Part 4: All Roads Lead to Paris
Words and photos by Donald Powers
Sunday, 18 July 2010. [Stage 14: Revel – Ax 3 Domaines, 184.5k.] At the race start in Revel, I had my first French coffee sitting at a table outside a brasserie, trying to make sense of a French newspaper. Prior to the start, I watched all the Tour riders step up onto the bright yellow platform (pictured here) and sign on for the stage. One by one they wheeled past where I was standing to a counter where they selected energy bars and goos as sustenance for the stage. These Tour men are lean creatures. But what do you expect from men paid to suffer for hours a day on their bicycles?
Monday, 19 July 2010. Our campsite in the Pyrenees was a real winner: lush grass, deep shade, tranquil, with a rapid stream and a clean, coldstone ablution block nearby.
Tuesday, 20 July 2010. [Stage 16: Bagnères-de-Luchon – Pau, 199.5k.] For the competitors, today was one of the hardest days of the Tour. It included two first-category climbs (the Col de Peyresourde and Col d’Aspin) and two out-of-category/HC climbs (the Col du Tourmalet and Col d’Aubisque). We rode up the Col d’Aspin and positioned ourselves at a corner of the road some 400m from the summit, on the side of the mountain the riders would ascend. Waiting for the race to arrive, I fell into conversation with a friendly Englishman (pictured here), who told me about his relationship with his estranged wife, his Spanish villa, and his local football club, Tranmere Rovers. Today’s racing was exciting, Armstrong mixing it up in an early breakaway group that would produce the stage winner – Carlos Baredo. Some way back of the peloton came the world’s leading sprinter, the Manxman Mark Cavendish (pictured here sheltering behind his teammates in white and yellow kit). A human projectile on the flat stages, in the mountains the ‘Manx Missile’ is considerably less explosive.
Thursday, 22 July 2010. [Stage 17: Pau – Col du Tourmalet, 174k.] We had originally planned to get onto the Tourmalet for the Queen Stage of this year’s Tour, but bad weather (rain and mist) forced us to reconsider our plans. We decided to drive back to Paris over two days, return the hired van to its depot, and then find a comfortable pub where we could watch the stage-finish. It was far from a stress-free return trip, but at the appointed time we were seated with beers at a perfect spot near the Place de la Bastille – the Bistrot Les Sans-Culottes (pictured here). In Paris (as this young woman in the next picture demonstrates), every pavement is a catwalk. After weeks on the road quaffing my meals squatting on the floor like a monkey, I didn’t care much about that. For both of us it was a massive relief to be back in Paris, shot of the van, and no longer on the hop – Angus’s expression in the third picture (oiled with drink) speaks for us both.
Sunday, 25 July 2010. [Stage: Longjumeau – Paris Champs-Élysées, 102.5k.] I watched the final stage in Paris from a vantage point in the Jardin Tuileries where I could look down onto the cyclists as they snaked onto the Quai des Tuileries alongside the Seine and also keep an eye on a big screen located across the Place de la Concorde. It felt strange to be surrounded by so many obvious tourists to Paris rather than Tour purists.
After Mark Cavendish had cleaned up the field in the sprint-finish on the Champs-Élysées, I escaped the crowds by walking along the bank of the Seine towards the Pont Neuf. I wandered down to the tip of the Ile de la Citie and sat at the river’s edge with some beers, taking in what was left of this cool cloudy Paris day and reflecting on my experiences on the road with the Tour de France over the last four weeks. Watching the Tour on television is like watching a film of a heavy-metal music concert – the raw excitement of being there in person subdued into a parade of cleanly edited, picturesque images of other people’s excitement. On those pavements and mountain slopes where I had stood and cheered as the Tour rolled past, I had felt part of an outlandish spectacle but also struggled to imagine myself elsewhere. Of course I was at the Tour de France – dining on endless baguettes, taking strain on my bike up famous mountain passes, taking the sun, taking in the views, remembering it all to tell to someone back home who might be interested. Where else would I be … where else would I want to be?
Read Part 3: High in the Mountains