Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend time watching the 2015 Tour de France at the side of the road.
I saw the prologue in Rotterdam a few years back (2010) and watched the peloton chase Jens Voigt through the hills of North Yorkshire (2014). But this year I would be in France, to catch the final Alpine stage and the procession into Paris on the last day.
On the Thursday of the closing tour weekend, my dad and I flew to Paris to spend an evening soaking up the Parisian lifestyle of burgers, beers, red wine and live accordion music, plus late night tour highlights. With only a slight headache the next morning, we made our way to Gare de Lyon to catch the TGV to the Alpine gateway city of Grenoble; with coffee, pastries and l’equpe. A most agreeable way to travel.
So Friday afternoon in Grenoble, what are you going to do? Watch the tour on the TV? Well if that is your plan make sure your digs will let you in on time, or you find a cafe showing it. We failed miserably on both fronts. Who would have thought it would be so hard to watch the Tour de France in France? In the end we spent the day stoating around the city avoiding strong sunshine, golf ball-sized hailstones and torrential rain.
Grenoble during the sunshine, not the rain!
Friday evening meant more tour highlights and the Grenoble lifestyle, which was (more) beer, cheese, (more) burgers and live music from Qasar on the ‘zicbus’ at a city festival.
If you were to say there had been little tour activity so far, you would be correct. The Saturday itinerary would change all that.
An early start was needed to get us to the bus station on time. From there we were whisked up the road to the back side of Alpe D’Huez. Two ski lifts brought us to the top of the mountain, giving us a whole day in beautiful sunshine, to sample the atmosphere and get ready for the arrival of the tour caravan on perhaps the most famous set of hairpin bends in the world, followed closely by the bends in The Italian Job, with Radiohead’s The Bends in third place.
I spent the morning making my way down to the Dutch corner, which at 11am was already in full on party mode, cheering the amateurs riding up a few hours ahead of the pro peloton.
Dutch corner doing what it does best- having a party.
On the way back up to our chosen vantage point on the road I was overwhelmed by
1) the number of people already at the roadside.
2) the number of people riding up
3) the number of beers I drank (2!)
4) the heat and oxygen deficiency(!)
At one point I saw this gentlemen and thought I was hallucinating.
100 year old bike (and man?).
But another quick beer and a fromage n jambon sandwich got me back on track and back to the top. I climbed back up to the last corner about 200m from the finish line to watch the stage unfold with my dad.
Chris Froome had more than two minutes over his nearest rival Nairo Quintana at the start of the day, but there was no mistaking who the crowd congregated around us wanted to win. Every time the diminutive Colombian was onscreen a huge roar went up, which intensified at each acceleration. It was fair to say there were many of Quintana’s countrymen on the Alp, but he seemed to inspire a lot more people, like the Italians and Germans around us.
As the race unfolded the tension grew: could Pinot hold on to win the stage and give the French fans something to cheer? And would Froome survive the attacks from Quintana to win his second tour?