Thursday, July 12, 2012

Yesterday we toddled off to the Individual Pursuit leg of the Tour de France that ran from Arc-et-Sanons to Besancon, a journey of 41.2 km for the riders, but considerably more for us motorists jostling for a suitable possy on the side of the road to watch the combatants scorch by us. It turned out to be a most wonderful day indeed!

Setting the GPS for Arc-et Sansons, we arrived within 3km of the town to be greeted with a friendly "Route Barre" sign that meant we had to disinter ourselves from our chosen mode of transport (viz. hire car) and walk into town to watch the TDF-ers set off on their brutally taxing journeys.

Getting into town involved a stroll alongside the route, starting at a the first corner the riders came upon - the one they took to the left. What a carnival atmosphere! What a happy gathering of dedicated cycle-racing watchers! What polite clapping as each participant rode by to the accompaniment of calls of "Allez! Allez!" , to which I was able to add (supportively and fairly, I trust), "Georgia! Georgia" and "Stephanie! Stephanie".

We walked another 2.3 km into town along the route (more clapping and Allez-ing) until we reached the starting point. Here the carnival atmosphere took a decidedly increased crank of the handle. Naturally there was the race caller yelling into his microphone the names, standings and racing history of each rider as he mounted the ramp and waited patiently for his turn. All in Fluent Fronch of course, but because of the context it made more sense than it would normally.

Across the way, however, another set of modern-day buskers were engaged in filling the air with their own brand of noise pollution (to my ears, at least). This group - bigger by at least 100% to the TDF-ers was engaged in some sort of reality TV program that involved selecting eager-eyed punters from the audience and plopping them onto the stage to perform acts of culinary torture on a range of ingredients arrayed on a table. Lots of shouting, flag-waving and screeching with a "Pick me! Pick me!" enthusiasm that truly defies belief that humans can act with any degree of decorum when a television camera is within 60 metres of them. No interest from this group in the TDF-ers about to launch themselves down the ramp to a different type of glory (or not) - just a focus on self, Self, SELF! Unbelievabubble!

DJ, Ally and I wandered round the TDF carnival for a bit, pressing our noses against the VIP fence, ogling the riders in their preparation for the 41.3 km ahead of them, usually sitting up on rollers and just turning over their legs in imitation of the task lying ahead. I myself was waiting (in vain as it turned out) for one of the team support crew to hand over the fence a once-used but now surplus-to-requirements road bike of untold value on the open market. Oh well, maybe when we head down to Macon for the start of Stage 10 ....

After wandering back down the route to the first bend and off to the car, we headed off to Besancon to catch the finish. It was a tricky drive because there were heaps of "Route Barres" to get around, but we finally made it to a park within 3km. Along the route we walked again, with all the chaps whizzing past again. Different chaps of course, because it only took the around 50 minutes to go the distance. There were far more people at the end point, and no Master Chef to compete for our attention. Just hundreds of genuine Tour supporters. Lots of Australians and surprisingly many fewer Brits. All very jolly, really.

We saw and heard the names of many famous riders. These included Baden Cooke (we saw him shove off), Michael Rogers (I SWEAR he smiled at me as I hung over the fence at Besancon), Frank Schleck (belting angularly down the final slope) and Maxine Monfort whom everyone knows of course. The punctuation point came with the much-anticipated arrival of Cadel, closely followed by Bradley - far too closely as it turned out. Whereas most of the riders appeared as long lanky blurs as they passed, Our Cadel appeared more as a tight-ball-of-muscle blur. He looked great, however, having made up on ground lost early in his ride towards the end. Go Cadel!

We headed home in great spirits, but "dropped in" to Ikea to pick up some "essential items", only to have much of these spirits sucked out of us, as only Ikea can, wherever its location! Still, a wonderful day all round. Never to be forgotten. DJ and Ally are hooked on the TDF and now look forward to Etage 10.

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