Thursday, July 11, 2013

Le Tour à Tours

The roads were blocked off, so people walked in from all directions and clustered at the finish gate, hung out in the food stand area and bought souvenirs, and lined up along both sides of the last of the 218 kilometers between Fougères and Tours to see the end of the 12th stage of the Tour de France. It was clear and sunny but not as hot as earlier in the week, with a nice breeze blowing, something that the riders probably appreciated as much as we did in the crowd. I didn't try to find a space near the finish line, but instead started walking back along the roadway that curved around the parking lot of the Parc des Expositions, listening to the announcers ask trivia questions about the Tour de France, or about bread or sausage or whatever product a sponsor made, and watching the people leaning on the barricades. I found a free space to lean in the shade just as the route approached the main road where the riders would turn in for the last sprint. I'd gotten there about 3:30pm and knew that the riders wouldn't be there until 5:15pm at the very earliest, and was regretting not bringing a book with me, but then the caravan arrived.

All of the race sponsors had cars at the least, but more usually trucks with floats on them, and people tossing souvenirs out to the crowds. This is obviously the tradition, because the family next to me had come prepared with two large plastic bags, both of which were bulging after the last sponsor truck went by. I snagged a goofy red-and-white checked hat from a national salami brand and a small packet of what I'd hoped would turn out to be a cheap plastic wristwatch from the Festina car but which ended up being little jelly candies, but mostly I just ducked and tried to stay out of the way of the flying freebies and the people scrambling to pick them up. I did like the sexy laundry detergent float quite a bit.

As the riders got closer, the announcers started keeping us posted on their positions, and then we heard the horn signaling the last 10k of the race. Soon after that, the film crews in their helicopters appeared, slowly hovering nearer, and more quickly than I'd expected, the lead group of riders flashed across the upper road and screamed into the turn. I barely had time to turn on my camera and they were there - whoosh - and gone again. But it was exciting! I started up along the route and watched the rest of the riders come in, with people cheering for every rider as they went by, even the last one, shouting, Allez allez allez! I found that I had a huge grin on my face that didn't really go away for the next half hour. I saw the Tour de France!

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