When I was a kid, my parents spent some time considering whether to take the family to the Olympic Games, which were being hosted by Canada. I can’t remember if it was the ’76 summer games in Montreal or the ’88 winter games in Calgary (and yes, I did just look up those dates and locations on the web – I’m not a human encyclopedia), but either one would have meant a not insignificant road trip. That in itself was not a deterrent. My family was no stranger to long road trips, having traveled half-way across the country on many occasions for family vacations.
In the end, though, they decided it was just plain easier to watch the games on TV. No crowds, no sold-out venues, no waiting in line, no bad seats.
I suppose these factors have to be weighed any time something can be viewed both in person and on the television, and the Tour de France is no exception. For the husband, though, this was a no-brainer. Of course we should see the Tour in person, especially when we have bike-loving Belgian friends who have a second home in France, have seen the Tour in person many times, know the ropes, and would handle all the logistics.
So it was that, after a great time in the Loire Valley and a terrible time in Annecy, we journeyed to alpine France.
The day of the Tour had us driving to Valloire where we parked in town and, after a picnic lunch, made our way on foot up the mountain road that the cyclists would be pedaling up several hours hence.
People come from all over France and the rest of Europe in their RVs, stake out the perfect spot, and spend several days camping on the Tour route, waiting for the action. This was the case down in the town, but as we walked higher up the road in the direction of the summit of Col du Galibier, there was simply no more room on either side of the road, and the RVs petered out.
Once we’d walked about six miles, we decided that that would do, and then we waited, eyes fixed on the ribbon of road leading down to the town, from whence the cyclists would come. After about 90 minutes, vehicles began crawling up the mountain. This, it turns out, is a caravan of tour sponsors who throw promotional trinkets – hats, key chains, folded-up grocery bags, car window visors – at the spectators. Well, OK, not at the spectators. It’s more like they lob them toward the spectators. Nobody wants a lawsuit, after all. The caravan vehicles are spaced more widely than floats in a traditional parade, and many of them blare music and sport dancing humans who also double as trinket-tossers.
After about 45 minutes of pre-race buildup, the cyclists could be seen rounding the bends below us. The husband was ready with his support sign and his King of the Mountains shirt. (Beneath those shorts, he’s also wearing Tour de France underwear. As a self-described super-fan, he tends to get carried away.)
And then, zoom! The cyclists were there! You could reach out an touch them (but you shouldn’t). Shockingly, we don’t have any photos of the racers! This was in my pre-blog days, and I think we were just trying to be in the moment, without a lens between us and the action. This photo from the Internet will have to suffice:
And then… it was over. There were cyclists going by us for probably 30 minutes at the most. It kind of reminded me of a wedding: all that planning, all that anticipation, then poof! – it’s finished. We hiked six miles back down the mountain with sore feet, happy hearts, and great memories (and, I now realize, a dearth of photos).
The next day, the husband and the Belgians climbed Col du Galibier on their bicycles, fantasizing that they were the Tour favorites.
So, in conclusion, if you are a fan of the Tour de France, an in-person experience is something you should seriously consider. If nothing else, you get to go to France, and that’s never a bad thing.