Yesterday Le Tour de France finished in Paris. I couldn’t resist going down to the Seine to watch them enter the city. It was a warm, sunny day…finally! Of course I misunderstood the French listing of the schedule. I arrived on the Quai on the Left Bank before Noon, believing that the racers would arrive around 2:00 PM. I avoided the mob scene near Place de Concorde and Champs Elysees where the riders make eight laps to finish this largely ceremonial end of the 21 stage race.
First I found a wonderful vantage point on a block that didn’t seem to have many people. A gendarme next to my bench confirmed that Le Tour would arrive at 2:00 and I sat down to eat my lunch, watch people, and wait. At 1:45 a phalanx of gendarmes came down the street and rudely told me and everyone else around (including the street vendors) that we must leave the street immediately. No, I couldn’t go to the Pont 20 yards behind me, I must go down to the next block behind the barricade. Okay, so I should have noticed that there were no barricades on my chosen spot. The gendarme could have warned me two hours previously as well. Ce’st la vie.
Finally established at a spot along the steel barricades with thousands of others, I found a joint that I could slowly push outward toward the curb, giving me a better angle to see. A Spanish gentleman tried to pull the barrier back into line, but I held firm to my newly won six inches of free line of sight. And there we waited, and waited, and waited.
At 2:15 sirens, flashing lights and team buses flew by and we thought this was the beginning. It was…the beginning of an hour long parade. “Floats” of sponsors, teams, and Le Tour officials streamed by at 30 mph for over an hour. The sponsors are outrageous. I’ve included shots of a few of my favorites. However, I didn’t get a photo of the craziest, a float with a bunch of guys in speedos jingling their goods to loud music – advertising laundry detergent! We all had a laugh at that one.
After the parade the street quieted and we waited, looking up the street, sure that the racers would follow. The wait was over another hour. I chatted with two young women and shared stories of our time in Paris. Angie (New York City) and Emma (The Netherlands) are in Paris for a month staying at the Greek dorm of a university to study French. I took their picture, but Emma asked that I not post it on the web. If they read this post and contact me I will send them a copy by e-mail since I failed to obtain their e-mail addresses.
Finally at about 4:30 another flurry of activity (police, paparazzi, and officials racing by) it appeared as if our wait was over. The people in apartments across the street began to peek out their windows, often turning their heads back into the room to check the progress on TV. This was a sure sign that the racers had entered Paris and were on the way to us. Within minutes they sped into view with the red clad BMC team in the lead, shepherding their teammate and race winner Cadel Evans. These guys moved faster on this celebration ride than I ever could on a bike. They whizzed by us in 30 seconds. I caught most on my video camera (left hand) and missed most with the still camera (right hand).
It was fun to share the excitement of one of France’s and Paris’ significant sporting events. The tourists on the street and the residents in their apartments cheered the peloton wildly. I can only imagine what it would have been like to see them pass 8 times in the final laps down Champs Elysees, but I didn’t miss being there.
Here are some photos of the day with my own captions and comments.