Monday, September 13, 2004

We Saw The Tour de France

1. Going to Chartres

We rose early that day and met Gregg and Kelley at their hotel a few blocks away from ours. We took the Metro to Gare Montparnasse and caught a train for Chartres. There were many stops. There were not many people.

We were on our way to Chartres, that day, to see the cathedral (of course) and also to see the Tour de France ride through. And because of the arrival of a stage of the Tour that day, we were concerned (when we were making our travel plans from the other side of the Atlantic) that the trains might be crowded.

The trains were not crowded. There were plenty of seats. We realized that Parisians don't need to travel to Chartres to see the Tour. It finishes on the Champs Elysees! Because of that, there were plenty of seats, and we were pleased that we had not paid the extra money (from the other side of the Atlantic) to get seat reservations.

2. Finding the Race Route

It was a cloudy day. The blue sky and sun of our earlier days in the northwest were gone. Now it was overcast, and at some point it started to rain. But we were (mostly) prepared. Gregg and Kelley had umbrellas (of course!). Ben and Trudy has raincoats. I had an umbrella to keep the camera dry.

We took the Malcomb Miller tour of the cathedral at noon. And we ate lunch at a nearby restaurant afterwards. The owner of the place came by the table with maps of the city to make sure that we knew where to see the riders. We thanked him, and showed him ours. He nodded and smiled.

Trudy was our guide to the bicycle route. We walked downhill, finding a hidden walkway behind the cathedral that took us down to the river. Trudy studies the map closely while we walked on ahead of her -- much to her consternation. Frankly, all we had to do was follow our ears. There was enough noise along the route (the crowds were already beginning to gather) that we eventually arrived even though none of us really knew where we were going.

3. The Weather That Day

When we found the route, the weather began to turn. The wind blew thru the trees. Gray clouds raced across the sky. Black ones loomed on the horizon, sometimes coming from behind the cathedral on the hill, sometimes coming from someplace else.

We split up from Gregg and Kelley. They went down the street and around a corner to get a better view. We decided to stay where we were, curbside.

Then the weather got nasty. The air got cold. The skies opened up, pelting us with rain that seemed to be falling horizontally. I stood against a truck, sheltering the precious digital camera with a card-full of all our trip photos. As the keeper of the camera, I got the umbrella, too. So I stayed mostly dry. Meanwhile, Trudy in her capri pants and sandals was shivering. And Ben's raincoat was in fact just a wind breaker, so he was soaked to the bone, too.

The skies got black. And then it cleared up. And then they got black again and dumped more rain. And then it cleared up again. And then the wind came up. And then it went away. In this way, we waited for two and a half hours or so for the riders to ride by.

4. When the Riders Rode By

They came by late. After the parades of commercial vehicles tossing swag to the crowd had come and gone several times, leaving the job of picking up the swag that fell short of the barricades to the many policemen lining the route. After the trucks selling Tour de France souvenirs (including yellow Tour umbrellas) had made the rounds three times. After we had waited hours until the appointed time and another 40 minutes on top. Then the riders came by.

Five riders had broken away. Two police motorcycles sped around the corner towards us, announcing their approach. But there were only three, riding one-two-three in a line. Soon after, two more motorcycles came around the corner, followed by two more riders riding one-two in a line.

Then there was a lull. The black sky threatened ominously. The sky looked as if a tornado would drop on us at any moment. The wind blew in great gusts. And then the peloton arrived behind an escort of more police motorcycles. It was a mass of bicycles two dozen or more wide. And they flowed around the corner in a stream, there were so many of them. The crowd cheered. We cheered.

And then we saw the yellow jersey.

Lance had won the stage the day before. So that day he wore the yellow jersey. And when we saw the yellow, we knew we were seeing Lance. The riders sped by in a flash. But in that instant, Trudy saw his face: head low near the handlebars, face aimed forward, jaws tightly clenched, clad in yellow and surrounded by teammates in blue.

In that instant we saw him. And then they were speeding around the next curve and up the next hill and out of sight.

Trip to France - Day 13

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