Today was the start of my “chase the Tour de France” week, in which I’ll be racing around the french countryside hoping to see the last 7 stages of the great bike race. With my new friend Liz, whom I met while learning french in Toulouse, we headed out to Foix to watch the finish of stage 14. Here’s how it went…
There was childish excitement when we arrived by train in Foix around 10am. Foix has a pretty castle on a hill and stunning views of surrounding mountains. The kind you probably wouldn’t want to ride a bike over, in my humble opinion.
We found the flamme rouge (the 1km-to-go mark) while there were still no crowds and jumped the barriers to take photos of each other underneath it. Then we wandered in the direction of Centre Ville to find the finish (via a surprising amount of fruit juice and tasty artisan biscuits from a friendly shop owner who apologised profusely for initially thinking my flag was british).
Having found the finish area still suprisingly uncrowded at that time of the morning, we took up a spot on the barriers about 10m before the finish line, and settled in for the long wait. The folding chair purchased last week has already proved useful.
During the 6 hours we waited there, we watched the making of a french movie about cycling (including guest appearances from french cycling royalty Bernard Hinault and Laurent Jalabert, and starring appearances from apparently famous french actors we didn’t recognise), battled with impolite barrier barger-innerers, picked up some useless freebies, then confounded the freebie distributers by trying to refuse any more (the yellow hat giver wasn’t to be denied though – lucky Liz!), saw a (non-tdf) cyclist take a nasty tumble and leave in an ambulance, got excited when the team buses arrived, watched a couple of dancing troupes, didn’t win any prizes by failing to answer trivia questions about tour sponsors, tested our french trying to decipher the periodic verbal race updates, saw the future of french cycling arrive in the form of a juniors race, spotted more cycling royalty (like Richard Virenque, and Mike Tomalaris… same realm right?!), waved like fools in the background of a few live camera shots (did anyone see us on Eurosports?), and welcomed the arrival of the publicity caravan as a sign that the race must be getting closer.
Turns out a lot goes on around the finish during the day that you never see on television!!
Text updates from mum watching on SBS in Australia were handy to clarify our sometimes muddy understanding of the french commentary.. particularly when there were repeated mentions of Cadel Evans “en difficulte”.
And finally, the riders arrived! Whoosh…! Luis Leon Sanchez, celebrating. Well done that man – redeeming what has been an awful tour for Rabobank. We stayed on the barriers and cheered right through to the guys in much later groups (like much of the Orica GreenEdge team!) who arrived looking decidedly damp, cold and tired, after all the formalities on the podium were already finished for the day. Another amazing effort from every single cyclist.
And, just as quickly as they had arrived, the team cars loaded with bikes and the huge team coaches were on their way out again – off to get ready for another stage tomorrow. As are we!
If you’re watching at home, tomorrow we hope to catch stage 15 somewhere between the feed zone and the intermediate sprint – hopefully less crowded than today! Then we’re heading up into the Pyrennees for our own rest day – at Bareges, a tiny ski town half way up the Tourmalet where we’ll watch stage 16 on Wednesday. If I can find wifi there, I’ll keep you updated as the adventure unfolds!!
Vive le tour!