Tour de Lead Graffiti / 2013

For us, and generally this was Ray's favorite year, we figured the following grades:

  • A = 11
  • B = 10
  • C = 2

Pretty solid.

Stage 1 : Porto-Vecchio > Bastia / 212 km / Strange things in France

This year, if the stage events would work with us, we tried to make the posters more “narrative.” Stage 1 didn’t disappoint. We included a total time to date of 00:00:00 to give the idea of things just starting, listed this Tour’s first 5-man breakaway, a crash which took out three of the top four sprinters, and a team bus that couldn’t make it under the finish banner that almost made for a disastrous ending. A bus crashing into the finish line? Really? And Kittel easily claimed the win.

Stage 2 : Bastia > Ajaccio / 154 km / The Mongolian cycling horde & a dog

You never know where the seed of an idea will come from for these posters. With 198 riders barrelling along at close to 30 mph through the narrow streets of a small French town, the helicopter camera catches a small dog running into and stopping 2/3rds of the way across the street. We watched paralyzed as the dog’s owner started out after him, thought better of it and ducked back. Amazingly the dog dashed off the side of the road with about a body length to spare. Bakelants swooped out of the peloton to win the stage.

Stage 3 : Ajaccio > Calvi / 145 km / Nah, don’t leave.

We love to root for breakaways, but the peloton usually has too much energy built up to let a few outlaws capture the stage. Someone would try, and the peloton said “Nope.” Someone else would try, and the peloton would say “No way.” Again, someone would try and the peloton would say “Not today.” Eight or 9 times this happened until finally the sprinters Gerrans & Sagan took over with a few hundred meters to go.

Stage 4 : Nice > Nice / 25 km / team time trial / Joined head & toe

The team time trials are always difficult posters to do as there are likely no spectacular moments other than who wins. The 9-member team races as one, so everything relies on their ability to work in harmony. 

There is a wonderful ballet quality looking up the backs of a line of cyclists with the same jerseys, a kind of wobble that we highlighted in our 2011 TTT poster. 

This year we had the idea to highlight the 9 riders by inking the type representing one rider (the darkest grey / black) and then moving the type and reprinting the poster without reinking until we had 8 examples of the winning team’s name. We loved the team name, Orica Greenedge (remember the team bus / finish line on Stage 1?), so we pulled that out for the 9th and printed it in a metallic green along with their winning time, which clocked them at just about 36 miles per hour for the 25 km course. The second and third place teams came in within 3 seconds of the winning time. The finish time is when the team’s 5th rider crosses the finish line. Not an exciting stage to watch, but we thought the poster was a great way to represent the technical aspect of the stage.

Stage 5 : Cagnes-sur-Mer > Marseille / 219 km  / Guys! Follow me!

Mark Cavendish is easily one of the fastest men on a bicycle and at the end of the 2012 Tour had won 23 stages. It is clearly within the realm of possibility for him to equal the 34 Tour stage wins by cycling legend Eddy Merckx, so we’ve started counting his wins while he leaves the others in the dust. We highlighted his British colors with a dashing bit of hand-rolling.

Stage 6 : Aix-en-Provence > Montpellier / 176 km / Catching up?

Watching a stage for four hours initially seems like just watching a lot of guys riding bikes pretty fast. Mark Cavendish, a Lead Graffiti favorite from the Isle of Man, was caught up in a crash near the end of a sprint stage (flat land). As Cavendish wove through traffic trying to rejoin the leaders, a motorcycle cameraman followed him.

In the end he only came in fourth in a sprint that included the top 4 sprinters of the Tour, but the catch up on narrow winding streets was the most exhilarating few minutes of the stage, so we took a bit of time to handset the wood and metal type into snake-shaped curves to give it the proper English. If you know letterpress, you know how much extra trouble that is. Same with Cavendish’s dash.

Stage 7 : Montpellier > Albi / 205 km / Bike ballet

To the average person, the strategy of why teams have 9 riders is hard to grasp. Peter Sagan and his team Cannondale found themselves in a position to grab onto a good-sized breakaway just before the intermediate sprint, separating Sagan from the other main challengers to this Tour’s Green Jersey (for the cyclist collecting the most sprint points). Sagan won the maximum points at the intermediate sprint while cutting the other favorites completely out of the point count. Then Cannondale plunged on until the final stage sprint, which Sagan also won. With the support of his team, Sagan won the maximum points while the other 3 Green Jersey favorites each won zero. Like the color for both the Cannondale team jersey and the Sprinter’s Jersey, green was the only choice.

Stage 8 : Castres > Ax 3 Domaines / 194 km / Zoome

Chris Froome started this year’s tour as the favorite to win, coming in second in 2012. This was the first mountain stage of 2013, so it was exciting to see if any of the Tour favorites could or would show what they were capable of. Often cycling is more of a defensive maneuver versus offensive. Froome was essentially the best positioned of the five or six favorites, so all he needed to do today was keep in close contact with the others to maintain his position. Like a lot of good champions, winning isn’t enough in itself; you need to prove to the rest you can win. Froome zoomed up the final climb, and no one could catch him. If one of the other favorites was going to challenge him, they weren’t going to do it by being defensive.

Stage Stage 9 : Saint-Girons > Bagnères-de-Bigorre / 165 km / Zip code stage

The architecture of the stages for the tour breaks down into several basic forms. There are the flat sprint stages, the mountain stages with one or two massive climbs, and there are the mountain stages where there are four or five serious climbs (today’s stage had five with four Category 1 mountains). A Lead Graffiti issue is how to visually define similar stages over the whole of what is now three Tours without duplicating ourselves. We want to avoid repeating the past, while also doing something new.

Here, the numbers represent the mountain category with the smaller numbers being the hardest. Harder than a category 1 is called an “HC,” which is French for out-of-category, and typically defined as one that is hard to drive up in a car. White space and the hand-rolling helped give the poster some pop. We also like emphasizing a cyclist’s first Tour stage win which must be a rush for Dan Martin and especially on a stage like this.

Rest day #1 : Saint-Nazaire / Rest is for sissies

We continued our practice of printing directly from a bike chain on the first rest day of each Tour. At a local bike shop, we bought three chains and hooked them all together. We formed them into peaks and valleys to highlight the profiles of this year’s six mountain stages. The riders had completed two of them (rest from:) and had four to go (rest for:). Add three runs of ink, and the rest is history.

Stage 10 : Saint-Gildas-des-Bois > Saint-Malo / 193 km / Oops!

Again it was the 4 sprint favorites battling for the stage win. It was straight forward “pedaling as fast as you can” when Mark Cavendish bumped another rider who strayed off his line and took a spill on the asphalt. Oops! In addition to the “bump & grind” scene we added some hand-rolled red & blue to pick up the colors of Kittel’s jersey to celebrate his second stage win.

Stage 11 : Avranches > Mont-Saint-Michel / 33 km / ITT / Blew away the field

The scenery during the Tour is enough of a reason to watch on a nice high definition TV. Fabulous countrysides, mountains, ruins, monumental homes, and then there is Mont Saint Michel. Its profile greeted us as the camera followed each cyclist’s route for this individual time trial. With an ITT there is no peloton, no slipstreaming, no help, with each rider just going from A to B as fast as they can. 

Waves eroding the ancient stonework are reflected in the hand-rolled typographic silhouette. Martin’s and Froome’s names show the effect of the windblown causeway the riders had to navigate. Martin’s second win gets a nod with a Roman numeral II.

Stage 12 : Fougères > Tours / 218 km / Tight with a touch of crash

Those same four sprinters were battling it out near the end of the stage when a crash blocked André Greipel behind it. The others flew across the finish line. The hand-rolled crash represents the jersey colors in the pileup that was about three cyclists deep. CRASH and the arrows are perfectly straight with only a bit of rotation to represent the chaos. It only goes to show how a bit of chaos can shape the clouds and couldn't at the finish line.

Stage 13 : Tours > Saint-Amand-Montrond / 173 km / The devil lives in the crosswinds

We always watch for a stage like today to happen. The peloton is screaming across the flat center of France with the line of cyclists strung out long & thin because of the high speed, and then a crosswind creates a small gap in the line. All of a sudden one rider doesn’t have a rider in front of him to block the wind and the “ppelelolootlttonon” breaks in half. It can be disastrous for the riders caught behind the split, and today it happened again and again. Mark Cavendish found himself in the lead of 4 groups, and the stage win was almost a forgone conclusion.

Stage 14 : Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule > Lyon / 191 km / Breakaway survives big

Back in stage 3 we said breakaways seldom survive. Today it did. A large group of 18 riders managed to get out in front. A group that large can manage to conserve a significant amount of energy, which had them more than 7 minutes in the lead at the end. Our guest collaborators today suggested printing from our steel “press furniture,” which we used to represent the 18 members of the breakaway. Up close there is a lot of texture in those rectangles, just like the multiple cycling teams and alliances represented in the breakaway group that managed to survive. Yeah!

Stage 15 : Givors > Mont Ventoux / 242 km / A trip to the moon

Today’s climb up Mont Ventoux seemed to end on the moon. At the top there is nothing. Almost no large rocks. And being above the treeline, there’s no vegetation at all. Just seems to be a large, smooth pile of gravel when you are looking at it from the helicopter’s camera. 

There is a wonderful view near the top where the road winds around and disappears behind a hill and then reappears only to disappear again. Froome has those nice two Os we’ve liked playing with, and we can only imagine how it must feel to race with so little oxygen. So we added a chemistry reference. Usually, on Bastille Day we would use French blue and red, but this year we opted for Tour de France yellow in a salute to what might be a lock on the Yellow Jersey for Chris Froome.

REST DAY #2 : Vaucluse / Gearing up for Paris 

We gave a Tour poster to a friend last year. He said “Thanks” by sending us a box full of bike gears. We mounted a few to bring them to type high and also assembled an Eiffel Tower from our wood type collection for the visuals. We imagined fireworks at the Paris finale this year. Ray and Jill are members of the American Printing History Association, and the group held part of its monthly meeting at Lead Graffiti and 10 chapter members contributed to this poster. 

Stage 16 : Vaison-la-Romaine > Gap / 168 km / The word for today: Gap.

The peloton was heading for a finish in a town called Gap. A gap opened up, and a breakaway got far out in front. And then suddenly the train track road crossing had a train on it. The main peloton was forced to stop and wait for the train. This added another 40-second gap between the peloton and the breakaway which finished with a gap of 11 minutes. Hmmm. Maybe we should use the word Gap on the poster somewhere?

Stage 17 : Embrun > Chorges / 32 km / ITT / Rain with a chance of dry

During this individual time trial, there was the constant threat of rain, which at times turned into a downpour. With a flawless bike change and the roads drying out a bit toward the end of the day, Chris Froome used the opportunity to increase his lead. A crash for one of the riders resulted in a broken clavicle which gave us the opportunity to use that word for the first time.

Stage 18 : Gap > Alpe-d’Huez / 168 km / Gladiator games? 

You can only imagine a fiendish group of men sitting around a map of France each year figuring out the stages. Just for the record, the route alternates clockwise and counter-clockwise each year. It must take a bit of the devil to inflict so much pain by simply putting start / end dots on a map. But you need to divide routes up between the flat, hilly and mountain stages and, as this is the 100th running, you need something special. The climb up Alpe d’Huez is always a highlight of any Tour that includes that mountain. “Oh. I know. Let’s climb it twice. Oh, yes, and let’s do both climbs on the same stage.” Yeah. Like we said, “Fiendish.” 

The first climb was won by American Tejay van Garderen, a young cyclist Lead Graffiti loves to root for. This year included a rare climb following Alpe d’Huez to add another couple hundred meters in altitude, taking the riders to 2000 meters on a very unprotected road. This was followed by a screaming, rollercoaster ride to the bottom just to start the climb up Alpe d’Huez again.

We were rooting for Tejay to pull off an amazing double, but with 2.2 km to go, he had to pass the win over to Frenchman Christophe Riblon. Tejay did come in an amazing second.

Stage 19 : Bourg-d’Oisans > Le Grand-Bornand / 204 km  / Hit me. Five times.

Another stage with 5 mountains to try and design around. We used Vs, which nicely represented the mountain tops and also a sense of effort in crossing them. Their position indicates something of their difficulty categories. This time we got the chance to use our newly made ampersand for the first time and just say “& again” for the next two of Pierre Rolland’s firsts across the mountain tops. Rui Costa was on fire during a pretty serious rainstorm on the final climb, so we threw in a bit of hand-rolling to heat his name up a bit.

Stage 20 : Annecy > Annecy - Semnoz / 125 km / Never quit

One of the oldest and most tenacious of our favorite riders is Jens Voigt, so we included his name for credit as the first over a very serious climb. Newcomer Nairo Quintana, who had been threatening to win a couple of earlier mountain stages, won his first Tour stage and showed himself as a serious contender in future tours. This stage winner had nice jersey colors and the great letter Q, so we hand-rolled it.

Stage 21 : Versailles > Paris Champs-Élysées / 118 km / A predictable day

The Tour leader after Stage 20 is the de facto winner of the Tour as long as he finishes the stage, so that part of the suspense was covered. It was a twilight finish to the race, which ended much later in the day than the other stages and included great fireworks. The Tour ends along the Champs Élysées after circling the Arc de Triomphe eight times. One of our two guest collaborators was a 14-year old who was handed the job of making an Arc de Triomphe out of wood and metal type and dingbats. The silver circles are made by printing oversized checkers (those plastic disks from the game) multiple times. The 12 radiating lines represented the 12 roads that radiate from the Arc de Triomphe and gave us a good way to provide the finishing statistics about winners, distances, etc. for this year’s Tour. 

The lockup for the smaller text is quite technical, but exceedingly fun, and provided a challenging way to do run #102 and complete this year’s poster series.

The composite print

During each day’s printing of the posters, we overprint each color run onto a set of posters we refer to as the composites. This year we will include them for the first time as part of the clamshell edition. You don’t often see a letterpress piece with more than 100 runs on it. A lot of those runs are hand inked in multiple colors, and those runs typically take about four times longer to print.
It was a fun tour with plenty of visuals to include in the posters. We were rooting for Chris Froome, and he won. We met some interesting new friends and reinvigorated some other relationships. We found new ways to compose the pages, bringing the total for the series to 69 posters. And we’ve got a bunch of new posters to show off.