The Tour de France – the ultimate endurance race

29 Jul

Tour by Tuileries Phto by Jennifer FlueckigerA fellow sufferer suggested the title for this post. We endured 3 hours of a terrible one-man-band busker, children crying, sore legs and bottoms, cringe-inducing over-loud pronouncements by fellow Americans, constant moaning by my husband, all with the knowledge that we could be on a cafe terrace somewhere with a glass of wine, for this:

I am quite convinced that cycle road racing is a terrible spectator sport.  And we were the lucky ones.  Most people along the 3430.5 km route of the tour only got to see the 5 second blur once.  We were positioned by the Seine on the tour’s final circuit around the Tuileries Gardens and up and down the Champs Elysees to the finish line.  We got to see the blur 5 times. 

The first pass by made me feel sick to my stomach.  Trying to make out individual riders in the mosh pit of the peloton made my head hurt.  Was that it? Shit! I’m glad that was it. Wait, was that it? What had just happened? The attention of the bewildered crowd moved from the road back to themselves. We all looked at each other searching for clues. 

“Dude, that was so, like, quick man. Shit,” the young American college guy standing in front of us was unlikely to provide answers.

We had 7 minutes to recover for the next lap. I needed it. I tried to prepare myself a bit better for the next flash. Focus. Try to actually see something, anything other than just a smudge. We could feel them coming. We first heard the hum of the TV helicopter over head.  Then the roar of three police motorcycles passing in formation. Then 6 yellow cars with yellow bikes gripping their tops – vroom vroom, vroom vroom. The ripple of cheers was getting closer. There they were! First sight above the crowd, helmeted heads bobbing up and down, a smear of brilliantly-coloured lycra, legs pumping, metal frame, razor-thin wheels, gone. 

Vroom Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerThis time it was a bit different.  No mosh pit, but a leading group.  Several cars, followed the front-runners, vroom, vroom.  The peloton followed, then gone. Darn it! I’d still not made out a single rider. And, what was going on? Was someone making a move?

I spotted a couple several groups along from us looking intently at their iPhone.  When they arrived 2 hours earlier I’d noticed the high-tech pram/stroller with wire-spoke wheels, the man’s hairless legs, his over-developed calf muscles and his green t-shirt that said ‘work hard – bike home’.

“Do you speak English?” I asked.

He screwed up his face. “Yes,”  he said in a British accent. Of course he did. French men over the age of 25 don’t wear t-shirts and tennis shoes/trainers.

“What’s going on?” I asked excitedly.

He looked at me for a minute judging if I could take it. I think he decided I couldn’t. “How about I give you the bullet points?” he asked.

I conceded that that was all I could handle since I’d yet to actually identify an individual cyclist in the blur, I didn’t know any of the cyclists by name and really had no idea how the race worked.

“We’re getting text messages from home,” he started. He then went on, “ Blah blah blah Cavendish, green jersey. Blah blah time trial winner. Blah blah HCI team train. Blah blah blah likely to catch break away blah glory lap for sponsors. Blah blah blah strategy blah blah cyclist’s name and team name, another cyclist’s name blah blah may be a threat  blah blah blah blah blah blah.” He continued in a similar vein for a while. It turned out he didn’t speak English and even the bullet points were too much.

“Thanks so much,” I said enthusiastically when I guessed he was done and went back to my group.

“What did he say?” my husband asked expectantly.

“Well, I’ll keep it simple for you,” I said. “He said they are likely to catch the breakaway group … I think. And something about a British guy and an Australian. Wait, here they come again.”

Whip of helicopter blades overhead, vroom, motorcycles past, vroom vroom, yellow cars with bikes, vroom break away group, vroom, cars. Then quiet.  My husband started to count out the lead. 30 seconds! Vroom. The rest of the peloton. I actually saw a green jersey that time!

The next round he set his watch to time the lead.  It was bigger!

Knowledgable Bike Man, affectionately named by my patient friend who also named this post, came running over. “They think the break-away group is too far ahead. They might not catch them.  They may have blown it!”

Tour fans at the Tuileries Photo by Jennifer FlueckigerI didn’t have any idea who he was talking about but it did all sound a bit exciting. Could they, whoever they were, do it? Could they catch up? We had around 6-7 minutes to wait for further clues and the anticipation of the crowd was building.

The tell-tale sounds started again. The helicopter, motorcycles, cars, cheers, this time really big cheers … yes! They’d caught up!  One big mass whizzed by. The peloton had pulled the glory riders back in.

Knowledgeable Bike Man ran over to us again, “Did you see it?  It looks like it’s on. The team is all lined up and Cavendish is tucked in.”

I, of course, hadn’t seen what he was talking about. I was still looking for the famous yellow jersey, to no avail.  It all sounded good though and the crowd was very excited.

That was the last pass before the inevitable sprint finish on the other side of  the park. Everyone clutched their phones anxious for the result, then cheers all around. Knowledgeable Bike Man’s wife grabbed their baby out of the pram/stroller, “We won sweetie! We won!” and kissed him on his fluffy blond head.

Cavendish, the British guy had won.  But he hadn’t won, the Australian guy had won. Wait, what? Knowledgeable Bike Man looked at me with pitying eyes and explained, “Cadel Evans from Australia won the tour, Cavendish won the stage.”

“Oh,” I said like it all made sense. And it kind of did, I guess. 

Was is all worth it? What do you think?  Just remember to bring your smart phone, good friends to laugh with and a picnic with a bottle of  fiz.

Patient friends at the tour Photo by Jennifer Flueckiger

4 Responses to “The Tour de France – the ultimate endurance race”

  1. Mary Kay at 8:14 am #

    I love this descriptive post. We were amongst the throngs of people watching our first Tour de France and there were also a few times when I wondered if I wouldn’t rather be sipping a glass of wine on a terrace. Just a note for next year, one of those cars (or maybe it was a motorcycle) whizzing along in front of the cyclists carries a woman with a sign that tells the lead time of the break away group. My husband’s excitement was also building as he watched the time increase between the laps. And all that I can say is that those cyclists are fast – much faster than I had expected!

    • Jennifer Flueckiger at 8:44 am #

      Thanks Mary Kay. I did see the smiley woman holding a sign a few times. Each time I saw her and registered that I should look at what she had on her sign, she had already passed. It is incredible the speed at which they travel. I think I’ll stick to a velib : )

  2. Annie Gunner Logan at 10:02 pm #

    Another sweet post from La Fluke. And I am honoured to be so pictorially commemorated in it! For the further reading pleasure of your blog visitors, I feel I should add my own coda to your report: accustomed to the more, er, flamboyant proceedings surrounding U.S. sporting events, our Accidential Parisienne plaintively remarked (after at least an hour and half of staring at a totally empty road): “But aren’t there going to be any marching bands?”

    Va Va Voom!

    Annie xxx

    • Jennifer Flueckiger at 9:05 am #

      Marching bands, people dressed in silly costumes, companies giving away crap stuff you don’t want but don’t want to say no to because its free – where was it all? You’re right! I should have expressed my disappointment that I wasn’t so entertained. You are also immortalised not only in photo form but also as the ‘fellow sufferer’ who came up with all of the good ideas.

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