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Tour de Francis

June 28, 2012

Question: could an amateur handle the toughest stages of the world’s most prestigious cycling event, the Tour de France?
What’s more, how would they fare on a Carrera Virago, a carbon-frame bike costing less than a grand (so it qualifies for the Government’s 'Cycle to Work' scheme). Now that’s a fair chunk of change but it’s a drop in the ocean compared with the bikes the pros ride.
Halfords found an amateur willing to take on the challenge. His name: Dan Francis. And thus the Tour de Francis came into being.
The tour was devised by Halfords’ creative agency, DLKW Lowe (creative directors: Jonny Watson and Dan Harrison) and consisted of four stages, borrowed from this year’s Tour de France, beginning with the Prologue in Liege, Belgium.
It then moved south through the picturesque Champagne region, up into the French Alps and finally over the finishing line on the Champs Élysées in Paris.
We filmed Dan’s every move from the moment we whisked him away from his family home in South West London, through city streets country lanes and a couple of hills. Well, mountains, to use the technical term. Total repairs on the tour: one puncture. True.
It’s all come together in the form of a 15-minute documentary on the Halfords YouTube channel and the Halfords Cycling Facebook, launching on June 30, coinciding with the start of the 2012 Tour de France.
As Halfords is sponsoring ITV4’s coverage of the Tour de France, we’ve taken clips from the film and used them for the idents in and out of the ad-breaks during the live coverage and highlights shows.
In total, 24 idents will roll out across the 3 weeks of Le Tour, each showing an insight into Dan Francis and his team on tour in Belgium and France.
The idents display the Halfords sponsorship message as well as the web address: Halfords.com/Tour-DeFrancis - the online hub for the campaign and the documentary.
Halfords will, be using their Twitter and Facebook channels to promote the film as well as following the real Tour de France and sharing their take on the race and comparisons with the Tour de Francis.
A Tumblr blog reveals more behind-the-scenes insight from the Tour de Francis, along with photos and videos from the shoot.
Check it out at http://tourdefrancis.tumblr.com/ (password: chamois)

How did you recruit Dan Francis?
The name came first, along with the idea of taking a regular, amateur cyclist and challenging them to ride some of the toughest stages of the Tour de France – the ultimate test of endurance for a rider and their bike.
Dan auditioned along with lots of other keen cyclists with Frank or Francis in their name. We had a backup ‘Francis’ just in case we had any major incidents or hissy fits from Dan. Happily there were none.
What’s Dan’s background?
Dan Francis is 29, married with a 3 year-old son and they’re expecting a new addition to the family in a few months’ time.
He lives in South West London and works for a large pharmaceutical company. He rides a fixed gear bike to and from the office as it gives him ‘a better workout’.
He’s never ridden abroad before and certainly never tackled climbs like the Col de la Madeleine or the Col de la Croix de Fer before. His most exotic rides thus far had been in Wales.
What bike did Dan Francis ride on the tour?
The Carrera Virago Limited Edition Carbon Road Bike – a carbon-fibre bike exclusive to Halfords, costing £999.99 online and in-store so it’s eligible for the Government’s ‘Cycle To Work’ scheme.
Featuring a super-lightweight full monocoque carbon fibre frame, the Carrera Virago Limited Edition Large Road Bike has a carbon fork and BB30 bottom bracket, Shimano 105 gearing, MAVIC CXP-22S rims with Continental tyres and Tektro alloy brakes. The entire bike weighs just 8.6kg and is finished with a superb part paint/part carbon look.
We took 3 – a primary and 2 backups atop the team support car, a Škoda Superb TDi, kindly lent to us factory fresh from Škoda UK.
Dan thought he was getting special treatment having the bike properly set up for his exact body shape, but no, it turns out Halfords do that for every bike they sell anyway.
How did the bike fare?
From the hundreds of kilometres Dan covered across city streets, country roads and mountain passes, we had one puncture. And that was the extent of all the repair work. Nothing snapped, failed, broke, sheered, collapsed or exploded. Boring. Sorry. And Dan insists he gave it a ‘right old hammering’. He, however, was pretty broken by the end of it.
How did Dan Francis fare?
Dan keeps himself in good shape and was very disciplined in training for the Tour de Francis. The team and the conditions pushed him outside of his comfort zone and the long days of cycling, relentless travel and living out of a bag meant that by the end of tour, he was properly exhausted. Everything hurt, but despite taking it to the edge of his abilities, he didn’t sustain any injuries.
Did he fall off at any stage?
No. But he came close on the climb up to the Croix de Fer. It had been raining and Dan was trying to keep up with the camera car round a tight bend. It meant he very nearly ran out of road and the surface was very slippery anyway, but he managed to stay on 2 wheels.
What was the lowest point?
Easy – getting 3km from the top of the Col de la Madeleine only to discover that an avalanche had blocked any further progress up the mountain. Gutted is an understatement.
What was the highest point?
The next day, reaching the Croix de Fer. There was some doubt that the top might be inaccessible too and we couldn’t see because the top was shrouded in mist. Visibility was poor, it was snowing and Dan was exhausted, but he managed to summon the energy to ride his bike off-road right up to the Iron Cross itself. A triumphant moment and one made sweeter knowing that we had one more stage to be together as a team.
What was the scariest moment?
The Arc de Triomphe, without a doubt. It’s crazy. How people drive round that and survive, let alone ride a bike round it, I do not know. Twelve busy boulevards converging on a 10 lane roundabout: who planned that? Some of the team were very worried for Dan’s safety. Including Dan. We tried to create a protective ‘bubble’ around Dan on the road, tucked in behind the camera van with the support car providing cover, but Parisian drivers don’t care much for bubbles...
We also had Ross, our Directeur Sportif, on a bike ahead of us all, co-ordinating our movements on the walkie talkie. Honestly, it was like being in the climactic set-piece of a movie like Ocean’s Eleven. Very exciting. But scary at the same time.
How big was Dan’s support team?
Team Tour de Francis was 12-strong. A mix of mechanics, ex-pros, a sponsored rider and people with expert knowledge of the route he was going to ride.
It also included the director and crew responsible for capturing the whole event on camera. It was a tight-knit team where everyone played a part in getting Dan across the finish line.
Which parts of this year’s Tour de France did Dan ride?
Stage 1: Prologue section in Liege, Belgium. Time trial: 6.4km.
Stage 6: Épernay > Metz (Champagne region, France). Distance: 210km
Stage 11: Albertville > La Toussuire - Les Sybelles (French Alps).
Highest point: 2,067 metres
Stage 20: Paris
How far did Dan ride on the Tour de Francis?
Totting it all up from the Garmin, Dan must have ridden close to 500km.
What sort of speeds did he manage?
For the time trials in Liege, he clocked up speeds of up to 47km/h on the flat.
He didn’t go crazy coming down the mountains – after a previous crash, Dan has issues with riding fast downhill. He prefers the challenge of riding uphill.
What did Dan eat to help him through the Tour?
Dan’s very interesting as he’s someone who’s very in tune with what his body needs. He would know if his body was dehydrating or low on sugar and would act quickly to put that right. At mealtimes – breakfast especially, he would load up on fruit, oats, yoghurt, toast and orange juice. At dinner he’d always want an orange juice and water - but didn’t speak a word of French, so it was ordered for him. That’s what a support team is for!
On the road, he used energy drinks, gels and he’d always have energy bars tucked in the back pocket of his jersey so he could re-fuel on the move. We resisted the urge to create our own feeding-station – that would have been carnage.
For the rest of us, lunch was a baguette and assorted fillings, made with our fingers using a flight case as a table. The glamour of it all...