Stage 21: Round-up

It’s over.

The 100th edition of the Tour de France was won in emphatic style by Christopher Froome, with 4’20” over second placed Nairo Quintano, who also won the King of the Mountains jersey and the Young Rider jersey. Kittel’s stage win on the Champs  Élysées completed his hugely successful tour, and Sagan limited his podium celebrations for the Points jersey by dyeing his beard green (or so I’m led to believe… I couldn’t tell as he zoomed past).

I’m still processing the whole experience. The “night time” finish – the sun sets so late here that the darkness I saw talked about on twitter wasn’t really apparent on the course – meant for a really long day for spectators. We’d entered to ride the Randonnée on Velibs, the local share bike. I’m not sure why; we are cursed when it comes to those schemes. That curse wasn’t lifted yesterday and we missed out on  getting onto the course. Still, seeing all the fans in yellow riding past was amazing, and I know that they had a ball doing it.

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Highlights?

Wandering around the Champs Élysées, checking out all the fans decked out in their team gear or, more commonly, some sort of national – or regional, hello Manx fans! – gear. The Colombians appeared to be having the most fun.

IMG_4442Finding a spot by the spectacular Arc de Triomphe, where we’d get a great view of the race (although clinging onto a tree for height made it impossible to get good race photos).

IMG_3055Image: M Vache

I did toy with asking if I could climb up...

I did toy with asking if I could climb up…

Listening to the course announcer and trying to figure out what his repeated “Juan Antonio FLECHA!” could possibly mean… then “David MILLAR!”… then “Antonio VALVERDE!”. Surely not? But then we’d see them come around and, sure enough, there’d be a Vaconsoleil leading a Garmin leading the pack… or a Movistar riding stealthily up.

Watching the final lap on the iPhone of a charming local man who’d lived just around the corner all his life but had never been to a stage because he’s “never in Paris in July, of course”.

Weren't Purito's kids just gorgeous? Oh, and chapeau, podium guys and all that...

Weren’t Purito’s kids just gorgeous? Oh, and chapeau, podium guys and all that…

Image: Vosges Matin

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It was strange not “being” with all of you for the final stage – the telecoms were completely overwhelmed and I was getting very intermittent Twitter downloads, which was maddening.

Thanks for calling out cows – real ones and field-arted ones – when you saw them; recording all the troll DJ songs and contexts; and making me feel as though I almost had Paul and Phil alongside with the detailed Sherliggettisms. There’ll be an update on the fantasy league and a couple of final TdF related posts, including a proposed vachetastic course for next year, over the next few days.

And then… THE VUELTA!

 

 

Stage 16: Round-up

Armed with very helpful map put together by the Département de Vaucluse, M Vache and I set off in our Ooropcar to see our first start for the Tour. Our hotel manager had explained about parking à Sablet and navettes gratuites, but we decided to head straight for Vaison-la-Romaine and take our chances with the free parking in town (also marked on the map). Our sat-nav lady had conniptions as we headed dangerously off-road at the behest of a friendly parking marshall and soon we were headed down the Rue Piège à Touristes, past pop-up stalls and buskers, towards the Village.

People were crowded around a place that seemed to contain… nothing at all. We walked past them into a crush of more people and decided to try a back way to the start. Easy.

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Image: M Vache

 

 

 

Stage 15: Round-up

Les Vaches en France were envying the peloton their easy start to the day. They only had to be rolling by 10.30 in Givors; we had to get to St Exupéry, pick up the Ooropcar, and find something to eat and drink on Bastille Day Sunday before making it to Montélier to watch them pass by. Still, we figured we’d easily get to our nominated roundabout. Probably with time to spare for coffee. After all, they’d hardly be hammering it from the word “go” with the Beast of Provence looming. Right?

In hindsight, I’d recommend not picking up a rental car on Bastille Day. Schlepping out to the airport to do so because it’s the only place open means you get to experience the frustrations of air travel with none of the excitement. The station at Lyon airport is gorgeous but it’s a fair trek from there to the navette service that takes you far away to the location voiture depot. Anyway, we picked up our Renault-Megane-or-similar (where similar means a strange little box called an Opel Meriva) and proceeded to drive in ever-decreasing circles around the airport for around an hour whilst the sat nav beeped at us and the Tour Tracker taunted us with news of a blindingly fast start to the stage.
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The longest stage, France’s national day and the iconic Mont Ventoux climb. Surely the riders would ease into it?

CLA_IMGImage: Tour de France

 

Stage 14: Round-up

Croix Rousse

Would the riders appreciate the view as they came into Lyon over the Croix Rousse? Once again, M Vache and I accidentally spent the morning previewing the course as we wandered around Lyon.

The gendarmes suddenly cleared out from the road and the cheering rolled closer. Who was in front? Desperate craning of necks and frantic photo taking and we really were none the wiser.

There goes Rojas

There goes Rojas

Once the lead group raced past, there was a wait for the chasers, and then the main peloton rolled in. We had to rely on Twitter to find out who won and it was Trentin for the Omooga Farmers over Albasini for OGE. Talansky, who was threatening to build enough of a lead to take the white jersey, came in third but didn’t dislodge the Cow that Won’t Quit as best young rider.

Sky and the Saxos.

Sky and the Saxos.

Argonauts cruising in

Argonauts cruising in

Having a stretch

Having a stretch

David Millar and Jens

David Millar and Jens

Image: Meowclank

 

Game face on for Tomo

Game face on for Tomo

Next stop… somewhere along the way to Ventoux. Keep up the cow spotting, Team Vaches! I hope stage 15 has something for us.

 

Stage 12: Round-up

So, what did stage 12 have to offer?

These Vaches rode some of it on particularly crappy rental bikes and lived to tell the tale, so we can vouch for it being pretty tame over the last quarter, although we weren’t altogether happy with a headwind for the second day running. We started early – leaving Saint-Michel-sur-Loire at around 7.00 – and spotted a number of officials putting up barriers and route markers as we rode. The benefit of having rubbish language skills is that we chose to believe they were offering encouragement to us as we rode past.

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I’m beginning to see the attraction of life on the road in a camper. For a start, you’re not up at sparrow’s trying to get to another town in order to return rental bikes you’d rather chuck in the Loire. Plus, you get to decorate.

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For some reason, the pros don’t have breaks for petit déjeuner and visiting chateaux. Their loss. Particularly on the chateaux (although this morning’s café crème, grand was not bad at all).

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They do, however, get a heads-up when cattle are about. Are they paying attention?

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We were, making friends with more Touraine Limousins. These were just before the village of Vallères, so we hoped they’d be spotted during the stage.

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Images: M Vache

Our path diverged from the Tour route for a bit, but we were lucky to spot these by the Loire:

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Images: M Vache

We pressed on, riding through Villandry to the cheers of those who’d arrived early and were clearly bored. We were so motivated by the fans that we powered on towards the 15km to go marker, ignoring the indignant beeps of the Garmin telling us that we’d veered dangerously from our set veloroute. Didn’t matter, the fans seemed equally excited as we rode around the roundabout to retrace our steps to the turn-off.

Another thing that the pros are really missing out on is the chance to sit and carve off thick slices of saucisson sec and slather great gobs of local rillettes onto crusty bread. I do love that passing cyclists and piétons greet you with “bon appetit!” when they see you eating. Perhaps what they really mean is “who ate all the pies?” but I like to think that they are actually vicariously enjoying lunch. I doubt this happens after a feed zone. Really, I’m starting to think the whole Grand Tour project needs a revamp.

Anyway, this is a stage recap, so recap we will. We arrived in Tours, checked in, and headed for a spot we’d earmarked as giving us the best chance to see some action in close quarters without being right at the pointy end of a sprint finish again. We found a spot on the barrier right on the roundabout as the course turned onto Winston Churchill Boulevard.

While we waited for the caravan, I fired up the portable wifi to see what was happening down the road. My feed was full of Ashton Agar’s Ashes achievements, the jardins of chateaux, and a rather inspired hashtag, #lvdtsongs. I suspect the awesome Buttered Frog was behind this, but am happy to be corrected. [In fact, I have been told that it was the brainchild of the equally talented Tete de la Course.]

Oh, and we had reports of vaches!

Time passed. Madeleines were thrown. Old women were remonstrated with by police as they tried to cross the roundabout. Dutch fans tried to elbow out cow fans. Vaconsoleil buses tried to enter the course. A scooter rider outfoxed police by… well, by just riding down the Route Barrée. There seemed to be no consequences. Festive mood and all that. (Unless you’re an old lady.)

Suddenly!

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IMG_2642Images: M Vache

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We were rather discombobulated that this happened right in front of our eyes, and forgot to pay attention to the race as it dashed towards the finish. There were more crashes (I’ve since seen that EBH is out of the tour) and a sprint finish between the fastest man in the world… and the man who beat him today. Kittel and his magnificent hair took stage honours. No jerseys change hands, and Flecha gets the satisfaction of most-combative for his attack late in proceedings.

Les Vaches en Tour is en transit tomorrow to Lyon. Depending on luggage storage friendliness, we might try to get a look at the start, but the next stage we’ll see in person will be the finish of Stage 14.