Bilbao is starting point of Tour de France on Saturday

by Lorraine Williamson
tour de France Bilbao

Bilbao, the capital of Vizcaya is this year’s starting point, the Grand Depart, of the Tour de France. The race starts today on Saturday 1 July. 

For three days, the most watched sporting event in the world will be held on the Basque roads. Only two events held every four years, the Olympics and the World Cup, are surpassed in terms of viewing figures. 

The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao’s icon, was already the setting for the presentation of the Tour de France 2023 on Thursday 29 June. Furthermore, the departure from Bilbao marks the culmination of more than 30 years of work by Basque institutions to bring forward an event with an international appeal that is hard to compare. 

Since the Tour started in San Sebastian in 1992, Basque institutions have requested the start of a new edition every year. In 2016, Bilbao city council invited Tour de France general director Christian Prudhomme to enjoy a stage of the Tour of Spain. And that was conducive to negotiations.  

The Tour de France in figures 

In addition to the 176 riders from the 22 participating teams, 900 team assistants, 1,800 journalists, 400 members of the organisation, 180 trucks are working. Some 150 vehicles join the publicity caravan, which takes up 10 kilometres of road with its 500 entertainers and takes two hours to warm up the atmosphere before the riders’ arrival. One and a half million fans are expected to be on the road in the three days of the race in the Basque Country. And, furthermore, the television signal will be received in more than 200 countries. 

Three stages in the Basque Country 

The opening stage is 185 kilometres long and has its centre of gravity in the last 50 kilometres. That includes three climbs, with the Côte de Morga, the Côte de Vivero and the Côte de Pike.  

On day 2 there is also climbing, with a 210-kilometre ride from Vitoria-Gasteiz to San Sebastián. Then, the focal point and final climb of the day is the Jaizkibel, familiar from the Clásica San Sebastián. The finish both days is after a descent. 

Cogesa Expats

The third stage starts in Amorebieta and heads along the Basque coast, through San Sebastián, towards the French Basque Country. 

Economic impact 

Bringing in the Grand Depart of the Tour represented an investment of more than €12 million by Basque institutions. More than two-thirds of the investment was made by the Basque government, the Bilbao City Council and the Provincial Council of Vizcaya. The rest came from the provincial councils of Guipúzcoa and Álava and the city councils of San Sebastián and Vitoria. Besides starting in Bilbao, the Tour will stop in the other Basque capitals and the race will pass through almost half of the Basque municipalities. 

The expected return on investment is estimated at more than €100 million. The occupancy rate of hotels in Bilbao has reached 90% and getting a table in a restaurant is more difficult than climbing one of the passes in the race. In the long term, the tourism industry is confident that both Bilbao in particular and the Basque Country in general will consolidate their position as a host destination for sporting events, congresses and concerts of all kinds with an international character. 

From a number of companies, it requires a sacrifice now to reap the benefits in the future. They will have to limit their activities during these days because of the logistical complexity of a competition of this magnitude. Countless city streets and hundreds of kilometres of roads will be closed for hours. There have even been cases of couples who had to postpone their wedding date because the wedding guests could not possibly arrive due to all the traffic closures.  

Three days of enjoying images from the Basque country 

The presentation of the teams was already a worldwide TV spectacle on Thursday. And after the start, the images of Bilbao, San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Urdaibai, the coast of Gipuzkoa, San Sebastian or the Llanada of Alava will be seen all over the world through the carefully selected images of French television. Which is known for selling not only the sporting spectacle, but also the wonders of the places through which the race passes. From 1 July to 3 July, the world will enjoy more than 12 hours of scenery in the Basque Country. 

Also read: The Basque Country is quite unlike the rest of Spain

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