Saturday 11 July 2009

50 things you need to know to enjoy the Tour de France.

When I first moved to France I thought the Tour de France was pretty boring, it just seemed to be bottoms on bikes, with knees.

Over time I started reading a little in the newspapers about the race, the history, the personalities and I liked the trivia. Slowly I started to appreciate it as an event.

A lot of people say, yeah but what about the drugs?

A long time ago I rode a bike from London to the Forest of Dean. That's about 10,000miles and I did it in one day!

Ok, its only 140 miles but the next day, well the next week in fact, I couldn't move and the thought of ever repeating the feat in a lifetime LET ALONE THE NEXTDAY, still fills me with fear and trepidation. So yes, I know they are professional athletes who do it every day but I say let them take what they need because I would need it all.

(Actually I think they should be selective 'cos some of that stuff could rot their saddles)

So 5 years ago I noticed that the Tour was passing through the mountains the same weekend I had to collect Krissie from Toulouse airport and I decided to break up the wait, have a weekend in purer air and see what it was all about.

So here is my Essential Guide to the Tour de France.

1. Look at the map and pick a nice looking village in the middle of the mountains that is neither near the beginning nor the end of the day's route.

2. Arrive early, as you never can be sure if the road will be closed (two and a half hours before).

3. Wander around the place looking for signs that you are in the correct village.

4. Spot the Gendarme leaning against the lamppost on the bridge that crosses the mountain stream.

5. Say "Bonjour" and ask if this is where the Tour passes. Listen as he explains that the riders will descend the mountain on that side of the stream, cross the bridge and ascend on this side of the stream.

6. Notice he didn't say how long that would take.

7. Go to the shop, buy baguette, cheese and a small backpack to carry it in.

8. Explore the forest.

9. Return to the shop buy water and a map.

10. Stop into the bar for a bottle of Oringina and notice there is television coverage of the riders struggling up a distant

11. Return to shop to buy chocolate and explain to the woman behind the counter that yes, you are here because of the Tour and where you live, where you are from etc etc.

12. Notice that the road is now closed to cars so wander over and join the few people standing by the bridge.

13. After 20 minutes of seeing only a fly return to bar and order lunch.

14. Make room for the thirty, thirsty, amateur cycling club from Walthamstow that suddenly descend the official route in a swarm of sweat, but instead of tackling the ascent head straight to the bar and take residence in front of the TV screen.

15. Return to the bridge where something is happening.

16. Buy the official tour t-shirt, hat and bag from the back of the van that has just pulled up on the bridge.

17. Watch the van then head off up the mountain towards the finish.

18. Wait 6 minutes.

19. Buy the official tour socks and underpants from the next van that stops on the bridge.

20. Watch it ascend the mountain.

21. Turn to the person standing next to you, realize it is the woman from the shop and have the following conversation.

Are you interested in cycling?
Not really, are you?

22. Notice the Camembert shaped car descending the mountain, and the Coffee pot shaped car, and the Mushroom shaped car etc etc and try to catch any of the plastic gifts that they throw from the back. This is the publicity caravan. Try to get the sunglasses.

23. Put the sunglasses on.

24. Watch the publicity caravan ascend the mountain,

25. Wait.

26. Watch the 50 or so media cars, support cars, team cars etc etc descend the mountain, cross the bridge, ascend the mountain and wonder - where are the bikes?

27. Wait.

28. Hear a strange noise in the distance, look up and realize it's a helicopter.

29. See 5 more helicopters hovering in the distance, then disappear into the mountains, return - closer, and disappear again.

30. Wait.

31. Look up at the helicopters that are now almost overhead and spot the miniscule riders in the distance on the descent.

32. See the motorbike with cameraman riding pillion across the bridge.

33. Whoosh.

34. Ask "which one was Armstrong"

35. Wait.

36. Wait.

37. Wait.

38. Applaud the straggler.

39. Wait.

40. Watch the van with the broom that will pick up the straggler later, and the 50 or so media cars, support cars etc etc.

41. Think - isn't this a BIKE race?

42. Watch the Gendarme remove the official tour barrier (plastic tape) and the first farm vehicle trundle past on the now open road.

43. Think of Jaques Tati.

44. Take the car and drive up the ascent and try to imagine cycling it.

45, On the first bend notice all the pink decoration of the German supporters and their week old campsite of camping cars and tents.

46. On the next bend the Dutch and orange.

47. On the next the television in the tree and the un-official tour bar.

48. Reach the mountain pass and remember your own London to Forest of Dean type experience.

49. Get stuck in traffic jam and wait.

50. Do it again next year.

Any questions?

More about Living in France here.

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