Despite best intentions of blogging a daily update on my trip to watch some of the 2012 Tour de France, wine and the difficulty in typing out long prose on an iPhone means I’ll simply write this single summary now I’m back in Blighty.
Stage 6 – Epernay to Metz
After staying in Epernay overnight we got up to discover a bright, sunny day. After packing up the camping gear we headed out on the bikes into the town centre to the stage depart with the idea of nosing around the team buses and generally seeing what was going on. Unfortunately we arrived rather earlier than the teams so ended up doing a couple of trips up and down the cobbled start on the Avenue de Champagne before having a quick coffee and watching the caravan go past (something we’d already tired of seeing to be honest)
By the time we made our way back to the depart numerous buses had arrived and were setting up. We wandered around and took in a little bit of the signing in stage before concentrating on the Garmin and Sky buses, both of which were handily parked facing the barriers keeping the general public out of the invited guest only area. Others to do so were mainly the French teams. It was notable, and admirable, on the day after the leak of the names of those who testified to the USADA in the US Postal/Armstrong affair that Garmin (Vaughters, Zabriske, Van de Velde) were still opening themselves and their riders up to the public.
After catching long (Dan Martin) or short (David Millar, Brad Wiggins, Cav, etc) glimpses of riders and their bikes (including admiring Tom Danielson’s stealth Cervelo R5 Project California which later ended up broken in two after a crash) we headed back to the Avenue de Champagne to watch them roll out on the netralised start.
It was then a case of getting back to the campsite quickly and heading the 170 miles to our next destination in the Haute-Saone. Unfortunately getting out of Epernay in the direction we wanted proved tricky thanks to road closures and we ended up trailing the tour for a couple of hours until we managed to break free from the route. Nevertheless we made it to Saint Maurice sur Moselle that evening to find a lovely campsite to act as our home for the next three days. We also met a couple of fellow Brits out with much the same idea as us.
Stage 7 – Tomblaine to La Planche des Belle Filles
This day was always going to be the highlight of the trip. To see why, watch this preview from Dan Martin:
On the morning we again headed out early and were climbing the Ballon d’Servance towards Plancher les Mines. We then cycled slowly up the steep slopes of the Belle Filles along with thousands of others on foot or bike. At the 2km to go point we were told we had to walk so opted to descend a couple of hundred meters and choose our spot for the day. Unfortunately by this time it was only about 11am and the race would not be with us for another 5 1/2 hours! The constant stream of people at least meant there was something to look at, but even the caravan seemed like a welcome sight in the end. Eventually though twitter informed us of the approaching riders and soon the sound of helicopters signalled their arrival at the foot of the climb. When they passed us Richie Porte was pulling Brad and Froome along. Being on a section without barriers gave us that unique chance to see the action up close and of course being a mountain finish the action carried on for a while as dropped riders, the grupetto and the injured kept coming for twenty minutes or so.
As soon as the broom wagon passed we hopped on the bikes to descend through the masses, finding pros coming past us down the mountain to their awaiting buses. Cadel made it down pretty quickly and stopped to chat to some Aussie fans along the way. In general though they didn’t mess about and shouted to get crowds out of the way which also made it quicker for us!
The journey back involved heading back over the Ballon d’Servance from the more difficult side.
Stage 8 – Belfort to Porrentruy
We woke up after a night of intermittent and sometimes heavy rain to find overcast skies and a fair wind. This confirmed our idea of taking the opportunity to watch this stage from the campsite bar. The original idea had been to ride in the morning but the weather put us off so we jumped in the car for a ride back to Belle Filles to see what the finish ramp looked like in the flesh. All in all it was probably the right call as those that did go to watch the stage said it was basically a long day of driving into Switzerland and finding a decent point to watch was hard.
We did get on the bikes to tackle the nearby Ballon de Alsace before dinner.
Stage 9 – Time Trial
The plan here was always to head to the finish in Besancon and then it was a case of heading straight back to Calais. However, the timetable was amended to include an earlier start and a stop off to cycle the Planche des Belle Filles on the way. After packing up we drove across the Servance to the foot of the climb, unloaded the bikes and headed up. After a hard ascent, a quick coffee and a fast descent we were off for the 75 mile journey to the TT finish.
We ended up on a 90 degree corner at the 3km to go mark. Numerous riders had already gone, but we got their just in time to see Dan Zabriske in full Captain America national TT champs uniform, and soon after him Tony Martin in the rainbow bands. Whilst the lower order riders had a two minute time gap things were fairly active. At one stage a gaggle of three riders came past. However once the higher order starters were on course the time gaps went up to three minutes and all of a sudden the realisation of the sheer amount of waiting around in quite strong sunshine was at the forefront of our minds. Nevertheless we stuck it out, with regular checks of Twitter to follow the action. Once it came down to the top ten, with all riders on the course things hotted up and of course the rest is well known with both Froome and Wiggins blowing the field away. It was definitely a good decision to choose a tight corner and the techniques and speed of riders varied quite dramatically.
After Wiggo passed we immediately jumped on the bikes and cycled about 5km back to where we’d left the car, just by the motorway. This again proved wise as we had to negotiate an already large amount of standstill traffic. Less than 30 minutes from leaving we were on the motorway and heading back to Calais, a mere 398 miles away.
So, what are my feelings about watching the tour in real life? Well firstly, it was something very special to be there when Wiggins took Yellow and hopefully I’ll be able to say that I watched the tour the year of the first British winner. However, there’s no getting away from the immense amount of waiting around involved in tour watching, and if you intend to follow it for a number of days, the large amount of transition involved. Mountain stages are definitely the way to go, especially mountain top finishes. Also, I’d probably do more to incorporate catching a stage or two as part of a cycling holiday rather than hoping to fit in some cycling as part of a trip to follow the tour, if that makes sense.
All in all though, an awesome experience.