So You’re On A Mountain For The Tour, Then What?

Gendarmes are the French Police.  Unless you actually have to work tracking down hooligans who throw tacks down on the route of the Tour de France, this might just be the best job in the entire force.  Can you imagine getting paid to ride a motorcycle up and down empty mountain roads all over France?  Not too shabby.

After the hike up, people spray paint cyclist’s names on the pavement, picnic and hydrate (and perhaps search for a place to pee).

Then, you wait for the caravan to pass through and wait again.  Since the waiting gives you time to enjoy incredible natural beauty and talk with other cycling enthusiasts, it is actually a lot of fun.   Soon, the helicopters will stream over the horizon like in the movie “Apocalypse Now.”  We hiked up to the mountain to a beautiful spot with a great few of both the mountains and the road leading up it.  We weren’t the only ones who liked the view.

With their giant lenses, they were able to get much better shots of Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky streaming up the mountain.

Normally, the first thing you see roadside is a breakaway group of riders.  They are usually accompanied by police and cameramen (who you can see in the back).  Usually, they follow one another.  Having a rider in front of you reduces the wind resistance allows them to expend less energy.  This gives the peleton incredible power if and when they choose to exert it.

This is how they get pictures for TV.  By the way the US commentators are better than the French ones.  Understandably, French commentators are biased toward French riders.  It’s not that.  They are much less interesting and I learn a lot less from them.  They don’t seem to show much of a sense of humor either.  Thankfully, Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen do the British coverage we get here in Switzerland, but I miss Bob Roll.

Eventually, the last of the team cars go by and the helicopters move on.  After than, there isn’t much left to do except descend the mountain and watch the stage you just DVR’ed.

Just in case you didn’t know, I’m famous.  It is clearly me there on TV with the Detroit Red Wings jersey.

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Put On Your Thong And Cheer On Your Countrymen

The Tour de France is known for the wild enthusiasm of its fans.  The fans are part of the spectacle.   Where else do you see people camping in devil costumes replete with pitchfork or dressed as Borat running up a hill?  I have never seen so many men in thongs.  As one of them explained to me, “we don’t normally dress like this, we do it for the Tour.”

Others dress like they normally do.  These guys might not normally plan to all wear same hot pink jersey.  Then again, they might.

People show their enthusiasm for the Tour in their dress.  This poor lady from Luxembourg had a cast.  She painted her toenails in her country’s colors and drew red and white polka dots (to represent the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey), yellow and green stripes (for the Yellow and Green jerseys that go to the overall tour winner and the leader in the sprint points).

Although the Tour de France is France’s premier sporting event, its international aspect is an integral part of it.  We saw people from:

  • Norway,
  • Luxembourg,
  • Denmark
  • Belgium,
  • the Netherlands,
  • Germany,
  • Switzerland,
  • Estonia,
  • the United Kingdom,
  • Australia,
  • New Zealand,
  • and the United States (although Boris and Natasha said that there weren’t as many Americans as there were during the Lance Armstrong era).

Having a rider win the Tour de France, is a huge boost to cycling in that country.  People become more familiar with the sport, it gets more publicity, people starts buying more bikes and riding more.  Australian’s interest in cycling and the Tour exploded with the success of Australian Cadel Evans who won the Tour last year.

We saw tons of flags we’d never seen before.  There were tons of Brits and we saw several of these three-legged flags.  We learned it is the flag of the Isle of Man, the home of legendary British sprinter, Mark Cavendish.   Undoubtedly, the Queen, Prince William and Kate are all Cavendish fans.

Someone else had a theory that the nationalities of fans on the mountain revealed something about how economies are doing.  Vacations in France aren’t usually cheap.  We saw tons of Norwegians (who went nuts for Team Sky‘s Edvald Boasson Hagen).  Norway is definitely not hurting.  The UK, the Danes and the Germans have some of Europe’s strongest economies.  Then again, it could have something to do with geography and when people have vacation time.

French rider, Thomas Voeckler, won stage 10 from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

How do Frenchmen celebrate a fellow countryman’s victory on a stage of the Tour?   With champagne, bien sûr.  We had to hustle to get to the next day’s stage so we didn’t stick around to see if they had thongs.