Following the Tour in person is all about living in the moment. When out on the course, it is very difficult to follow the unfolding tactics of the race. If you want to really follow the race,
you have to be sitting in front of a television set. No, watching the Tour in person is about seeing the riders themselves, up close, much more than simply following the race. And the
moment of closeness is always fleeting, instantaneous, the reward of several hours working and waiting.
On the time trial up the Alpe d'Huez, there were over a million people on hand. The
main reason for this was the rare opportunity to see each rider individually, riding by slowly up a steep, hard climb that was integral to the race. We ditched riding our bikes that day
would have been impossible to get in the ride and also see the stage - so we headed out from the hotel and went straight to the course.
Igor Flores in
the hotel lobby helping to organize the outing. Photo © Patrick Sharp.
Shannon O'Flaherty after playing dress-up with our Basque staff. Venga, Euskaltel, Venga! Photo
© Patrick Sharp.
We arrived at the Alpe as a part of a sea of coalescing humanity. We arranged for the meeting point after the stage, and then everybody ran off to find the best vantage point they could to
watch the stage. I was nursing a head cold, so I just headed down to the team areas, looked around the team buses, and then found a good spot near the staging area behind the start line.
it turned out, the race referees were weighing every bike that day. I stood on a little cement raised area just near the weigh station. Where people up on the hill would have the thrill of
watching the riders racing by, I had the pleasure of watching the riders come up and hang out, chatting and preparing and getting their bikes weighed before hitting the start gate.
Filippo Pozzato jokes with the referees while his bike gets weighed. Photo
© Patrick Sharp.
There were quite a few little dramas that played themselves out in front of me. At one point, a US Postal mechanic rolled up to have a bike weighed. The bike was too light, and so the
mechanic rolled off, only to return about a half hour later. Apparently, the bike was still too light, and an animated discussion between the mechanic and the referees erupted for about a
minute. When Lance eventually showed up, he came to the line pretty early to make sure that the bike was heavy enough. This time it was, and so he had to just hang out with all the press
crushing around him for a few minutes before the start. That was pretty cool. The highlight for me, though, was that about a half-hour after the race started, French legend Laurent Jalabert
showed up to greet riders and hang out right in front of me.
Laurent Jalabert confers with his brother Nicolas (Phonak) before he heads out to start line. Photo
© Patrick Sharp.
Five-time Tour champion Bernard Hinault also showed up to hang out behind the start area. Photo
© Patrick Sharp.
Throughout the day, every rider who hit the course was greeted with loud cheers. The loudest cheers came for the big names, however. George Hincapie (US Postal) got a big ovation
from the crowd, which was littered with Americans. When Richard Virenque came over to the staging area, the press really went bonkers and swarmed the guy. Two teenaged girls screeched
"Reee-chard! Reee-chard!" and giggled ecstatically. Virenque, of course, loved every second of
it; he smiled for the cameras, waved to his fans, and seemed pretty happy with himself.
Virenque getting interviewed before his start. Photo © Patrick
Not surprisingly, Thomas Voeckler (Brioches la Boulangere) got a huge
ovation (even bigger than Virenque). But the biggest cheer of the day went up
for Armstrong when he was announced. And it wasn't just the Yanks cheering
either. As I was running to try to see Lance go down the starting straight, a
group of Italians yelled "Come! Come! He's coming!" and made a space for me
along the barriers. They joined in the cheer of "Lance! Lance! Lance!" that went
up at the start line about 30 seconds before he hit the course. It was a very
nice gesture, and par for the course on the day.
On the way home we all marveled at how well behaved and friendly everybody
was, and how cool it was that people cheered every rider. While a few drunken
boobs got lots of press, they were definitely the exception in the very amiable
and peaceful crowd of over a million. We all agreed: that was the coolest
sporting event any of us had ever seen, or likely would ever see. It was a
perfect experience on a great day, capped by the victory of a great champion.
What could be better?
Locutus has joined long time Daily Peloton sponsor
Yellow Jersey Tours for
one of its Tour de France cycling tours. YJT is owned by Cofidis rider and Daily
Peloton favorite Bingen Fernandez Bustinza. Locutus is filing reports of his
experiences with Yellow Jersey Tours this week at Le Tour.
Jersey Tours Diary: Stage 15
Tours Journal: The Rest Day
Tours Journal: Day 1 - Montpellier to Nimes
Tours Diary: Preview #2
Tours Diary: Preview #1