le Tour 3: the Great Day arrives
The French television stations, particularly France2, broadcast over five hours of Le Tour every stage day. Most cafés have a gaggle of fans watching the TV. Watching the Tour de France on TV is a brilliant way to assimilate the beautiful and varied French countryside, towns and villages. This will be over 100 hours of French travelogue!
Each day, various newspapers publish a plethora of statistics: who’s leading in half a dozen categories, the previous day’s results, photos, incidents. The Tour is serious business in France. The real fact-wonks buy L’Equipe, where every day there is page after page of information, interviews, analysis. If you really want to keep up, make sure that you grab a copy before it sells out.
Above all, L’Equipe will give you the next day’s detailed route with times for the fastest to slowest arrival at each way-point along the route. [This information is also in the Official Tour Guide.]
You’re seriously going
to do this!?
Remember the streak? That is only the end of the show – the denouement. First, there is les Caravane, up to an hour of moving advertising from the team and other sponsors that will process past you. So really, the Tour starts an hour earlier than you thought – check the ‘Horaire’ columns to set your schedule.
But there is more still. If you arrive in time for the circus, your place will be already gone. You need to be there at least further hour before, and to start chattering to or smiling at neighbours, to make friends with les flics [cops] so they adjust to the fact that you are not a lunatic who will dash in front of the Tour as it comes up the hill, and so they will not be jobsworths if you want to wander around. Mind you, three or four years back, a flic toppled the peleton. He tried to jump out to take a photo as they passed.
Do you know what a peleton crash is like? No fun at all. It means, at best, scraped elbows and knees; at worst, broken bones or more. Remember, the peleton is often moving at 30 mph or more in tight formation. If one rider goes down, dozens will go down, like dominoes. These riders have serious guts.
Right, you have arrived on station. You have staked out your pitch, which now you have to defend. It helps to have several of you! Picnic stuff has been arrayed and now comes Le Wait, sitting or standing on the verge next to the dusty French road, or trying to keep your stability on a grassy bank. My it’s hot out there, unless of course it’s pouring with rain. What d’you mean? You forgot an umbrella or waterproofs? But this is about survival.
I hope you are not bored easily. Did you bring a book or a set of boules, if you can find a space for them (the road is off-limits). Are the young ones fractious yet? What do you mean, the young ones? Well, you wait and see.
Glorianna, here comes an official Tour car along the road, perhaps something is about to happen. Go back to sleep. Look, there is a bunch of lycra-piloted bicycles coming up the hill? No, this is not the Tour, this is the local cycle club or other spectators moving into position.
There are now several groups of people hanging about along the roadside. Then two more cars rush past, followed by flics on motorbikes. And so it continues as the tension builds up, but . still . no . Tour.
Ah, here comes a van, hooting and flashing lights, stopping and starting. Soon it will be near you, selling newspapers, cheap cycle caps with cardboard peaks that melt at the first washing, parasols, bum bags. This is big business, there are a lot of tourists here with euros burning their pockets; and they are bored.
Gradually, the traffic builds on the road,
A giant coffee cup, a huge watch, an enormous vacuum cleaner, a communications satellite, a motorised mineral water bottle; all on wheels, mounted on cars and vans. Mineral water vendors spray the crowd with a cooling mist. Yes, it is a crowd now, even on this backwater that you chose.
Then come the free goodies and mayhem ensues as the young ones – remember them – start diving down ditches, into hedges, on to the road, scrabbling after free samples and gewgaws. Little packets of sausage or cheese, sweets or coffee, key rings, model cyclists and more cycle caps.
If you want some official Tour souvenirs but are not going be at the roadside, or if you have failed to have thrown to you the item you wanted, there is the Tour de France web boutique which has quite a large selection, from t-shirts to umbrellas, cycle helmets, and mugs.
Why all this bounty? Well, the government will not allow the distribution of mere advertising hand-outs as those would just be abandoned, strewn over the road and verges.
So the advertising has to be disguised and attractive. From the vans and floats, pretty young things dispense their largesse to the crowds. But remember, they are working for a wage, for thousands of kilometres, for three weeks. They are bored, their arms ache. All along the Tour route, are smiling, encouraging faces trying to catch their attention, leaning into the road, in the hope that a shower of packets will land close enough to grab. This is competitive sport!
And then, just as swiftly as a cloud going across the sun, it all peters out and the road returns to the steady trickle of flics and team cars. Where’s the bally Tour? Come on, it’s still not here. Perhaps they’ve lost their way? Another lone rider comes up the hill. Is this the leader? No, just another amateur.
le tour comes
When you really cannot believe in this game any more, the first serious signal is heard in the distance – the thrashing rotor of an approaching helicopter. This will be one of the airborne camera teams, hovering over the leaders. On the Tour, there are cameras everywhere: on motor bikes, amongst the spectators and on the whirring helicopters.
So now you know that They are closing in. A few minutes later come cars covered in spare bicycles, frames and wheels. Is it a breakaway group, or is it the main peleton? You will know already if you are following on a ghetto-blaster or car radio, or even on a TV.
If it is a breakaway whizzing through, there may be another fifteen minute wait before the cycling army bores up the hill at you, thighs pumping to drive their bikes along. Very probably, little groups will follow, depending on how spread out the heroes have become. As the last one passes, to the cheering, clapping and support of the appreciative audience, the spectators start drifting off, with bagged-up belongings, to return to their cars and bikes. And I will start to ask myself – was it worth it? Never again, but can you believe me? I can’t. This is ridiculous.
(And before you leave, don’t forget to thank that local flic!)
Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago,
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© abelard, 2004, 27 june
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/france/le-tour3.php