You can’t miss it. Humming away in the corner of the petite harbour of Porto Vecchio like a giant blue and yellow bumblebee, the Mega Smeralda ferry is one of the first things you see on arrival to the home of the Tour de France in the build-up to the Grand Depart on Saturday.
The functional home of the Tour de France on Corsica is actually on the boat. Due to Corsica’s lack of large civic facilities that usually host the organisational metropolis of the race, like gymnasia and school halls, organisers ASO took the decision to keep everything afloat in the Mediterranean.
This is much to the consternation of some of France’s more conservative commentators, since the boat it owned and run by Corsica Ferries, an Italian company.
Like the riders, the good ship Smeralda will make its way around the island, doing so one evening ahead of the race so it and its facilities can be ready to go as soon as the race arrives. That, at least, is the plan.
So hop on board for a look around the Tour de France’s unique floating Corsican headquarters.
Home to the organisation
Imagine the last time you took an overnight ferry. The memory of that will come close to experience of the Mega Smeralda. None of the riders or press are staying on board, however virtually everybody else involved in the organisation is.
This was much to the dismay of one ASO employee who described the less than spacious, windowless cabin that was set to be his home for eight days.
The Omega Pharma-Quickstep press conference on the top deck of the Mega Smeralda
A sense of the sheer scale of the Tour de France is palpable when wandering around the buzzing corridors and teeming town. As the chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire Gary Verity told CW on Thursday, “the fact that the whole organisation is on a giant cruise liner come ship gives you an idea of the enormity of it.”
Gary Verity and Tour boss Christian Prudhomme are interviewed
Feeding the Tour
Food is limited on board; the ship’s bar exclusively serves three different types of cheese and ham toastie, while the restaurant can serve you any meal as long as it’s pasta.
On offer in the press room every day is a trough of Madeleines, one of the Tour’s many sponsors. This early in the Tour you have to move quick to grab your fill of cake, but as the race wears on so does an appetite for pre-packed almond sponge.
Refreshment comes from another sponsor, Vittel. The staff around the distribution trolley didn’t know how many bottles were consumed per day on board, but estimated around one million would be drunk during the whole race, which works out at roughly 40,000 per day.
Two men also provide small cups of free coffee, around 40 litres’ worth each day rising to 60 litres when the weather turns chilly.
The Tour’s own cafe, providing black coffee and biscuits. These people are your friends.
Of course the riders have no such staples. Most could be dining on the produce of Porto Vecchio’s ‘Geant’ supermarket; CW spotted 11 different team carers pushing their trolleys around the aisles of this one shop on Friday morning.
Riders do foray onto the boat, but only for press conferences and interviews. The sight of the Tour’s stars being pursued along the narrow corridors before cramming into a small lift isn’t uncommon, although some take a more light hearted approach to it than others.
Mark Cavendish is pursued by an eager press pack
Several of the Belkin riders grabbed the opportunity to ride around the children’s crèche on the small trikes on Thursday morning as they made their way to a press conference.