Saturday, 21 July 2012

Our day with le Tour

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:


  1. We had ringside seats when the Tour came through a neighbouring village some years back.
    A friend's cousin put up a rickety stage in his front garden so we could see over the heads of the people in front of his house.

    Like you, I find the tactics interesting and I have to admit to cynical amusement at the claims by French journalists that the Tour this year is boring....could it be the British successes...?
    Slaps hand.

    1. I am really enjoying the French coverage. The polk dot jersey has had massive coverage.... Frenchman in the lead, the number of French stage wins is up this year and amazingly, very little on the refusal of the Frenchman to hold back and wait for Cadel Evans to rejoin the main bunch on the day of the tacks attack. The french family we ended up sitting with by the roadside however were brilliant, and cheered for wiggins alongside us. They seemed quite delighted for us that a Brit was leading and in fact in second place too. J

    2. That's why I'm surprised at the claims that this year's Tour is boring...far from, I should have thought.

  2. We love it too.
    In fact we arrived at LP-P an hour or so ago and one of the first things Tim did was to turn the live coverage on immediately after turning on the water and electricity!
    Hope and expect Wiggins to win and what a fantastic achievement it will be for him and his supportive team.

    Did you see Cavendish win the sprint yesterday. His power and acceleration were phenomenal.

    Thanks for sharing your day. Off to unpack...

    1. So glad you have made it over here... that must have been a quick get away ! we watched the sprint finish yesterday, what a hero ! Enjoy your first evening back in France, and keep everything crossed for Bradley. J

    2. A stroll, a shower, some bread&cheese and an early night.

      Today I can't wait to get out to enjoy the sun and toast Bradley and the Sky team with a glass or two of bubbles.... fingers crossed!

  3. I love the jersey-shaped bunting!

  4. Brilliant isn't it ? Wiggins has just won the time trial on the day before the final day in barring disasters, he's done it. J.

  5. Interesting Janice that as a cyclist I dont quite have the same facination of le Tour as you and Mark - I follow it but it is way down on the priority list. However if I found myself in France and it was passing nearby I would make the effort but to sit and watch it on TV - well that doesnt do it for me (although I watched the time trials today arriving in Chartres where Hannah and I visited last year or was it the year before? Anyhow,that was the first time I sat down to watch any of it!!). Its great you have bikes - how have you have resisted an outing on Canal du midi or up into the hills? Keep them oiled for when we visit in August.

    1. We also have a book about cycle rides on the canal du midi that one of our neighours gave us when we moved in....all waiting for you Rick. Nothing is more exciting than watching Cav appear from nowhere. You are missing out ! x

  6. I was a bit miffed that Spanish tv showed le Tour, rather than Wimbledon and haven't really got into it at all, though I am so glad Bradley Wiggins has, barring disasters as you say, done it this year. (Partly cos with a name like his, you'd have to make your mark on the world.) I loved this post, though, impossible not to share your excitement - and have always followed le Tour in previous years but with the Lance Armstrong allegations on top of so many others, I just feel a bit disillusioned now - clearly so many of the performances have been supported by illegal substances. Driven to win at all costs isn't quite cricket, or cycling, is it?


    1. Did you ever read James Waddington's "Bad to the Bone" ? I found it a difficult read, but the drug culture of cycling in previous, if quite recent, times, was brilliantly depicted.
      I am optimistic ( about most things) and like to think that the allegations about Armstrong are actually from the past, and that there are now cyclists whose drug is adrenilin, naturally formed from their commitment, focus and incredible physical fitness....along with their chess skills, obviously.
      It was a great day out. Now I'm looking forward to the prospect of Cav winning in Paris. Jxxx

  7. Bravo, dear Janice, I feel like I was there with you, especially those wondrous three minutes! Your photos are spectacular and the video a treat. How I admire your sense of fun and staying in the moment.

    Those banners are fabulous. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy your time there now with Mark.

    1. Thanks Penny, I did get a little excited.... at the very end of the video you can hear me say " we saw him"..... I was genuinley excited and thrilled and very emotional ! Today is the last day of le Tour, and it is traditionally just a formality that the person in the lead on the penultimate day is not challenged for the leadership on the last day. There will be a sprint finish for the stage win, but that will not affect Bradley Wiggin's overall position. So later today, there will be tears of emotion, and some champagne.....s long as he doesn't fall off his bike. J.

  8. I can understand your enthusiasm. I'm not a sporty person but I have watched the Tour on occasion. Many years ago we were fortunate to be holidaying in France in a gite and the cyclists passed through the nearby village. There was such a big build up and then whoosh it was all over! Vey exciting though!

  9. A splendid post, Janice - super photos and such a strong sense of atmosphere. The Tour came through our bit of Normandy last year, but I'm afraid I didn't go to watch......

    1. It was a great day out. I'm pretty sure we will make the effort every year when we are out here. It is somehting I have always wanted to do. I hope the weather has settled for you now. J.