So when we decided we wanted to see the tour, my French tutor Isabelle called a recommended hotel near the Tour stage we wanted to see and asked for availability. The person who answered the phone laughed at her. Literally. That’s when we knew we would have to drive to see it, no matter what. The hotel we found near Salon de Provence was about an hour away, but even so, the 3 Italian men at the table next to us at dinner were clearly going to see the Tour also. So we did not do so badly. Plus, we went out early, caught a coffee and a tarte in Salon, then followed the route to Mormoiron, the site of the 50 K sprint mark on the deciding stage.
As we got closer to the town, we started seeing signs that said “Le Tour de France,” and we started seeing cars with bikes, and folks with bikes. We even saw our 3 Italian men from the night before pedaling along the route. We could see Mt Ventoux in the distance, the imposing presence of the last big climb. As we entered the town, there were people parked all along the route—it was like tailgating. They had tables and chairs and books and cards and televisions. We parked at a nearby soccer field, and started walking in to town. We had only 4 hours to wait for the riders.
We walked around, bought a baguette, and found a spot in the shade next to a nice French couple who had obviously done this routine before—they had blankets to hang over the barricade, and they had a whole picnic lunch in a cooler. I asked them where they lived and they said very nearby, but that this was the best place for them to watch the action. Soon the masses started arriving, jockeying for spots, and we staked ours out right near the sprint line. A Norwegian family took up right across the course, and started early on with the “Thor Heshovd” theme that would become the day’s cheer. A few people asked me if I was Norwegian too. One man, when I told him I was American, didn’t really get it. I guess that’s a far way to come—farther than Norway surely.
Soon the Caravan started—it’s like a parade with all the team sponsors throwing junk into the crowd. John caught a bottle of Vittel, which we drank. I caught a packet of laundry soap, which I gave to the little French lady behind me because, I told her, it would be too hard to take it all the way aux Etats-Unis. It was fun screaming at the cars as they went by. Plus, we had an extra distraction—a fire on Mt. Ventoux precipitated the need for airborne water drops and massive fire trucks to pass over the route. So at one point the trucks came rolling up the course on their way to fight the fire, and we saw the water planes above, up to 10 at a time, back and forth to fight the fire.
I always thought we would hear the Tour helicopters before we saw the riders, but it wasn’t so. Our area was heavily shaded, so I imagine the helicopters bi-passed town. We heard the police bikes first, then the crowd, then passed the breakaway group! It happened to fast I’m not even certain if we saw Thor Heshovd or not, but the Norwegians were still cheering. That’s a hearty bunch. There was an extended French family next to us, and grandpa told the kids, “C’est finis!” or, “It’s finished!” and they huffed with disappointment, then laughed when they realized the joke.
Then we waited for what felt like an hour, but it was really only about 3 minutes. Then the “maillot jaune” group arrived—with Lance passing an arm’s length in front of me! It was so fast I had to play it back on video to actually appreciate it. You cna see the video here. That was a lot of work for a little bit of excitement. But well worth it. We hurried back to the car and hopped in, braved the traffic, and made it back to a little brasserie in Mazan to have a beer and watch the finish. On the way there, we listened on the radio as the commentators talked about the “little Schleck” and the “big Schleck” making their various plays. I translated for John as much as I could—they were talking kind of fast.
So all in all it was a thrilling day. We stopped briefly in Avignon and took a walk through the walled city. Then we had a lovely pizza & salad (our Nello’s fix) in Salon de Provence, before going back to the hotel and falling straight to sleep.