This was the big day. The day ‘Le Tour’ came to town, St Honore les Bains. Throughout our trip we had seen signs in various towns saying that the Tour was coming to town or that such and such a road would be closed on a date in July for the Tour to pass through now it was our turn to see it.
We had a while to kill as it wasnt actually expected through until around 4pm, we were placed 55km from the end of the longest stage of this years tour of about 230km. To fill the time preceding its arrival there was the ‘Caravan’, a procession of trade vehicles made up like high speed carnival floats and distributing all kinds of freebies as they go through at around 15 – 20mph. we managed to collect packets of sweets, some mini french sausages in packets, Yellow baseball caps, a red bandana, various key rings and fridge magnets, big green sponge hands for clapping riders through, inflatable tubes that could be used to bang together to make a clapping noise there was the odd tee shirt made as replicas of team jerseys but didn’t manage to get any of those. The whole procession probably took nearly and hour to pass through.
The main street through town was pretty crowded and it was baking hot so shade was quite important. We had managed to find a spot at the top of a rise on a bend coming into town with a good view of about 400 metres down the road and then a view up the high street as everything went through.
About 30 minutes or so after the caravan had passed through the sound of helicopters was to be heard which is a sign the riders are close as they are filmed all the time from the helicopters and motorbikes. A few officials cars came through and police motorbikes and then we caught a glimpse of the peloton of riders approaching and then all in a rush they were through. I put my camera on sports setting and took quite a few pictures in rapid succession and i think I got most of the peloton. I have only included pictures here that contain well known figures there are about 26 pictures of the peloton altogether but of little interest to most people. I just pointed the camera and let it click away while I looked at the action over the top of the camera so it was pot luck who I got
After the main peloton there were a few stragglers then all the team cars came roaring through with all the spare bikes on top
Somewhere near the front of the cavalcade was the race doctor who treats riders for various injuries while on the move mostly, applying bandages and generally administering treatment. If the riders are involved in crashes they usually jump straight back on the bike or a replacement bike if necessary and then back to the doctors car and hang on the side while they are treated. No rolling around on the pitch like footballers for these tough guys! The these cyclists ride for for between 150 and 250km every day for around 4 to 6 hours every day. No saying its impossible to play more than two 90 minute games of football in a week for them.
After the whole procession had passed through, it seemed almost in a flash there was a sudden silence for a few seconds then everybody started talking again and moving off. We moved to the village square where there was a stage set up and at the back a large screen TV and we were able to watch the rest of the race from there and the stage was won by Mark Cavendish in a bunch sprint of pretty near all of the 189 riders, his second win in two days. But since then the race has been in the Alps so sprinters take a back seat then and let the climber have there days in the sun, literally so this year. No bunch sprints then as the riders are spread all the way back down the road some, like the sprinters coming in up to 45 minutes or behind the winner.
There was a category 4 climb just outside the town, the lowest category there is for climbs worth of gaining points for the points jersey which is green. At the end of the day when it had cooled down I took myself off for a ride up it. Two reason where involved, firstly to say I had ridden another tour climb and secondly to scour the sides of the roads for water bottles the riders had discarded but with no luck. Any that might have been there had long since been snapped up.
So ended a day never to be forgotten by me. Any amount of photographs, words or TV pictures cant convoy the feeling of actually being there. The whole atmosphere was incredible and it happens in every village, town or climb they pass through every day for 3 weeks and around 3500km. The whole thing is wonderfully organised and controlled, a miracle of planning and organisation.