“We need to study this on our end, and I promise we’ll do what we can,” Prudhomme replied, according to Dufouleur. “If you do all you can on your end, I promise that you’ll get this.”
The men shook hands, but there was a long way to go.
Prudhomme, 56, makes the final decision on the route personally each year, with input from his organization’s sports officials. Aside from a few certainties — climbing stages in the Alps and the Pyrenees and the finish in Paris — the race’s structure allows for considerable flexibility. In an email, Prudhomme said his broad aims were to visit each region of France at least once every five years and to chart a course that is aesthetically pleasing but also physically and intellectually challenging, so that teams feel encouraged to employ interesting tactics.
Officials from A.S.O. are famously secretive as they move around France evaluating potential sites. In the years after the group dinner in 2011, Cartron kept his eye out for clues that Nuits-Saint-George might be under consideration. He convinced himself, for instance, that every stranger in town driving a Skoda — a car company that sponsors the race — was a Tour official on a clandestine scouting assignment.
But Cartron also gently worked on Prudhomme, giving him periodic calls, writing him official proposal letters and sending him Christmas cards with pictures of the town. Finally, last spring, Cartron received a call from Prudhomme, who asked if he was still interested in having the Tour. Cartron said yes, and to his surprise, Prudhomme told him there was an A.S.O. official already waiting in town, ready to discuss the project.
Prudhomme said the factors in picking Nuits-Saint-Georges included the local officials’ enthusiasm, the town’s accessibility to roadways, and the existing brand recognition from the local wine industry.
“The name of the city, world famous, lent the Tour a certain grandeur,” he said.
Towns pay fees to A.S.O. for the opportunity to host — 60,000 euros (about $68,000) for a start and €110,000 for a finish, according to Prudhomme — but they commonly expect to make back around three to six times their investment. Cartron said the total outlay for the Nuits-Saint-Georges project this year has been 180,000 euros — just over $200,000. Much of the money came from the regional government.
Arguably more important than the immediate economic bump is the global marketing potential. Television viewership over the three-week race numbers in the billions — with glamorous footage from the ground and air broadcast to 190 countries worldwide — and hundreds of journalists follow the race from stage to stage, and town to town.
“Having a tour stage is probably the best publicity you can do for a small town,” said Andy Schleck, a former Tour de France winner whose hometown, Mondorf-les-Bains, Luxembourg, was another first-time host this year, handling the start of the fourth stage earlier this week. (Incidentally, Schleck said that the riders might be the only people involved who are utterly indifferent, or oblivious, to the host locales. He recently watched footage from the 2011 race. “All that beautiful scenery,” he said. “I don’t remember seeing any of that.”)
Down in Nuits-Saint-Georges, the yarn-bombing ladies took Tuesday off — they had plans, they said, to meet for wine and frog legs — but were back at work Wednesday decorating signposts, trash bins and trees around town.
Each day brought some new decorative flourish: colorful wreaths, painted storefronts, bicycles artistically draped in flowers or hung from apartment windows. An intern at the town’s tourism office spent a full day blowing up balloons as she attended to visitors.
The outlook from local businesses ranged from skeptical to cautiously hopeful; either way, they prepared to seize the opportunity. The bakers at Boulangerie Pâtisserie Saint Georges planned to start baguette production at 1 a.m. on Friday. Nathalie Meyers, 52, the owner of the Ascott Pub, said she would open her bar at 8 a.m., nine hours earlier than usual, and guessed she could make a little less than half her normal monthly revenue in the one day.
The mayor’s office asked the wineries to keep their tasting rooms open late into the night.
“We get publicity for the town, it gets publicity for the region, and of course, for the Nuits-Saint-Georges brand,” said Dufouleur, who noted, too, that fans of cycling were not necessarily connoisseurs of wine.