Le Tour de France
All the episodes up to now have been written from Caroline’s view-point, but this one is written by John.
July 14th 2017, Bastille Day, and Le Tour de France came past. Stage 13 was unique this year in that it was wholly in the Ariege. Starting in Saint Girons and only (!) 100km in length, the stage would pass our current abode. Should I go and watch?
Now I haven’t done “stupid” for a long time – though some might disagree – and as I thought about where best to watch the stage, I began to get my stupid idea.
The stage was finishing in Foix, the local “county town”. Watching the finish would be a nice book-end to my first experience of the tour, when we watched a stage start from Pamiers back in 2010. So into the Tourist office we went, to ask about car parking and other such boring stuff. Only a fortnight to go and yet they did not have a thing. No information at all. Well that was not very helpful for someone who has to plan such stuff like a military exercise!
I decided to go up to the Col de Port, and watch the race from the road junction just beyond the Col. We took run up there and found a super little area by the road where some trails led into the woods and where a car could be parked, no trouble. But just how early should I get there? I had no idea. I came back to my “stupid” thought – I’d sleep in the car. Provisions packed in the cold box and park up in the woods. Simple!
During the days before the event I was getting more and more impatient for Friday to arrive, so Wednesday/Thursday were spent organising everything and Thursday after lunch I went off, Caroline wondering if I was stupid, or certifiable.
When I arrived, the place was already heaving! Half of Europe had the same idea except they had got there earlier. I managed to find a parking space in the woods, about 500 yards off the main road and settled down to a fine afternoon with my neighbours, a German Physics teacher from Bremen, with his wife and two children.
Trying to have a relatively restrained evening so as not to spoil the following day was challenging, but after a surprisingly good night’s sleep, I awoke early, which enabled me to get one or two “domestic” issues sorted before the world and his pal woke up.
A local farmer, who just happened to be English, had set up an area for food and drink, and by 08:30, I had managed to get a couple of cups of coffee down me, and I was feeling quite good – almost excited!
Already, people were setting out their spectating spots, and I was uncertain just how necessary this would be. Surely there couldn’t be that much of a problem? Well by 09:30 I decided I needed to join them, and seeing a nice little spot close to a chap with a trilby hat in the Tricolours I tested my French and asked if he wanted an English neighbour. By all means, he said, and introduced his two sons. They were over from Montpelier, had also arrived the night before, and had slept in their van down in the woods.
I’m glad I took this approach because it allowed me to move around with reasonable comfort, knowing that my spot and associated clobber were relatively secure. Now, what were we to do for the next seven hours?! The cyclists were not due to come past until 16:30 according to the race planners. But the time absolutely flew by.
I was amongst people from literally all over the world. Rob and Colleen from Philadelphia; Jason and his pals from Sherston Cycling club near Bath; Martin and his pals from Toulouse; a lady whose name I never did get, from Adelaide via Andorra; and thousands of others.
Of course, the Tour is famous for the caravanne that precedes the cyclists. Sponsors throw out gifts to the crowd, causing a manic grab for the goodies. It is the hors d’oeuvres for the main course, and we did not have long to wait.
After what seemed like only a few minutes since I had set out my little chair, the approach of cyclists was heralded by the caravanne, then car after car of all descriptions, carrying officials, press, spare cycles, team members and all manner of hangers-on, not to mention an increase in the attentions of the gendarmes who until now had been very relaxed.
Then, with a surge of energy that approached like a tidal wave from lower down the slopes, the cyclists came into view. I am getting goose bumps from the memory of seeing them coming towards us as I type. Only two – but not a bad pair – Mikel Landa (Sky) and Alberto Contador (Trek) out on their own.
Now should I watch or should I try to take photos? I had to go with the photos, and fortunately they turned out OK, I think. That’s me in the white shirt!
Blimey, they’ve got quite a lead. But the next group soon appeared, and I recognised the rider leading, Nairo Quintana (Movistar). I busily clicked away as he seemed to be looking straight at me.
Another gap before the next group. Dan Martin (Quick Step), Fabien Aru (Astana) in the yellow jersey, and Chris Froome (Sky) hiding in the middle of the bunch.
Another gap, another bunch, and I just had to trust to my luck with the camera as they were coming fast and furious. One spectator close by me got knocked over by a car or motor cycle. No-one stopped. They don’t, they can’t. It’s a tidal wave carrying all before. It’s like nothing I have witnessed (and participated in?). It’s fantastic! (Colleen was OK by the way, just shaken).
After about twenty minutes, the last of the riders came by; the domestiques and sprinters, whose job today was just to get home within the time limits. They will have their day in Paris. Today was for the grimpeurs.
I might have to do that again next year?
This blog is based on truth but for privacy and security many of the names have been changed and some of the story may be embellished at times for dramatic effect.