Yes, people, I made it to Montpellier to personally see the grand finish of Stage 15 of Le Tour de France 2011! I was super excited when I woke up on Sunday and knew that I was headed to the race.
We packed our lunch and headed out for the long drive. If there is no traffic, we can make it to Montpellier in just over 2 hours. As luck would have it, it took 3 hours due to “les grands vacances” traffic! Dude was a little unsettled when we hit really bad, bumper to bumper traffic right after we passed through Aix-en-Provence. He was about ready to turn around and head home, but I was not gonna have it. Sit there, relax and drive Dude, I’m not missing this one. Once we passed the toll booth at Salon de Provence, it was pretty much smooth sailing. Check out the toll booth traffic. Fun, huh?
When we finally arrived, to our surprise we were able to park about 5 blocks away. There was already a decent sized crowd that had gathered in to the spot just next to the finish line and where the podium was, so we ventured down farther to see if there were any good spots left. On the way, we passed by all the goodies one can buy to remember the momentous occasion. It was all I could do to NOT buy myself that really cool, yellow T-shirt that says “Le Tour de France” on it. Nothing says, “I was there” like that shirt. But, I held onto my pocket book and kept walking. There were tons of hot dog, French fries, cola and goodies stands. All that super, fatting American junk you get to eat when out at events like this. Boy, did it look delicious. They were even giving away small cups of beer! For Free!
Moseying on down, we came across more stuff to buy and an ever growing number of people anxious to see what they could get, but they were also torn between stopping and going to find a coveted spot. Some just stood around like bumbling idiots blocking the road cuz they didn’t know what to do with themselves. I suddenly felt like I was in a cattle call.
As we exited the goody stands we were able to walk down just another block or so and found a great spot right on the sidelines, with no one in front of us. We were, however, stuck in between a couple of guys from Norway and some girls from Switzerland. The guys from Norway were killing time by beating each other up with their thunder sticks (what children) and the girls, of course we quiet and respectful (big surprise there). Then the guys from Norway decided to sport their new hats. Check it.
After about a half hour, the caravan showed up. This was just as exciting as the race. They were coming in droves and throwing out all this free stuff! We were in heaven, that is, until we figured out we were in the wrong spot and the free stuff was never getting sent our way!
The game was on. Dude and I started to get more aggressive and I finely got a freebee. Then he was able to snag a couple of hats (one of them from the Norwegians) and we even got a free sample of dish washing detergent. That’s the bomb, I tell you. Free detergent. Every mom wants that! Not to mention yummy Madeline cakes and some gummies. I think we did pretty well for ourselves. Here is our stash. Of course, Tinki ate the gummies before I could take the photo, but I got the empty wrapper!
The pictures I took of the caravan are really crazy. Le Tour must fork out a ton of money for these cars and some of the set-ups they got! It was like a float parade. The strange outfits and gimmicks were quite funny not to mention the absolutely lunacy of everyone going after the free goodies being thrown at them. You’d have thought they were giving away free Euros or something by the way these guys were acting. (Did I fail to mention we were acting like lunatics, too?) Cuz we weren’t. Nope, not us. We were on our best behavior watching everyone else be stupid! Yah, right!!
After the fun caravan we had about another 45 minutes to go before the athletes showed up. So we stood around and people watched. This has to be the most fun, for-free hobby that I have ever done in my life. I could sit for hours and just people watch. There were people dressed in their country’s flags, dressed in every color of the crayon box, wannabees in cycle uniforms and others that I have no idea what they were trying to come as. It was awesome!
All of a sudden they announced that the riders were within 3 Kilometers. All our attention was to the left. Then they finally arrived. The head riders whizzed by so fast that some of them came out in a blur on my photos. It was Mark Cavadish that had the lead, but the entire peloton was right behind him, there was almost no gap. After they all rode by in a flash, we waited for the rest of them to finally approach. I was able to get better shots of these guys. Once I snapped the shots, some of them rode pass so close to me that I could have grabbed them! All those years watching on TV and I am here and this close to them. It was amazing.
Then as quick as they had arrived, it was over. In nearly an instant, they had flown by and were gone. I couldn’t believe it. It took hours to get here and it would take hours to get home and the whole rider experience was over in 10 minutes! Crazy sauce!
I was so excited, though, that I didn’t even care. We had made it and experienced it and it was so worth it. I can finally say that I have been to Le Tour de France!
Now, came the time when you have to leave and the adrenaline and excitement are gone and everyone slowly walks back to their cars to leave. Again, we got caught in the cattle call, but this time it was worse because the team busses had arrived and crowds of fans had formed wanting to see and take photos of their favorite riders. As we passed by the busses ( I might add that they were amongst the nicest I had ever seen), I unfortunately, never caught a glimpse of a rider. There were just too many people around and the crowd was too deep. So instead I tried to take a few photos of the busses, but there were so many people that I even had a hard time with that.
Then it was back to the car for our long ride home. It again took about 3 hours due to traffic. We arrived home safe and sound and even though we were pretty tired, I was still thrilled at my experience. Hopefully, Le Tour will pass close to us next year. I would really love to experience it again.
If you want to see a more photos of our day at Le Tour, they appear on Flickr. To get there just click on the “More Photos” option under Recent Pictures.