. It wasn’t like I was going to get a coherent answer but it wasn’t exactly a formal interview. I just wanted to try and understand what inspired their work.

“Salbutamol, isn’t like EPO,” I said, “you can inject it but usually it’s a puffer.”

They nodded. Then joked amongst themselves, making the action of smoking a bong. “It’s good stuff, huh?”

Ah yes, the drunken discussion before midday… it was an interesting idea but I wasn’t going to get much out of these fellas. They were too busy admiring the images of genitalia that were spread over the road all around them. “It’s good, huh?” they asked. “Hard sport. Hard! Get it?” Etc.

It was a very light-hearted and even amiable exchange. They laughed and found it hysterical that I had stopped to chat.

The take home message from our brief exchange is that they didn’t really dislike Sky. They didn’t really know much about cycling. They just felt like doing something on the day the Tour raced nearby. Quite simply, they’d seen it on TV before and, they told me, “it seemed funny, so we did the same”.

Do you think Sky is doping? Is that what you really believe?

“I don’t know, man,” announced the self-appointed spokesman. “I can’t say but you read about cycling and you read about doping. It’s been like that for years – all our lives. So,” he concluded, “perhaps they are cheating, perhaps they are not. I don’t know – I don’t care.”

“But,” I said before getting back in the car, “you care enough to paint it on the road.”

“Yeah man, then if we see it on TV we can tell our mates about it. Haaahhahahaa!”

They don’t know. They don’t dare. But it’s certainly something you can do for a laugh on an idle Saturday in July.

They checked again to see if I would join them to watch the race pass. I declined again.

Then they shook my hand, wished me all the best for my trip and politely said, “Plus tard mec! Bon Tour!



– By Rob Arnold