One of the attractions of France to us was the opportunity to cycle around the magnificent countryside and villages. Similarly it was also an opportunity to see the Tour de France close up and participate in the roadside festivities that we have seen on the TV and dreamt about over the years. As a bonus, the first Aussie cycling team in the Tour de France (Orica GreenEdge) was making its Tour debut, along with Cadel Evans, defending his title.
We had planned to see some of the tour while in France, so when the route was announced, we booked a hotel room in Rouen. The closest stage to where we were, were stages 4 & 5, arriving and departing from the Rouen in Haute Normandie. This was a bonus as, Rouen was only one of two towns on the whole tour that was hosting a finish, and a start, of a stage. So we would get to see two stages. We will also be in Paris for the last day of the tour.
Armed with our Aussie flags, we drove up to Rouen in the morning. The tour wasn’t due to arrive into town until 5:30pm. We checked into our hotel on the outskirts of town around 1pm and took the bus into centre ville. The reception at the hotel said we were lucky to get a room as there were no other rooms available in the town (and Rouen is not a small town). Indeed, when we booked, on the same day the tour was announced, there were only a handful of rooms available. We met many people during our stay who said they were staying in Paris overnight and catching the 1.5hr train back to Rouen the next day for stage 5.
We checked out a vantage point, on a bridge over the Seine River, about 1km from the finish. As we had about 4 hours to kill, we decided to head to a small bar we could see nearby. We met an Aussie and Kiwi couple in the bar, had a yarn to them, and then noticed others listening in, more Aussies! The place was crawling with them. Around 4pm we headed back to our vantage point, which was now taken by a crowd. We managed to find a spot nearby and settled in to watch the tour caravan. A 20km long cavalcade of sponsor floats and displays. The cavalcade is a regular on the tour and precedes the riders by about 30 minutes. Heaps of promotional crap is thrown out to the crowd along the way. We ended up with several key rings, lollie bags, caps, vouchers, water bottles and other useless junk. All good fun. paige was wearing her Aussie cycling jersey. It soon became obvious that she was a target for the sponsors to throw their junk at. Australians seem to be very popular in France, with several of the sponsor floats chanting (cringe) “aussie, aussie, aussie” as they spotted Paige, hurling heaps of stuff at her. However, there were plenty of other Aussies around judging by the number of flags around. One aussie couple spotted us and decide to hang around with us for the rest of the day.
The caravan came and went in about 60 minutes, the riders came and went in about 20 seconds. Well most of them did. There was a huge crash about 500m before us which splintered the field and will prove to have a telling effect on the final result of the Tour.
After the finish, we strolled up to the finish line, along with about 20,000 other people. Deciding it was too much, we headed off to find a bar in a quieter part of town across the river. We found a nice bar and settled down to a couple of drinks. We met a charming American named Joe, who was following some of the Tour. We chatted about the similarities and differences of life in Australia and the US for a while. Very pleasant evening. We decided to head off for some dinner, following some drunk Norwegians. They looked like they want to party, but the town was fairly dead. I think they were in the wrong part of town for that.
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and headed back into town to watch the departure of stage 5. We found a good spot in the town centre that offered a good position for taking some photos. There was only one other person near us. Guess what? Another aussie!
Same deal as the previous day, the caravan came through the town first, followed by the riders. The departures are always a bit more sedate than the finishes, and none of the riders appeared to be in a hurry, so we had plenty of opportunity to get some good photos.
It was all over very quickly, so we headed off to find somewhere for lunch. We came across a little bistro in the historical centre of tow. They had a two course meal with, cafe and a glass of wine for 12 euro ($15). Can’t beat that!
After lunch we headed back home, looking forward to the finale in Paris. The Tour de France is apparently the third most watched sporting event in the world, after soccer World Cup and the Olympic. It certainly was a wonderful experience to see close up, and I’m sure it will not be our last.