Mark and I have always enjoyed following the Tour de France. Neither of us cycle ( we have bikes, but rarely use them ), but somehow the extreme nature of a race over 3 weeks, thousands of kilometres, mountains, valleys, through the heat and sometimes through the snow often leading to one person beating another by just seconds, holds a fascination for both of us.
|our bikes, stored and rarely used.....|
It is impossible to talk about le Tour without recognising that it has been tied up with drug abuse scandals. Even this year, when everyone is saying what a clean tour it is, Schlek has retired following a failed test, and of course the court case surrounding Lance Armstrong’s string of victories in the recent past still continues. They are strange men, they are driven , and they are so focussed. It is hoped that the rigour of testing today means that it is now cleaner than ever before.
|a sculpture inherited from my friend Darlyn|
I love the tactics. It is never just 198 individuals trying to beat each other. It is like chess. I love the way teams support their sprinters through their lead out experts. I love the way team leaders are supported through the days they may have stomach upsets, or following crashes when they are battered and bruised. I love the way les domestiques fall back to pick up water and give up their bikes if their team leader needs it. I love the mountain climbers complete dedication to pushing those pedals round, pulling themselves top the mountain tops, and I love the way there is always a Frenchman in the break away when they are trying to hold off the peleton. I love watching the peleton pull back the break away, and the thrill of the cat and mouse games between leaders of a break away that may actually make it to the end without being caught.
Watching Mark Cavendish over the last couple of years has been thrilling. This year, the world champion has been sacrificing his potential stage wins for the greater good of the team, and to support Bradley Wiggins. To see him emerge from a bunch finish, as if from nowhere, is one of the most exciting sporting moments for me.
In previous summers, we have watched the UK coverage, and then caught a few stages on French TV or radio, sometimes in rented French holiday homes or in bars, when we have been in France.
This year I have been in France for the whole Tour and on 15th July, Mark and I went to Chalabre, to watch part of the stage that went from Limoux to Foix, as part of the spell in the Pyrenees.
We arrived in the village as the local cafes were getting ready for the day. Handpainted banners were set up, and people started to settle in their viewing spots for the day.
We found a great corner, thinking it would be a good place to see them all sweep into the town. By 10.00 am we were settled, near enough to cafes to pop in for fresh coffee and trips to the loo, and able to watch as the crowds grew, and les gendarmes and les pompiers chatted with everyone, occasionally, suggesting that people sit behind the great straw barriers on the corner, rather than in front of them.
The atmosphere was great. We chatted with a lovely French couple and their elderly friend who had lumbago and had to be helped in and out of her very comfy deck chair beside the road. Then, at about 1pm, the caravan arrived. Over a hundred advertisers in specially designed floats and other vehicles sped through the town, distributing freebies as they went. Key rings, hats, t-shirts, newspapers, bottles of water, and all manner of sugary sweets were thrown from the moving vehicles. It was quite sensible to avoid the bottles of water as they were dangerously lobbed into the crowd.
Everyone laughed, and the anticipated arrival of the bike race itself grew noisily in the crowd. Rumours abounded…they were minutes away, there was a break away, they had only just left Limoux, Sagan was in the break away, Sky had it all under control……etc etc.
Finally, 3 riders flashed past us, one was in lime green, that was Sagan, then less than 30 seconds later the yellow jersey group swept around our corner. Bradley Wiggins was easily seen, wearing the leader’s yellow.
|the peleton zooming past us|
|Wiggo in yellow|
He was surrounded by the Sky team, although they went past so quickly we didn’t manage to see if Cav was with them, in his world champion’s colours. Less than a minute later, the rest of the peleton went past us…….and it was over. In 3 minutes, the race had passed us, another minute later they had left Chalabre and were on their way to the steep mountains of the high Pyrenees.
|a street banner with the green, polka dot and yellow jerseys|
We later discovered that controversy had struck as some idiot had thrown tacks onto the road and many of the leaders had punctures. Cadel Evans had 3. Wiggins, doing what the yellow jersey is supposed to do, made the peleton re gather together and hold back, waiting for Evans to catch up. It didn’t go down well with other than French supporters, when the leading French rider claimed not to have heard the Wiggins’ call for the hold back. He sped off to try to catch the breakaway, and some glory for France. He was caught before the end, and ignored by the peleton as they swept him up near the end.
|a group of Wiggo supporters|
It was an amazing day. Wiggins stayed in the yellow jersey, won considerable respect from the organisers and other riders for controlling the race after the tack attack…..and was generally magnificent.
(Apologies for the length of this post, I wanted to have a record of our day and my thoughts about it. Blogging has become a little like a diary for me at the moment.)
Added a week later....with the final result known:
Added a week later....with the final result known: