Monday, August 5, 2013

July 21 - Tour de France

I have mixed feelings about today.  On the one hand I’m a little bit sad.  This is our last day of what has been a fantastic adventure.  Just the two of us with no agenda making our way around this beautiful country.   Man, do I get the saying, “How you gonna keep ‘em on the farm...”  On the other hand I’m completely stoked.  Today is the raison d'etre.  The climactic finale to the Tour de France!!  
Here we go!!

We strike out early on foot for the hotel lobby where we pick up our “invitations”,  AKA our tickets for the grandstands. Custom Getaways was the company we went through to secure our seats.

 Our area will not open until 5 pm so we head out for a hearty breakfast then return to the apartment & crash for most of the day.  We decide to be in place at 4 since the seating is first come first served.  Our invitations are necessary to even get in the area of the grandstands.  I’m glad we splurged on this; there are people who have been lined up at the barriers up & down the Champs Élysées since this morning to hold a good spot.  As we are waiting to enter we see BOB ROLL walk by!!  I muster up some courage & ask if we can get some photos.  He is obliging and we are thrilled!  For those who don’t know; when we watch the TdF at home Bob is one of the main commentators.  He was a teammate to Lance Armstrong in the early years.  His goofy but knowledgeable personality makes him one of my favorites.  

The excitement is building here as the announcer is practicing his English over the PA system to announce the winners.  Soon the gate is opened and we are among the first in.  We are greeted by beautiful young hostesses who present us with  a gift, a commemorative candle and bracelets so we can move freely around the area.   We find two seats in the shade & settle in for some pre-race entertainment.  One thing they do that I think is great; hold youth races on the course.  Not only must this be such a thrill for them, but it allows the coordinators the opportunity to test all of the equipment before the Tour arrives.  

A big part of the Tour is what is known as the “caravan”.  Sponsors have come up with elaborate vehicles to promote their businesses.  Usually attractive young people are throwing out samples of product or in some way promoting the companies and it is a real carnival type atmosphere.  When the caravan arrives you know the Tour isn’t far behind & the energy bumps up a notch.  

We have followed as best we can on local TV as the riders have snaked their way around France.  Mostly all I can make out in the French broadcasts is the names of the riders & the stages.  Thanks to technology we’ve been able to find English transmissions online to pick up the details.   

Today the riders will take it easy on their way to Paris from Versailles.  They will pose for lots of photos & even drink a little champagne.  One of the riders,  Juaquim Rodriguez whose nickname is purito, or little cigar, hands out cigars to the leaders.   It is an easy going  party until they reach the Champs Élysées.  

One thing that is confusing to many; the winner of today’s stage won’t be the winner of the tour.  The tour is a 21 day race and the overall winner and the one who earns the yellow jersey (the GC or General Classification) has the lowest cumulative time.  The winner of the tour this year has already been decided and today’s stage is mostly symbolic.  Christopher Froome has been in yellow since the 8th stage.  It is hard not to suspect him of doping in the post-Lance era.  He has grown weary of being bombarded with these types of questions each day.  He was a favorite to win, last year he was second on the podium and many thought he would have won if he wasn’t riding to support his teammate, Bradly Wiggins who took yellow.

We had high hopes for Alberto Contador this year but he saw his chances slip away and now won’t even be on the podium.

 There are other prizes besides the yellow jersey.  The Green Jersey is for the rider who has won the most sprint points.  Throughout the race there have been flat out drag races at strategic points along the route.  Today’s finish will be a sprint.  Although Peter Sagan is so far ahead in the points, no one will take the green jersey from him, it is highly prestigious to win at the finish.   Particularly since this is the 100th TdF.  

By far the most exciting rider to watch this year has been Nairo Quintana.  He has a wonderful rags to riches rise to stardom.  He is from a very humble family from the Colombian Andes.  His family scrimped to buy him a second hand bike so he could ride the 9 miles to school as a child.  This is his first Tour de France and he has slowly built to a stellar finish.  On yesterday’s stage he sealed his fate as the winner of the white jersey, best young rider (he’s 23) the polka-dot jersey, best climber and he is now in 2nd place overall.  Yesterday he won the stage on Colombian Independence Day!!

Our seats are fantastic.  We are just a few yards beyond the finish line.  The Tour will make 10 loops on the Champs Élysées which means we will have 20 opportunities to see the riders whiz by.  Once the helicopter is spotted overhead we know it won’t be long.  We are able to watch the progress on the jumbotron right across from us so we know they are almost here.  Soon the motorcycles fly by and with the crowd screaming at a fever pitch the peleton makes its first pass right in front of us.  Some of the people in the stands have been complaining that they can’t see but there is no sitting down when the riders blast by.  Soon we are down at the barriers, on our feet for the remainder of the stage.  Thank god for the jumbotron.  Try as I might, the riders are so fast (about 40 mph) I can’t make out individuals.  They are one blurry, colorful mass. 

There are certain riders I’m hoping to spot; Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Peter Sagan of course.  Chris Froome is easy to pick out because of the yellow jersey (that’s how they came up with it in the first place, to help spot the race leader in the mass).  Also, Mark Cavendish, the “Manx Missile” who’s hoping to make his 5th sprint win in Paris today.  His main challengers are Sagan, Andre Greipel and Marcel Kittel.  Some of them I think I recognize but I really can’t be sure.  It doesn’t matter, it’s just so thrilling to witness this live.   Soon they are down to the final lap and the pace intensifies.  One wrong micro-adjustment at this pace and disaster could strike.  No such drama today though and in the end it is Kittel who wins by half a wheel length.  

I was videoing the finish & just continued to let the camera roll when this happened!!  That is the Tour winner Chris Froome being bombarded by the press just as he rolls across the finish& stops just in front of us!

Jens Voigt, the oldest rider on the Tour at 41, parks it right in front of us for an interview

Alberto Contador( I THINK!!)
This is the first ever night-time finish for the Tour and there has been suspense building about what they will do.  Fireworks maybe?  Actually a lighting designer has put together a magnificent projection on the Arc de Triumphe to go along with the awards ceremony.

Once again we are in a fantastic spot for viewing that as well!  This day has more than lived up to its expectations.  I am so glad we did this!

The podium

All too soon it is time make our way home .  Tomorrow we leave for home and this wonderful adventure comes to a close.  This will surely go down as one of the best vacations of my life!!  Thanks for following along.  Now I just need to scrimp & save until next time!

Last view from our apartment
Au Revoir Paris!

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