For its 110th edition, the Tour de France will set off for the second time from Spain, specifically from the Basque Country. To celebrate the entry into the last hundred days before the start of stage one in Bilbao, the towns that will host the peloton in early July have shifted into high gear... yellow is in infinite supply. Ø In San Sebastián, which hosted the Tour in 1992, in Vitoria-Gasteiz and in Bilbao, where the Athletic has transformed San Mamés stadium to host the Tour, the decor is well and truly in place.
THE COUNTDOWN HAS BEGUN
Evenings in the Basque Country often begin and end with music. A concert stage was erected in front of Bilbao's town hall to kick off the festivities announcing the 100 days leading up to the opening stage. In order to attend the show featuring the Kalakan trio and the Bilbao choir, who were called upon to reinterpret some traditional music, guests wore a "zapi horia", the Basque scarf, of which a yellow version was created for the occasion. Among them, Christian Prudhomme and the town's mayor, Juan Mari Aburto, then started the official countdown, which will be a point of interest for all the curious for three-plus months. This also launched the illumination of the town hall, which will keep this decoration dedicated to the Tour every evening. The red car of the Tour’s Director then began its Basque Country tour with a parade through the town, accompanied for the moment by a small group of elected representatives and media whilst waiting for the arrival of the best riders in the world.
IN BILBAO, THE MEETING OF GIANTS
The oldest football club in Spain plays in red and white-striped jerseys. However, San Mamés, the stadium that was renovated in 2013 and where the Athletic has been playing since 1913, has been adorned in yellow to welcome the race. The club, founded in 1898, is celebrating its 125th anniversary in the same year that the Tour de France celebrates its 120th anniversary and has been invited to the city for the Grand Départ of its 110th edition. The joint celebration of these anniversaries was well worth an illumination ceremony at the exact spot where the start line will be on 1 July. Christian Prudhomme received a jersey during the ceremony in Athletic colours from president Jon Uriarte, accompanied by the captains of his pair of star teams, Garazi Murua from the women's team and the striker Iker Muniain from the men's. In return, the club received a Yellow Jersey, which definitely will find a place in the display cases at San Mamés stadium.
A RETURN TO SAN SEBASTIAN
For cycling and Tour fans, the name San Sebastián evokes both the Clasica San Sebastián, which takes place every year and the memory of the Grand Départ of the 1992 Tour de France, in which Miguel Indurain was the central figure, as both title holder and winner of the prologue held in the city. The memory of the Tour's visit to the Basque Country 31 years ago is still vivid, as Christian Prudhomme recalled when he detailed the process of this return, which will take place for the peloton at the finish of stage two on 2 July: "The Basque public is one of the best in the world, it deserves the Yellow Jersey of spectators. It just so happens that every year since 1992, Basque officials have been writing to us to get the Tour to return. What interests us are the roads, the climbs, and most especially, the passion. It is going to be an exceptional party". In the meantime, like all the towns involved in the Grand Départ, San Sebastián has started to see life (at night) in yellow since yesterday, thanks to the illumination of its town hall and several other buildings.
VITORIA-GASTEIZ PUTS ON A SHOW
The Basque welcome package for the Tour "Ongi eTourRi" is becoming a classic throughout the region, and naturally in its administrative capital, which in 1977 was the scene of the only victory of a Basque rider, José Nazabal, in a stage of the Tour de France held on his home soil. Vitoria-Gasteiz has since continued to develop its sense of pageantry and has become an expert in sound and light shows projected onto the façades of the Plaza Virgen Blanca. For example, it celebrated the success of the Saski Baskonia basketball team, winner of the 1996 European Cup and four-time Spanish champion. It was in the colours of the Tour de France, however, that the activities were adapted for the occasion, concluding a day devoted to rides, games and cycling lessons.