For us we figured the following grades:
Always love to see who is in the opening breakaway, and they didn’t disappoint. Three riders jumped away from the peloton right at the gun, and one of those was a long time favorite, Jens Voigt. Jens is the oldest rider in the Tour this year at 42. This is his 17th Tour which ties the record, and Jens says it’s his last. There are 3 other guys who are over 40 riding this year.
At the first category 4 mountaintop (there were 3 in the stage) it was pretty clear that the other 2 with much younger legs had more power than Jens had to jump out at the last minute and capture the King of the Mountain points awarded at the mountain tops. The person with the most of these points gets to wear the polka dot jersey designating them as King of the Mountains.
After another 30k or so, Jens knew the only way he was going to wear the jersey for at least one stage was to breakaway from the breakaway. He took off, and the other two wouldn’t see him for another 60k when Kittel took the stage.
The size of the crowds in England was staggering so we collected dots and round “O”s to stylize the people. Today’s poster highlighted the 9 (minor but there were 9 of them) categorized climbs. The last climb, a Category 4 was listed as a maximum grade of 33%, the steepest during the whole Tour. This means that for every three feet you travel horizontally you go up one. The announcers said it was difficult to walk up and Nibali rose to the challenge.
Today they rode into London with crowds that were even more staggering. It is worth noting that the previous 2 tours were won by British cyclists and the 2013 winner was this year’s favorite. We had spent a lot of time locking up the ‘crowds’ on Stage 2, so we recycled them for an encore. We took the extra time we gained into locking up that gentle sloping curve (which is harder then it looks) with some nice red-white-blue hand-rolling. We decided to handroll at least one run per print. Kittel wins his 2nd stage.
There weren’t many standout moments, so we spent a lot of time talking about Marcel Kittel’s (the day’s eventual winner) hair today.
The OO-MY! comes from a story that the announcers were talking about with Chris Froome, the Tour favorite. People had taken to calling him Froomy. Froome took a pretty nasty fall that looked like it might take him out of the race. But he struggled on, and things seemed to be OK. Jill said, “Oh, my!” when he fell so we thought it was a way to join both ideas just having the “Fr” run off the left side of the sheet to mimic the crash.
We started this year’s Tour with Chris Froome as our favorite. This stage included a series of 9 sections of bone-jarring cobblestones. The cobblestones made of wood type Os were used to fill out an exclamation mark. To make matters worse, it rained most of the day making a rough ride into a rough, muddy & slick ride. Froome went down twice amongst the dozens of stage crashes and just like that, after a year of planning & training, he was out. It made this year’s tour quite different and probably caused a few contenders to feel more optimistic. Lars Boom popped up to win the stage while Vincenzo Nibali gained time on all his competition.
One of the things we find ourselves discussing while watching the Tour on TV is how a rider can find a way to beat someone else who is faster or stronger. Michal Kwiatkowski (note the 3 Ks that required us to print his name over two runs as we only had 2) almost won the day by starting the sprint to the finish with 1000 meters to go instead of the normal right-at-the-end blastoff. Most sprinters and their lead-out teams want to wait until the last 250 meters or so before their sprint to the line. Lacking only a few meters Kwiatkowski didn’t quite make it before André Greipel caught up, but we were screaming for him.
Sprint finishes make watching 3 hours of cycling explode in the last few seconds. There are probably 5 or 6 teams with a sprinter who can win if things are set up right. This makes the front of the peloton pretty crowded during the last 500m with riders, having done their turn at the front, dropping off and drifting back through the pack. And then there often seems to be a rider who has a bit more in his legs or has timed his drafting exactly right to jump out of the pack of cycling wolves to grab a stage win. Winning a stage in the Tour de France can be a career-altering moment for a rider and his team and Trentin had the perfect mix to get the win. American Andrew Talansky took a spectacular fall headed straight at the camera about 100 meters from the end, which was replayed ad nauseum.
With Froome out, the Tour favorites were starting to settle in on Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali who was currently wearing the Yellow Jersey with the Tour’s lowest cumulative time. During the rain-soaked stage, the two of them fought it out trying to gain a few seconds on each other. We took a bit of extra time to lockup the graphic rainrainrainrain umbrella and used it on four of the day’s print runs. Kadri won his first Tour stage.
Today became Tony-Tony day starting with a wonderful 152K solo breakaway by Tony Martin. Breakaways are tough enough when there is a group of cyclists who can share being in the front to carve a wind break for the others to save a bit of energy. To do it alone is astounding. The stage win was taken by Tony Gallopin, who took over ownership of the Maillot Jaune (Yellow Jersey) as the rider with the lowest collective time. Gallopin is simply a great name for someone who races, no matter what the sport.
We love the Bastille Day stage and start the day trying to find some French riders in the breakaway to root for. Every French cyclist must dream of that breakaway, stealing a quiet moment to even dream of winning that stage. This was one of what we call the zip code stages, a stage with 5 or so serious categorized climbs. Today had four rated at #1, the second hardest mountains.
Another rainy day, which the riders were getting tired of, resulted in a crash that broke the tibia of Alberto Contador, the current Tour favorite. Even after breaking his leg he rode for another 18 kilometers before pulling over and getting in his team car. It was hard to watch without tears. Nibali won the stage and would wear the Yellow Jersey for the rest of the Tour.
This was a rest day for the cyclists. In 2011 on our first Tour de Lead Graffiti, we decided that we would print even on that day, pushing forward on the notion of this project as ‘endurance letterpress.’ That first year we printed from a bike chain and had done so each of the following years. We went to the local bike store and bought three new chains which we used to highlight the abandoning of the Tour by the top two favorites. It is fun how the chain can stack up. The letterpress process only allows us to print the raised links in the chain and creates the dashed line. As we don’t have the 4 hours of TV to watch, the rest day gives us a chance to experiment more.
One of the American favorites with a shot at winning the Tour was Andrew Talansky. Crashes in two earlier stages had taken its toll on his physical condition, and he was forced to drop out. But he endured the stage, riding alone at the back of the pack finishing 32 minutes after the winner. His guts for not just quitting and getting in the car will make him a Lead Graffiti favorite for the years to come. Gallopin won the stage so we thought we would emphasize “first” and “last.” Everything but Gallopin’s team name was done in one run, which required 8 separate inkings.
Not a lot of action, but we tried to show how breakaways and chase groups worked together. A 5-rider breakaway had been out in front since the first 2 kilometers of the race. About 15 kilometers to the end two riders from the peloton broke away, catching the breakaway and then coming close to winning the stage. Kristoff took his first stage win.
By this point in the Tour, it was clear that Nibali was going to be hard to catch and today was a stage that proved it. Stages that end in mountaintop finishes are our favorites. A rider who has the legs can take a shot and gain some real time over those who don’t have it. Often on a stage like this, it isn’t unusual to see a rider dream of maybe winning the Tour, lose 5 minutes or more and take himself out of contention. All of the top riders were hoping to see Nibali falter. Nibali stayed at the front the entire day, as more and more riders dropped off the back of the lead group. Two young riders had been in a long breakaway, but going up the final climb, Nibali put the hammer down, and that was it. Everyone with a dream of winning the 2014 Tour de France woke up. If Nibali didn’t crash, he was going to be extremely difficult to catch.
Nibali is Italian, so we turned his final I into III (for his 3rd stage win) and did a bit of hand-rolling to bring in the Italian flag. We like doing that.
We had 3 University of Delaware students working with us who won the selfie competition we offered for looking at an exhibition of our 2012 and 2013 posters at the British Library while on a study abroad trip. As the stage unfolded, there were 3 stories to tell. 1) Majka won his first stage. 2) Nibali took on the uphill climb against all who were hoping to make up some time, and he won convincingly. 3) The French have not had someone on the podium (top 3) at the end of the Tour for the past 17 years, and that is a long time. At the end of the day, French riders were in 3rd, 4th and 5th places. Each student took a story and produced a tidy typographic illustration.
This was a heartbreaking story. New Zealander Jack Bauer was in a 222 kilometer breakaway right from the gun. The peloton can work together, providing drafting for riders and thus energy savings, and keeping breakaways under control. For the longest time, it seemed like this one would survive. Our poster implies he was caught in the final 10 meters. It was the final 50 meters. Mark that up to artistic license and disappointment. We were exhausted at the end of the stage. Kristoff took his 2nd stage win.
We loved the hand-rolled “Bauer” from the previous day so we wanted to give the technique another shot. We were trying to capture the blurred French landscape of intense greenery, sunflowers, and lavender fields as seen by the riders. This time we liked the result so much we even used the idea on the paste paper on the clamshell box. Gears and more chain round out the image. Midway through our first attempt to print the gears, a catastrophic adhesive failure caused us to abandon this version of the print and return to it the Monday after stage 21. The result was well worth the additional effort.
We’ve come to the realization that one of the things that makes watching the Tour so exciting day after day is that there a thousand completely different reasons to root for cyclists, even ones from different teams at the same time. Michael Rogers was riding in his 10th Tour and had never won a stage, but today things were going to be different. He took a wonderful bow as he crossed the finish line. We suspect he has been practicing that bow for just about 10 years. It was nice to see him get the chance to use it. We also saw Didi (indicated by the trident along the right side). He is a fan who dresses up like a devil and carries a trident. He has had some health issues the last couple of years. We started including the trident to represent Didi every stage we saw him since the first year we started this project. It was nice to see him and his trident along the mountain stages.
Two weeks before the Tour started Rafal Majka wasn’t even part of the team. A nice long stage in the mountains put him on our serious ‘root for’ radar. His climb to the mountaintop finish atop Saint-Lary Pla d’Adet had us screaming. It would give him the King of the Mountains jersey. As he crossed the finish line, he gave a wink to the cameraman riding alongside. I think we were more tired than he was.
There is a wonderful saying that wearing the Yellow Jersey “gives you wings.” Vincenzo Nibali had the Tour sewn up as long as he didn’t break any of his bones. All he had to do was keep up with his closest contenders who weren’t that close. To avoid losing time, it is a lot easier to ride behind someone and draft them than it is to ride in front. Today he looked like the Tour de France champion he is. Going up the final climb there were some people in front of Nibali, but one after the other he picked them off, slowly dropping all of the others who woke up that morning dreaming of having a good day. A second compelling story is the continued great riding by some young French riders, 2 of whom have a real chance to be 2nd or 3rd on the podium, ending the 17-year drought for France.
To the uninitiated, the Tour seems like a bunch of guys on bikes racing to see who wins. But starting the Tour with 22 teams (9 riders on each) creates a variety of possibilities, plus things like a team that started with dreams of winning and had a turn of bad luck. The day was rainy, and the highly regarded Garmin-Sharp team was running out of time to win a stage. Their strategy seemed to be to just get someone in the breakaway. It ended up being 5 riders which included their own Tom Jelte Slagter. Around 30km from the finish, Slagter broke ahead to continue a solo run. His teammate, Ramunas Navardauskas, escaped from the peloton and started to bridge the gap, catching Slagter at about 13k to go. Navardauskas used Slagter as a springboard to finish first. It was a fabulous strategy that worked to perfection.
For our purposes, the individual time trial stages are the worst. Everyone rides as an individual. There are likely no crashes. No chance for a good strategy. Just get on the bike and see who has the energy in their legs. The arrow symbols we had been using for the riders now essentially create the face of a clock. The design has a nice sense of order, with a slight nod to chaos. We used some hand-rolling to highlight the Italian flag of the anticipated winner of the Tour and for the 2nd- and 3rd-place French riders. It was the first time France had 2 on the podium in 30 years. Très Bien!
The Tour is essentially over at the start of the last stage. There is a gentleman’s agreement that no one will challenge the leader of the General Classification. He just needs to finish. There was also a nod to women’s cycling with a 54-kilometer race which was won by Marianne Vos. The design includes the statistics and names of the winners for the various categories of the Tour into the outline of France. As it turned out we could make that work out to the right length to fit the poster quite well, but in the end, it was perfect, even to the degree that we could get Rafel Majka to occur right over the Alps, for this, the 101st running of the Tour de France.
During each day’s printing of the posters, we overprint each color run onto a set of posters we refer to as composites. This year we will include them as an integral part of the deluxe 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 4 times longer to print. The amount of ink makes these prints distinctly heavier.