With great fortune, our visit to Lyon coincided with the Tour de France passing by. The Tour is one of the few sporting events that I follow with interest, and it had always been a dream to see a stage live. Fortunately my friends were willing to alter their plans to include a day trip to watch these gods in lycra flash past us.
Our friend looked at the route map, and found a nice little climb not too far from where we were staying. We packed a mini-picnic and tried to get there before the roads were closed to public – which we failed miserably. We made it as far as the township of Lens-Lestang and had to make the rest of the journey on foot – and coming from London, this sudden heat was taking a toll.
The walking did give us the chance to see some interesting characters – including this man and his bizarre L’étrange maison Arc en Ciel – Strange Rainbow House. Christian Guillaud is a local celebrity – he showed us the business cards he’s received from Japanese TV crews – and he was out in the sun, with his cigar, waiting for the show to roll past his front door. If we’d had the time, it would have been interesting to explore it further. The exterior of the house was covered in various decorations that looked to have taken a lifetime to amass.
Instead we climbed up a small hill, passing countless camper vans that had parked up and were preparing their BBQ lunch. I couldn’t imagine anything more relaxing, and if I wasn’t always in such a rush, this would be a fantastic way to spend a month.
We eventually made it to the top, we found a small space on the side of the road where we could watch them attack the last 100m of the climb – which wasn’t much of a climb, especially for these guys. We made friends with some merry locals, and when they heard my tale of wanting one of the Carrefour ‘King of the Mountain’ shirts, one of them kindly parted with it for me.
Long before the cyclists roll past, there is a circus of sponsor vehicles that fly past – and that’s no exaggeration, they were doing at least 60kph along narrow crowded streets. To our amazement, no one was injured. The sponsors were also throwing gifts to the crowd – including bottles of water, and other hard/heavy objects. At 60+kph. And, again, we were amazed that no one was injured.
Now that the temporary distraction that was the circus of sponsor vehicles had passed, we settled down to some serious picnicking in the glorious sunshine. It was incredible to be out in the sunshine, clear skies, and fresh air again. It’s amazing how you don’t realise the things you’ve been missing living in London.
After a few false bouts of excitement when helicopters flew overhead, and team vans sped past, we eventually got our first peak of the riders. It was a small breakaway of four riders, and as we feared, they attacked that hill like it was a flat stretch of road …and they had a tailwind …and had only been riding for 15 minutes.
The mood of the crowd was electric, and after few minutes, we were finally treated with the full peleton, including Tour winner Chris Froome, and Aussie contender Richie Porte. It was easy picking out Chris Froome with his yellow jersey, but in the crowded rush of the peleton, picking out other riders was a much tougher job.
We tried to enjoy it for as long as possible, but even though there were nearly 200 cyclists that passed, we were soon looking at empty roads and team cars again. We’d waited hours for an event that lasted less than a minute. I was ecstatic to have finally realised this dream, but couldn’t help wanting it to have lasted a little longer!
If nothing else, it was a great backdrop to a lovely picnic in the French summer sunshine.