The Spoke July 8, 2011

Eye Witness News from the Tour de France

We decided about a year ago that we would go to France to watch some of the TDF 2011 and so waited with interest for the route to be announced last October.  This confirmed that the the  3,471km tour would start on 2nd July in the Vendee region and in end  in Paris obviously on 24th July and so now all we had to do was to decide which stages to go and see.  We had done some research and found that it is practically impossible to see the start and finish of a stage due to road closures and that if you try to be too ambitious you will end up seeing nothing.  In the end, due to prior commitments, travel logistics and the tour rest days, the decision was fairly easy and we made plans to travel to the Vendee to watch the first 2 days of the 2011 TDF.  

Because the tour was to start with a road stage on day 1 followed by a Team time trial on day 2, it meant we could stay in the same place and do very little travelling each day.  Coincedently this was also an area where we had spent several holidays and so knew the surrounding towns and villages quite well.  Our research recommended that we should buy the ‘Official guide to the Tour De France’ when it was published.  We took this advice and it proved to be our bible, with very detailed maps and exact times of road closures and when the riders would be expected along the way. 
As in 2008, the 2011 Tour started with a road stage instead of a prologue and Stage one was to start at Passage Du Gois and end 191.5km later at Mont Des Alouettes.  We decided to position ourselves close to the finish and so parked around 5km away and set off on foot up the hill to find a good spot.  We arrived around 4.5 hours before the lead riders would come through and already there was no chance of finding somewhere that would ensure we saw the finish.  We walked back down the hill and positioned ourselves about 450mtrs from the finish.  The atmosphere was brilliant and so the time passed fairly quickly.  One thing we did learn from this day was to do as the french do and take camping chairs with you!  Something called ‘The Caravan’ turns up each day shortly before the riders come through and this is basically a publicity parade with decorated vehicles that lasts around 45mins and is lots of fun.
Finally though our wait was over and the Tour arrived….and then a few minutes later all the riders had gone past us!  Philippe Gilbert took the yellow jersey, Cadel Evans the green, Thor Hushovd polka dot and Geraint Thomas the white.
Day 2 was the Team time trial in Les Essarts.  This was a relatively short (23km) flat course, with the team time taken when the 5th rider crosses the finish line.  The teams set off 7 minutes apart and ride at an average of 52kmph.  We arrived about 4 hours before the first team would set off and positioned ourselves about 400mtrs from the start.  Again we waited, but this time sitting on our camping chairs! and enjoyed the atmosphere again as ‘The Caravan’ went through.
At 2.30 the Teams started coming past- very quickly! We timed it was 8 seconds from when they first came into our view until they were out of sight.  It was actually the speed that the support  vehicles  came flying past that made us realise just how fast they were travelling.  Team Garmin Cervelo was the quickest that day, BMC racing came second and Team Sky third.  Thor Hushovd took the yellow jersey and it still wearing it at the time of writing.
I watch the Tour de France on televison every year and have always wanted to go and it certainly lived up to expectations.  Yes you obvioulsy see a lot more of it on the TV and there is a lot of waiting around to see the riders pass by in a few seconds.  The atmosphere and organisation was brilliant though and was helped along with fantastic weather and good food and wine to make this a great few days.  I will definitely be going back again another year and maybe I will get to see one of the mountain stages next time.
Words, Thumbnail and Slider Image - Emma
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