A view of Le Tour 2011

It was the helicopters I heard first,  approaching from the west, still quite high and then swooping lower, following the riders up the last winding ascent before the road flattened on the headland of Cap Frehel, Brittany.

Somewhere out of view, near the flamme rouge which marks 1 kilometre to the finish, began a Mexican wave of sound, a crescendo which rippled along the ten-deep bands of yellow-capped spectators lining either side of the road.

Louder and nearer and nearer growing into a deafening chorus of cheers, shouting, fists hammering on the plastic barriers. The riders exploded into view, a whole bunch of helmets low over drop handlebars, legs furiously pushing the biggest gears on the skinniest tyres. The sprint finish. A gladatorial fight demanding explosive speed, stamina, guts and an eye for a gap.

The winner on the line was Mark Cavendish, the Boy Wonder from the Isle of Man who is carving his own niche in Tour history. His move out from the slipstream of Geraint Thomas was too quick to catch except with the camera on sports setting.  It was only possible to pick out some familiar faces of Tour favourites I’d seen year after year on television as they coasted home at the back of the peloton.

It was a very big deal, being there at the finish of a Tour de France stage. Brittany being but a night-sail away from Portsmouth, the lure of the Tour was irresistible this year.

The riders, naturally, are the most impressive part of the Tour de France. The bravest, most remarkable and resilient of athletes. I was particularly supporting my countryman Geraint Thomas, MBE, a brilliant ex-Maindy Flyers rider born in Cardiff 25 years ago who I predict to be a massive force in world road cycling for years to come. I took my Welsh flag. Proper sized. None of your fluttery little paper “last night of the Proms” numbers. No, this was big enough to wear; which of course, I did.

Le Tour turned out to be hugely more impressive than I’d bargained for. Ironic that it’s all about cycling, the most environmentally friendly transport I can think of along with walking, but Le Tour must have a green footprint the size of China. Hundreds of vehicles associated with it, travelling hundreds of miles from stage to stage, plus the caravan – the carnival of commerce and sponsors that traditionally precedes the riders, entertaining and rewarding the waiting spectators. The Tour village at the finish, including the press, the sponsors, the teams and the corporate facilities, is immense. It’s just so BIG. It’s BIG and its FAST. Much more so than you could ever appreciate watching on TV.

It’s also horrendously risky – as the plethora of crashes in the early stages of this year’s Tour have proved.  Riding at 60 mph so close by other riders that the touch of a pedal or a slick patch on the road can mean disaster. But the piston power in those professionally honed legs has to be seen to be believed. It was lantern-jawed veteran George Hincapie who grimly led the charge up through the town of Mur de Bretagne on Tuesday’s stage. I observed him closely. It was all good.

On that Cap Frehel stage, in the space of the split seconds it took the sprinting leaders to pass me standing 180metres from the line, the lead swapped three times. Too quick to see but easy to pick up from the photographs. What a fantastic sport and how fortunate I was to have seen three Brits in the top ten GC of the Tour de France –Bradley Wiggins (later out of the race with a broken collarbone sustained during a crash) Geraint Thomas (on one stage for a while, the virtual GC *leader* of the Tour) and David Millar.

The Tour demands considerable stamina on the part of the spectators too. You need to arrive six hours before the event to get a front position in a good spot along the route. People of all ages seem to manage it. In fact, the older the spectators were, the more organised they seemed, staking their claims to a front seat six hours ahead of the action equipped for everything the Brittany weather (and there was a lot of it) could throw at them, with chairs, sunhats, umbrellas, rain capes, food and the ability to blag as many free shandies and biscuits as humanly possible.

So that gives you a rough idea. Bits of Tour diary to follow.

Certains des spectateurs….

Le caravan

George Hincapie leading

Mark Cavendish, centre-ish

Author: janh1

Part-time hedonist.

15 thoughts on “A view of Le Tour 2011”

  1. Well I won’t inflict bits of Tour diary on you, Boa, because cycling is of very limited interest here, but if you do want to read more and take a look at more pics including pics of Welsh hero Geraint Thomas, they are
    here http://janh1.wordpress.com/

  2. Great post janh and great pic’s as well. You are without a doubt the Queen of Tags on this site. 🙂

  3. “The riders, naturally, are the most impressive part of the Tour de France. The bravest, most remarkable and resilient of athletes.”

    Rubbish, they are all on steroids! An unpleasantly corrupted so called sport.
    And those dreadful rubber knickers. Yukk.

  4. Great post Janh

    We’re big fans of Le Tour down here, we get every stage televised live (all of it) with great commentary from our local guys (particularly Andrew Mclean) ’till Paul and Phil take over, usually with a couple of hours to go. By the way, I think Phil is now past it, he’s becoming the Murray Walker of cycling.

    It’s been a great tour so far, pity that Contador lost that time in the early stages, the Schlecks don’t look good enough and Evans is looking the real deal.

    Here’s what they can look forward to today

    Kudus to Cavendish, he’s have a brilliant tour, hope he keeps green on Sunday.

  5. christinaosborne :

    “The riders, naturally, are the most impressive part of the Tour de France. The bravest, most remarkable and resilient of athletes.”

    Rubbish, they are all on steroids! An unpleasantly corrupted so called sport.
    And those dreadful rubber knickers. Yukk.

    Sphericals, CO! Steroids can’t produce athletes like that!

  6. Good grief, Tina, with respect, I have to reply “Cobblers.” See Janus (above). 😉 Some undoubtedly are still using performance-enhancing stuff but testing has never been so stringent and much is being done to reverse the damage done to cycling by the habits of the past.

    Thanks guys – the Tour’s providing pretty riveting viewing this time because it’s still so open. Today’s stage, as you point out Soutie, will be the daddy of them all and (sob, waaaahhhh) I’m working so can’t watch til much, much later.

    This year’s Tour has also been remarkable for the success of GB riders and the Team Sky (although it’s a shame they can’t change the name) thanks to lottery funding and the British cycling excellence programme.

    Soutie, so you get to hear Phil too? He is going off the boil, a bit and gets things wrong. Still, we have to smile and forgive as he is an institution on the Tour. 🙂

    My money was on Andy Schleck to win (deserved it after last year) but I’m revising that. Cadel Evans is very strong and wily and I love Voekler’s innocent-looking modesty. He’s not revealing his expectations but he might yet win it! Agreed on Cavendish – he is just a missile!! 🙂

  7. Thanks for your post and photos, janh1. Brought back some memories. Is that guy – Dutch or German, I think – who used to dress up as the devil and leap up and down brandishing a pitchfork still around annoying the riders? It always worries me when there are no barriers and spectators push forward. As you say, the slightest thing can cause a disaster.

  8. Bleedin’ Eck Mrs Osborne!

    And I thought I was harsh on cyclists. At least a percentage of the ones I leave mashed and mangled in the gutter recover. 🙂

    Nice post JanH, you obviously love your sport. But there is a reason god gave us the internal combustion engine you know. 😉

  9. Good grief. Anyone enjoy yesterday’s stage? I wasn’t home until 11.30pm but watched it then. Stonkingly good. The Schleck Plan worked beautifully. Honestly, Andy Schleck is just poetry in motion – and the desperation on Cadel Evans’s face was a portrait of torture – and then Voekler, sweet modest man that he is, concealing a core of pure steel – managed to keep the yellow jersey!!!!

    Went to bed at 2.30am still a bit too excited to sleep. Whew.

  10. Morning Janh, I watched it live!

    Brilliant ride, I was tempted to comment here yesterday but didn’t want to even hint at the result and spoil it for you so didn’t.

    Today’s is a monster…

  11. Watching live every day, jan and Soutie! The Danes are miffed because the Schlecks and several other big names ‘defected’ to their new team from Saxo Sungard. I can’t see Contador matching them today – his team don’t have the legs – and Cadel has the same problem – not enough support.

    See you at the finish! 🙂

  12. Whew, it’s exhausting watching the Tour. Today’s stage full of incident and tactics and amazing recoveries and a French win plus Andy Schleck in yellow!!! Had to feel for Voekler though, such a big, big heart and he slogged all he could but it wasn’t quite enough.

    Hi Soutie and thanks for being so considerate!! Appreciated 🙂 After all the racing and mountain endurance tests, it all hinges on tomorrow. Cav to keep hold of that green jersey? One can only hope!!

    Glad you’re enjoying it too Janus. Contador was noticeably and suspiciously fresh today compared to yesterday I thought… Hmmm But what a great recovery Cadel Evans made from that mechanical.

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