For the first time in its 103-year history, cycling’s prestigious Tour de France has come to the Swiss capital, bringing to Bern all of the flashiness and complexity of one of the world’s largest sporting events.
Adding to the challenges are the increased safety concerns of hosting the modern-day spectacle only days after a 31-year-old Tunisian-born driver ploughed a 20-ton truck into a Bastille Day crowd along the southern French coastal city of Nice, taking the lives of at least 84 people including 10 children.
The Swiss veteran racer Fabian Cancellara, riding in his final season after 10 tours, could have the perfect career closure, in terms of a stage finish in his home town Bern.
With planning and luck
Political and security authorities in Bern acknowledge that Thursday’s attack has changed the tenor of the long-planned 2016 Tour de France. “The tension is greater than it would have been under completely normal conditions,” Reto Nause, Bern’s security director, told the weekly "Schweiz am Sonntag".
Despite an abundance of preparations – including hundreds of military personnel added to cantonal police and civil protection, plus more than 1,000 volunteers – Bern’s Mayor Alexander Tschäppät says it would be difficult to stop a lone-wolf terror attack. Things appeared to be calm in Bern from the outset.
“There is no concrete evidence of a threat,” said police spokeswoman Daniela Siegrist, citing federal authorities. She added the police were, of course, keeping their “eyes and ears open” and continuously adapting security arrangements as needed.
Three days in Switzerland
The tour makes a three-day detour through Switzerland. Monday runs from Moirans-en-Montagne in the French Jura to Bern's Stade de Suisse. Tuesday is a rest day. Wednesday takes the tour through the old town of Bern and on to Aigle and Martigny before leaving Switzerland by the Emosson dam.
Swiss fans enjoyed some anticipatory festivities in Bern on Sunday. Children could practice riding bikes on curved tracks and obstacle courses, along a winding route of booths, vendors and cycling displays around the city. The spectacle included crane-hoisted cycles and a live-feed on the Bundesplatz.
All together now
Even before it could be held in Switzerland, though, organisers carried out what could be described as a Swiss exercise in federalism.
Since each of the communities are considered sovereign territory “every town that the tour caravan crosses had to agree," Tschäppät told swissinfo.ch, adding that not all were enthusiastic at the start.
For the Swiss, however, the tour brings not only the excitement of a major sporting event – and encouragement perhaps to young, aspiring cyclists – but also the more tangible economic and tourist benefits of being associated with a sport event considered third only to the Olympics and football championships.
The organisers claim that some 3.5 billion people spread among 190 countries – roughly half the world's population – tune in to watch the tour each year.
swissinfo.ch and agencies