Thursday, July 21, 2005

Being a Tour-ist

A week ago I went to see the Tour de France, stage 13 of which finished in Montpellier, only an hour from Avignon. I figured we’d arrive in the city, pick our way as close as possible to the route, and promptly lose ourselves in the crowds. But it wasn’t like that at all. We quickly found the street, which was lined with metal fencing only at intersections so as to keep cars from driving on to the route. We sauntered down it until we found a shady spot on the curb and started peering up the street. Almost immediately, “official” cars started going by, hawking over-priced Tour de France bucket hats and blasting loud music. Then we were told that the Caravan would start coming through.

The Caravan turned out to be a parade of crazy vehicles constructed and driven by the various sponsors of the Tour. Some were cars shaped like animals, coffee pots, or giant cyclists. Some were full trucks or buses, their open backs full of dancing girls who were leashed to their vehicles by ropes. They tossed promotional crap at us, heaving it with alarming force while the trucks drove by at alarming speeds. We found ourselves half-excited to grab at whatever was flying our way and half-frightened for our exposed body parts. But everyone ended up with something, even if it was a warm non-alcoholic beer (which thankfully was not thrown but handed from the side of a truck.)

After about 45 minutes of this non-stop party-on-wheels, the cars started looking more regular and bore signs that said “Technique” or “Presse,” so we thought any minute now the real Tour would actually pass through.

Any… minute… now…

After the Caravan, the stream of navy blue Renaults, out of which no free goodies flew, was a little boring to watch. But they just kept coming. Until finally a mass of police motorcycles buzzed by, and then, the cyclists. First, the leaders, three or four out in front. Then a couple more. And then, looming just ahead, the peloton. The yellow jersey jumped right out at me, there in the front of the pack, on our side of the street. Lance sped by pretty fast, but I got a clear glimpse of his face, relaxed and poised. I could not say as much for the few stragglers who limped along behind the pack. One guy’s mouth was gaping open, while his left eye was half-closed. He was hurting.

And then it was all over. We wandered around Montpellier for a while (a much bigger and more modern city than Avignon here) and took the train back at 8 o’clock that evening. Of course long-distance road cycling was never designed to be a spectator sport, but you can’t beat experiencing an event like this. Now all Lance has to do is win for me to be able to say, “Yeah, I was there. I cheered him on to his seventh and final victory.”

p.s. Pictures will be posted when I return to the motherland...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Je suis encore vivante...

But perhaps just barely. Il fait chaud here in Avignon, tres tres chaud. But I've been eating cheese and speaking French like it's my job, so I guess all is well. I become very frustrated very quickly typing on the French keyboard, so I can't write much, but I will say that I miss you one and all...

Perhaps more to come later.

Je vous embrasse.