The circus that is le Tour…at the circus

Posted: July 24, 2014 in Personal, Travel
Tags: , , , ,

At the end of yesterday’s post, your intrepid heroine and hero were taken aback/aghast/stunned that they were going to have to climb about 7 km in rain carrying all their food and gear for the day, up one of the steepest grades of le Tour.  Will they make it?  Read on and find out.

We’d overcome both closed road and navi revolt to find ourselves dropped at the base of the climb to La Plance des Belles Filles.  The only way to go was up, unless we were to abandon the Tour like a rider after a bad crash.  Mentally girding our loins, we strode off, following a crowd of people strung out along the visible part of the climb.  Not only were there fellow walkers, there were bikers; cyclists who wanted to be able to say they’d ridden that part of Stage 10 of the 2014 Tour de France.  They ranged in age from families with children to older men and although they might not all have been moving very quickly, they were moving.  Amazing!

On the way to the top

On the way to the top

Our plan was to be near the finish line, so we continued up and up, past a few people who had already staked their claim on the lower slopes. (Those slopes were filled with cheering spectators during the race.)  We sweat, took off raincoats, unzipped layers, re-did them all when it began to rain again and repeated that sequence for the interminable amount of time it took us to get to the area not far from the finish where the road leveled off for a bit. Here the party feel was on, with souvenir stands, food and drinks for sale, a gigantic TV screen, porta potties and people.  But our destination lay still further on, past the 22% grade that waited to break the riders’ hearts after they would have already ridden almost 161 km, at the finish line.

Non-Tour riders getting their pictures taken at the 1 km-to-go marker

Non-Tour riders getting their pictures taken at the 1 km-to-go marker

We were trudging, not striding, over that bit but we finally crested the top and saw what the riders would see (minus hundreds of people.)  Barricades stood on either side of the road and over those, boards covered with advertising.  We were literally in the cloud, not the virtual one, but one full of rain that came and went throughout most of the day.  It was about 11:30 am and the first rider likely wouldn’t arrive until 5 or 5:30.

Our dry-er spot for part of the day

Our dry-er spot for part of the day

On the side opposite us were the VIP’s, people who were someone or knew someone, people who had or were corporate sponsors paying large amounts of money for the privilege of being there.  They had an enclosed, heated area with TV screens, larger WC’s and separate areas for food and drink.  We knew the area was heated as most of them were dressed to be seen, not to keep warm and dry.  We found a place on bleachers (thank goodness for a towel to dry the wet seats for us and others) that had a cover and, although at 1:30pm or so, we non-ticketed peons would have to move, it did allow us to pass some hours seated and more or less dry, the garbage bags I’d begged from my s-i-l covering our lower bodies.  We still got cold.  The porta potties turned out to be rather decent, clean and with paper.  But by about 2 pm, it was time to make our move to our final destination.

The VIP side.  Just to the right is the covered TV screen we watched.

The VIP side. Just to the right is the covered TV screen we watched.

I claimed a spot next to the 50m marker, Bill behind me.  And there we stood for the rest of the afternoon, in my case, shivering a bit.  We had a few sandwiches and some water and tried to watch the riders on the big screen TV across the way in the VIP section, but the one on our side was covered with plastic to keep it dry, making watching a bit dicey unless the wind plastered the plastic to the screen. We saw the teams cycling merrily on sunlit roads while the dark clouds hung over our heads.  We saw Contador fall, get up, get bandaged and continue, until he had to abandon with a broken tibia.  We saw people dressed in costumes and teens dressed in clothes that made me cold just to look at them.  And we waited.

One of the most amusing and annoying parts of the afternoon occurred when VIP’s would come out and stand in front of the TV.  A few French people on our side began to hoot and holler at them to move and most of them did.  But there were a few, and it only took a few to block our sight, who laughingly and deliberately blocked the view.  Eventually, the entire group in the stands behind us joined the fray and prevailed over all but one ___________ (fill in the blank with your word of choice) who stood there unrepentantly a good bit of the time.

Where we staked our claim

Where we staked our claim

Many sponsors for an event of this magnitude and an entire motorized parade of them soon drove past.  There was an inflatable rider in the winner’s yellow jersey as well as a dog.  There were young women looking rather cold, who waved at the crowd, most of whom where now wearing the yellow LCL caps that had been passed out by the thousands.  (I was wearing my black, stylish rain hat, but I got a yellow cap to bring back.)  A few of the people in the vehicles threw samples of their product, although most didn’t, and I managed to get a bag of some sort of cheese puffs shaped like tiny yellow doughnuts and quite tasty they were.

Sponsor hoopla

Sponsor hoopla

Finally the riders were on their way up the slope, a word much too mild for what they faced.  The VIP’s were all out now, completely filling the other side.  We on the “P” (people) side were pressed against the barricades waiting to see the lead rider’s head come over the crest of that 22% grade.  A woman behind me and to my right tried to lean across the garbage bag, pressing the top into my thigh.  Soon we heard cheers and the noise of people banging on the advertising boards on the barricades.  The head of Vincenzo Nibali, the 29-year-old leader of the Tour appeared over the top of the hill and people went crazy.  We banged on the barricades as if we were knocking down the walls of the Bastille on what actually was Bastille Day.  Nibali’s face was grimacing, but he moved steadily past us, to be followed shortly by Thibaut Pinot, the 24-year-old French hopeful, and then more and more riders heading towards the finish line. The sun finally broke out from behind the clouds, just in time for the end of the day.

The agony here isn't only of defeat.  Nibali, the stage winner and leader of le Tour

The agony here isn’t only of defeat. Nibali, the stage winner and leader of le Tour

Let me amend that last bit.  “End of the day” isn’t quite correct, especially as we were 7 km from the buses that would take us back to the parking area!  After a bit, we decided to leave and head down, only to realize once more that going downhill is much more difficult than going up, especially on knees and feet.  Riders kept coming by to cheers and encouragement from those left on the slopes.  As we made our way down, it wasn’t long before bikers, spectator and professional, were flying downhill past all the walkers.  Not long after that, once the last rider had reached the finish line, the interminable number of cars, trucks and buses associated with the Tour, the sponsors, VIP’s and so on, began to pass us as well.  The barricades and signs were already being taken down and loaded to move to the next stage.

A bit of the crowd and, in the background, riders going up that 22% grade.

A bit of the crowd and, in the background, riders going up that 22% grade.

The last kilometer sign was finally behind us…and in front of us was a line of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people…all waiting for those buses.  And waiting.  And waiting.  Between us and the buses was the town of Planche Bas, its narrow streets not wide enough for Tour-related vehicles going out and spectator buses trying to come in.  The Tour had priority, so we waited about an hour in line until finally the first bus appeared to the roar of the waiting crowd.  After that, the line moved quickly and we eventually reached our car, falling into line with all the others trying to get home.  As there were only a few ways out, the wait took some time.  We finally reached home about 10 pm, where my s-i-l and b-i-l kindly had a meal waiting for us.

Waiting for the buses

Waiting for the buses

Was it worth it?  A resounding “YES”!  Would we do it again?  Certainly, although we’d prefer better weather and would love to see the finish of a sprint stage.  Is there anything like it; anything that last three weeks, covers thousands of kilometers, brings millions of people out to spend an entire day standing outside whatever the weather or, in the case of the hundreds of people in campers with satellites or intrepid tent campers, days, that engages an entire country  as well as tests participants to the limits of their physical and mental endurance?  I don’t think so.  It is indeed, the circus that is le Tour de France! Viva le circus!

Cold, wet, and happy

Cold, wet, and happy

  1. M-R says:

    Wow ! – I dunno that we would’ve done that, ever. I know there’s nothing like actually laying eyes on the peloton, etc., as they pass; but I don’t think I would ever have been fit enough (in terms of ze lowaire back) to do all that. These days, of course, I just hope it will go through places that I know, and sometimes it does. But the cameras are NEVER on it when it does. 😦

    • Of course you don’t have to do this sort of climb to see the Tour. There are lots and lots of flat bits and places you can get to without having to go days in advance or walk for kilometers. We figured that if we didn’t make it to La Plance, we’d stop somewhere in a village and see them. Either way would have been cool.


  2. Sandra says:

    Even though I watched this on TV (looking out for you all the while) you’ve brought something else to the show with your blog. Great photos too!

    • That means a lot, Sandra. Thanks. We’re going to get the DVD of the entire Tour to watch some of the stages because while we were there, we didn’t want to take time to watch. Too much else to do! But maybe we’ll see ourselves as well, since I know where we were.

      Happy barging!


  3. Julie and I watch the tour every year. Our ever-lengthening bucket list has ‘le Tour’ on it. It sounds as though you had a great time.

  4. Grand story Janet. I see you did get into the green jersey 🙂
    A sprint stage is very fast. So it is gone in a whisper. I prefer mountain stages or time trials. But sometimes you can not choose! Sorry you missed the Belkin guys 🙂

  5. What a day you had! And you both look so delighted in that final picture 😀

    I’ll have to go back and catch up on the rest of your travel story – we just got back from vacation ourselves, so I’ve missed a few weeks worth of posts.

    • Hope you had an enjoyable and relaxing time, Sharon. We had a great trip and it won’t be long until we head for Wyoming, so more photos. 🙂 More posts to go about France


  6. Joyce says:

    It was good that you could go and witness the circus, and all its performers. 🙂 I know that had to be grueling on the knees and bones as we feel that arthritis, etc. more as we age. I remember when Wayne and I took our 10 day trip to Israel with our Sr. pastor and a group from our church in May, 2001 (exactly 3 mo. to the day before 9/11 happened) and I had really bad knees then before my left knee replacement and was really hard doing all the walking, hiking through areas and then the downhill steep incline to the Garden of Gethsemane. That was particularly hard on my bad knees.:)

  7. I will email you a press picture of the arrival of Nibali with the spectators on it. Maybe you recognize yourself?

    • Great, Chris. We’re planning to buy the DVD of the entire Tour so we can watch all the stages when we have time. We weren’t going to take the time from our trip to do it. We’ll probably not be in the photo as we were at the 50m line, not the end, but you never know. I might have been the only person not wearing a yellow LCL hat. 🙂


  8. […] our day at le Tour de France, (if you missed the Tour posts, they can be found here, here, and here), and our first day of sunshine since we’d arrived in […]

  9. ChristineR says:

    Now, that’s dedication! I’m glad you felt it was worth it. Thanks for the links in the barge post, made me remember I hadn’t finished reading these. Such a wonderful pair of smiles to complete le Tour. 😀

    • Christine, nice to see you again. The Tour day was a blast but probably not for everyone. There are also easier places and ways to do it. 🙂 But it was the fulfillment of a dream for us.


  10. […] To read more about our Tour de France experience, you might enjoy the pre-Tour post, our adventures just getting to the stage, and our rainy day experience at the stage. […]

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