Our day at the Tour de France.


Well as the nation bemoans the lack of medals in the men’s cycling road race, I bring you a nostalgic view of the heyday of British road racing:

22/07/12….

Background.

H and I have been watching the Tour de France on TV for many years. Before or at least in-between, any British interest. Was on Channel4 before ITV. We are not experts but have got to understand the races within the race, the tactics, the protocols.. Let’s just say that we reckon the room is bugged as the commentators repeat what we have said a few seconds earlier. I can also claim, as a half-Belgian, to have pretended to be Eddy Merckx when on holiday in the Belgian Ardennes…

We have wanted to go to the Tour for a number of years but never quite got round to it. I blame the late start to the English school holidays. Anyway, as a previous holiday plan collapsed we opted for the last day of the Tour. This is back in January….We book a hotel [more on this in Paris post 

We arrive at St Pancras to catch the Eurostar on Saturday, leaving us with enough time to have a drink (or two) at the Betjeman’s Arms

and catch up on the news in L’Equipe and Mark Cavendish’s great stage win. Also in the paper-;Wiggo le froggy- evidence that the French adopted our Brad- and an add from Welcome to Yorkshire supporting the campaign to start the Tour in, eh, Yorkshire.. (Support le bid is our attempt to speak French….)

Viewpoint Anxiety Syndrome.

We arrived on the scene with plenty of time to spare.

So where exactly should we stand? I suspect this a common anxiety shared by many- what if we miss out? Why is no one else standing here? (early days..) What if someone else gets a better view? I’ll feel stupid….

H got it right. I was all for marching up the Champs- which would have involved a considerable extra walk with no turning back. (Crowds growing..)

We ended up at the Place de La Concorde, about 600m from the finishing line:

Just before Wiggo pealed off after having lead Cav out… Turned out to be the almost ideal spot, We could see the racers coming down from the Champs on the other side of the place-saw the peloton catch up with the leaders- and a big screen showed us the rest of the race. When we saw, on the screen, that they were headed down the tunnel, we knew we would see them soon. Within touching distance…

There was much amusement as a race car actually stopped here: (before the race…)

(This is where Bradley spun off after leading out Cav..)

This was our view, before the crowds came, of the cyclists coming round from the tunnel:

But come they did..

(More on the crowds later….

Caravanserai-publicity, hype and hoopla.

What you don’t get from the TV coverage is the incredible hype and hoopla which precedes the actual race arriving.  About 2 hrs before the race arrived, approximately 200 vehicles paraded and advertised the sponsor’s goods; from the quirky and very French-

to the brash and macho…

It is with great regret that I have to announce that I appear to have deleted the photo of the CGT car  (Wiki page)

Crowds, courtesy and comments.

Inevitably, there was a huge British presence in the crowd. Many were cycling fans who happened to be British and just glad to have some British cyclists in winning positions to cheer for. Others however were British first and foremost and knew very little about the sport. One couple we spoke to had only decided to come the day before, knowing that Brad had all but won the maillot jaune. Another English couple,stood next to us at the barrier, just happened to be in Paris and drifted over. They asked me to explain what would be happening and I gave them a potted history. The woman then asked me to “point out” the cyclists as they went passed. I pointed out that they would be going rather fast but did helpfully point out that Bradley would be wearing a yellow top… They expressed their dismay at 2.00pm when we pointed out the cyclists would not be coming round until about 4.00pm. “What’s taking them so long?” H pointed out that they had a few miles to cycle before getting to Paris… Still, to their credit, they stayed the course and seemed to enjoy themselves…

I’m not sure why this couple came along.

They pushed their way towards the front, apparently oblivious to the fact that we might need to move abit every so often. They sat down, opened two umbrellas and proceeded to read their Kindles. They did stand up when the race came, took some photos and left after 2 circuits…

Unfortunately, this couple were replaced by an Australian women who pushed in and said: “How’s Cadel doing?” I began to explain before she added: ” I haven’t followed cycling for the last 5 years..” She then asked me if she could come to the front to take a few photos. I then pointed out that, no she couldn’t- we had been there for about 7 hrs. This brought nods of approval from those around us….

What gets me though is that people think that they have a right to taking a photo however inconvenient this is for those around them….


This bloke pushed in from nowhere…Oh well…. which brings me at last to the race…

I didn’t take that many photos in the end. After all, I had gone to Paris to see and hear the tour live, not just to watch it through a viewfinder. Nor was I prepared to obscure the view of those who, like us, had been waiting for hours to watch the race…

Tommy Voekler got a huge round of applause from cycle fans of all nationalities….

Early leaders….

The peloton on the first lap…

The noise, proximity, speed was just breathtaking… as they negotiate the bend…

And round again they come… relentless

Liquigas get themselves organised..

As do Team sky….

This is what, in our household, we call the “Kelly Holmes” moment. Have they left it too late to catch up with the leaders? In the Tour de France they did of course but I have no photos of this as I just watched and enjoyed……

We saw Bradley’s speech on the big screen, joined the Slovakians in applauding Sagan, joined everyone in applauding Voekler and of course another victory for Cav on the Champs…,.

We walked back to the hotel in the blazing sun- exhausted, burnt but with a sense of joy at having been there…

A final note on nationalism and sport. Will the same number of British folk support Mark Cavendish if, as rumoured, he goes to a Belgian based team next year? Do some people realise that the British victories were due to the support of Australians, an Austrian, a Norwegian? There were flags from all nations and I am pleased that cycling has such a high profile in Britain today (despite the Olympic men’s road race..) But I hope these new British fans respect the traditions of the Tour, as Bradley did when he slowed the peleton to allow the puncture Cadel to finish on the same time….. Vive le Tour!

And yes Mr reporter, some English people can speak French…..

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