Darren Rovell

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Friday, July 5
When watching the race just isn't enough

By Darren Rovell

Just like three-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, Glen Hinshaw will spend July testing his endurance on the bike from the placid vineyards of Bordeaux to the treacherous peaks of the Pyrenees.

He'll even warm up the roads for Armstrong and his fellow Tour riders by testing the course just hours before each stage begins.

It's a dream come true to be able to ride on the same course as the top pros in the world. For the price, it's a bargain.
Glen Hinshaw, on his summer excursion to the Tour de France
The 40-year-old Hinshaw is not a professional cyclist. Rather, he's an avid fan who owns a cycling shop in Scottsdale, Ariz., who has paid a tour company $2,700 (not including airfare) to get as close to the Tour de France as possible without an entry fee.

Hinshaw's tour package will allow him to ride each stage during Week 2 of the Tour and, later, stand at the finish line to watch the final seconds of each stage of the world's most prestigious cycling event.

"It's a dream come true to be able to ride on the same course as the top pros in the world," Hinshaw said. "For the price, it's a bargain."

Last year, cycling fans in the United States were able to follow the Tour de France on live television for the first time. But even that's not enough for the true diehards, especially those who also are accomplished cyclists.

Enter Loren Siekman, whose Discover France tour company has sold about 60 one-week packages to riders thirsting to experience the Tour firsthand. Siekman has arranged for about 20 riders per week to ride each day's stage in advance of the peloton.

Hinshaw, who rides between 200 and 300 miles a week, scheduled his excursion for the second week of the Tour, meaning he'll still be riding when the race hits the mountains on Stage 11.

"These are very serious climbs," Siekman said.

To prepare, Hinshaw is competing in the Masters National Road Cycling Championship a week before he heads to France.

While anyone can ride the route before the course is closed for racing, Siekman said his relationship with a manager for several riders allows him to guarantee his clients the experience.

Lance at retail
The Yellow Jersey
Nike is selling a replica yellow jersey as part of its Lance Armstrong line.
Lance Armstrong's recent dominance of the Tour de France has undoubtedly helped spread the event's popularity in the United States. Case in point: Cycling jerseys.

"The U.S. Postal Service team jerseys that we carry are very comparable in terms of interest with the recent demands for men's U.S. World Cup jerseys and the women's World Cup soccer jerseys after they won the cup in 1999," said Megan Judge, Nike's east coast regional marketing manager.

Although the authentic jerseys sold are race-ready, stick tight to the body and don't particularly go that well with jeans, Judge says plenty of non-cyclists have purchased the $85 USPS jersey and $100 yellow jerseys at cycling shops and at NikeTown.

Nike's deal with Armstrong's USPS team runs through 2005. Nike also sells Lance Armstrong T-shirts and Armstrong-endorsed titanium compass watches.

Tour de France TV
Until last year, there was no live television coverage of the Tour de France in the United States and Canada. That changed when the Outdoor Life Network's four-year contract kicked in, bringing two hours of live daily coverage into 30 million homes on digital cable or satellite systems.

This year, OLN is in 43 million homes in the U.S. and 5 million in Canada and still plans to show live coverage of each stage. Beyond that, OLN president and CEO Roger Williams said the network will buy three hours of total television time (July 14, 21 and 28) on CBS and will receive advertising revenues in return.

Since not many people are aware that OLN carries the event, the network has taken out television and print ads to promote its coverage.

"The Tour de France is like our Super Bowl," Williams said. OLN, which started broadcasting last year, spent $3 million for a four-year deal that runs through the 2004 event.

Darren Rovell covers sports business for ESPN.com. He can be reached at darren.rovell@espn.com.

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