Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chasing Le Tour

A very unexpected side benefit of spending a week in Hirtzbach was the news from Heather’s cousin that we would be in the vicinity of one of the stages of the Tour de France. To back up a bit, when we were in South Africa and had our fateful day of driving with Cam Brown, one of the things Cam shared was that he and his family were big into the cycling world. When we said we would be in France in early July, he pointed out to us that was when the Tour de France was on. He spoke of how cool an event it is, and encouraged us to check it out if possible. So ever since South Africa it has been a blip on our radar screen. Not enough of a blip to purposefully adjust our itinerary, but hey, if it was going to be in our backyard then we would be foolish not to go!

A bit of research on the Tour de France site showed that the local segment would start in a town called Belfort and wrap up at a place called Porrentruy. The cyclists would be traveling 157km for the day, but since we had a car we figured we would head for the start line and then make our way as well to the finish. One good way to sell the idea to the kids was emphasizing one aspect of the tour that I wasn’t aware of - the caravan. Cam had explained to us that a caravan of sponsor vehicles goes out in front of the cyclists and tosses promotional goodies to the crowds that line the route.

Once we arrived in Belfort it quickly became apparent how big a deal this was. The tour route changes every year, and it is a big boost to the smaller towns to be one of the stops. We saw posters advertising not just the tour, but the specifics of the Belfort stage.

We came across the finish/start staging area as well as the riders village and of course, the souvenir booth.

After a little exploration, shopping, and staking out our space, it was time for the caravan. Back home we are used to things like these moving in a somewhat slow pace, casually handing out items to bystanders. Not here. The cars whooshed by us as small projectiles were hurled our way. After a bit we realized that if the car was beside us already when it threw something it was already too late. We started to adjust our sights, when poof - suddenly the caravan had moved on down the road. Got to admit - just a bit disappointing.

Next up after a brief wait was the actual race. We had were stationed around the corner and down a bit from the actual start line. We saw the flashing lights and the motorcycles coming, and then suddenly there was a mass grouping of people in spandex. As we looked to focus on the famous “yellow jersey” we were struck by two things - how tightly packed the riders were, and how quickly they were gone. They were followed by their entourages with other bikes and equipment, as well as numerous other vehicles.

Once Belfort was done it was time to move onto Porrentruy. We had rented a GPS for our week in the Alsace to relieve some driving stress and were surprised that it didn’t come up when we tried to enter it. We had already seen directional signs, so off we went going old-school on how to get there. After a couple of turns we realized the error - Porrentruy wasn’t in France after all. It was in Switzerland! A recalibration of the GPS quickly followed as we again embraced the new school.

Once there we found our spot and awaited the riders. I wandered down to have a look at the finish line and was again amazed at the logistics involved in setting this up. Especially as they do this for 23 days!

I made my way back as the caravan was passing by. We were there too late to get the good hat/shirt schwag, but I was able to catch a couple of the flung projectiles and bring them back to the kids. They were already well in hand scooping up assorted goodies.

Suddenly we could hear the whirl of the helicopters that we had seen at the start of the section and we knew the riders were on their way.

This time the pack was well spaced out (as you would expect after 157km). The stage leader rode by on his own, accompanied by 4 motorbikes and a car with back-up bikes. 

We saw the second and third place riders locked in a dead heat, and from there on there would be smatterings of riders coming by, some closer than perhaps we expected!

It was truly amazing just how close you could get! But just like at the start, the last rider went by and it was now time to trek back to France and continue our Alsace adventure.

1 comment:

  1. Is that Simon who just about got his arm taken off when he was leaning over the rail? I thought he would be safe by staying away from Pamploma!!