It was a hard decision to make to detour to see the Tour de France again. We had a great time last year, but it’s also requires a lot of dedication for a very short view of action. But, we have the motorhome this year, and thought it would be fun, so we went towards Nuits-Saint-Georges, the ending of the seventh stage of the tour.
Even though I’d continued driving for an hour or two after Annecy, we still had over 200km to drive to get to the end of the stage. We gave up on the smaller roads, and hit the motorway. Just before the motorway entrance, we heard a really loud vibration from the front of the car. I slowed down, and it went away. I drove a little further, and it came back again. I stopped in a small shady car park and tried to understand where it was coming from. The only thing I noticed was the C.V. boot had come loose again, and it was low on grease. I repacked it, getting my hands filthy once again. We took the van for another quick test drive, and the noise didn’t return. I didn’t think that it was coming from the C.V, as it was happening on the straight, not while hard turning, but the sound had gone, so we cautiously jumped on the motorway.
The first 20 or 30 km were driven very cautiously, listening for the faintest hint of that sound returning. But, the car was driving really well. There must have been a tailwind, because Gunter was driving so well we were actually being held up by the 90kph limited trucks, and we were overtaking them en masse.
We’d experienced the problems with road closures last year, so we were cautious to get in position as early as possible. The maps provided on the official site were laughably hard to read, so it took a little searching to find where we could see the race. We started noticing official cars, and some signs pointing towards the finish. We knew that our van would be difficult to park in the small finishing town, so when we chanced on a small town with a large motorhome parking area 3km from the finish, we made the most of it.
The time schedule said we had over an hour before the caravan was going to pass by, so we had lunch first. It was much the same as last year, with dozens of different sponsors in specially designed cars throwing (actually throwing) small gifts to the crowd. Many of the gifts were not worth receiving, like small key rings, but there were also some much finer swag, like t-shirts and hats.
Oh, and specially branded (and much needed water), which they thankfully didn’t throw from fast moving cars, like last year – because they were like rolling bombs.
Some of the spectators took the swag collection a little too seriously, running, jumping, and pushing to get their trinkets. I wasn’t going to get into a scuffle over a free ball point pen, so I let them have their enjoyment – and moved further away from them. Unsurprisingly, these same people disappeared when the caravans finished, seemingly uninterested in watching the race.
It was a bit of fun trying to catch the goodies, and we ended up with quite a haul this year.
It was still brutally hot, and we were still suffering in the sunshine. The weather application on our phones said 36 degrees, and I didn’t disagree. There was still some time before the race passed by, so we returned to the van with the loot, filled up with more water, and tried to find a strategic point to watch the race.
It was getting crowded in town – especially the places in the shade – so we walked a little further up the hill, ending at the top of the small climb, at the 2km to the finish sign.
We started seeing the helicopters hovering in the distance, and the team and officials cars started flying past. We knew the riders were getting closer. I was following a live commentary feed on my phone, and saw that the breakaway had been caught, and the teams were positioning for a sprint finish.
We were at the top of a small incline, hoping that this would give us a slightly longer view of the riders. It might have been, but it was a matter of seconds from seeing them, to being deafened by the sound of nearly 200 bikes travelling at speeds around 60kph. It was a blur of colour, and impossible to pick individual riders out from the pack.
There were a few lagging riders that had completed their job, getting their sprinter into position to fight for the win, energy spent and now cruising the last few thousand meters to the finish with their finish time being of no importance.
It’s impossible to summarise just how fast this race passed us. It’s also hard to justify spending the majority of a day, waiting to watch what amounts to seconds of action.
I hoped that we’d be close enough to the end of the race that friends would see us on TV – but they said they couldn’t. Life goal yet to be achieved – maybe I need a better costume than my Mapei knicks/jersey/cap.
The last of the riders and team cars had passed, and immediately the construction teams got to work pulling down all the barriers and decoration. We (I) weren’t ready to leave just yet (not that we’d be able to with the closed roads), so we walked the 2km towards the finish.
It was a long flat section of road, thankfully with beautiful views of the vineyards that this region of France is so famous for.
However, the heat was taking a toll, and by the time we’d made it into town – narrowly missing the presentations – we were exhausted. There were hundreds of people crushed into the small section in front of the presentation stage, and it wasn’t possible to move forwards for a better view. People started flowing once the presentations had completed, and we eventually made our way past the stage. Adam Yates was just finishing up his press conference for another day in the White jersey (for young riders) and rode past in front of us. The rest of the riders were likely already in the backs of the team busses getting massages and rehydrating.
There was a party atmosphere in town, with cafes and bars busy with the sudden swelling in patrons. It would have been a fun place to stay for the evening. The town had gone to great lengths to decorate for the tour, with yellow flowers, bikes, and flags transforming this cute old village.
There were also no shortage of souvenir/merchandise trucks, but I was content with the memories (and photos).
We were dreading it, but eventually we realised that we were going to have to walk back. The crews were busy dismantling all the associated infrastructure, including the podiums, the giant TVs, and the 2km of fencing to protect the riders from the crowds on the final approach to the line. The walk back to the car was exhausting, almost the hardest 3km we’ve had to walk, but by putting one foot in front of the other, thousands of times, we managed to make our way home, where we could rinse, change and rehydrate.