Watching Bradley Wiggins win the Tour de France today brought back happy memories of the last time I saw it live, back in 2009, when it came through Roquefort les Pins.
We were actually living temporarily in Cagnes sur Mer while our home, Lou Messugo, was being built and although the Tour also went through Cagnes we wanted to watch it with our friends in our town. The only problem was that the road between the two towns was the route for the race and would be closed from early in the morning so we wouldn’t be able to get to Roquefort. So it seemed there were two options: either get up very early before the road shut or stay in Roquefort the night before. The second option appealed a lot more than the first and we decided to camp in our concrete shell of a house – on the building site! Seeing as it was a Saturday night it also seemed like a good opportunity to get to know some of our neighbours-to-be and throw our first party at Lou Messugo. We set up a camping table, lit some candles and bought some bags of ice to cool the rosé. Who needs electricity? Or so we smugly thought until later that night when we couldn’t sleep because it was far too hot and we were being attacked by mozzies. No electricity meant no fan which is our preferred method of not only keeping cool but keeping the mosquitoes at bay without resorting to chemicals. Needless to say we didn’t have the best night’s sleep but we did have an adventure. It’s not every night you sleep in a building site!
So, on to the Tour. We gathered with a group of French, British and American friends, draped ourselves in flags and found a spot on the main street. And waited…and waited….It was a long and very hot wait but the atmosphere was one of carnival and fun. The children ran around with their friends and we helped the local snack bar do a roaring trade in cold beer. The TV in the café was showing the race live so we could see were the cyclists had got to, recognising the route they were taking, and giving us hope that they’d arrive soon-ish. But before their arrival there was the excitement of the publicity “caravan” – the trail of sponsors in decorated vehicles who precede the bikes handing out free merchandising. They hurl keyrings, stickers, caps, bags, bandanas etc at the crowd and kids scramble to catch the loot. Of course adults participate but children come first in the handouts. Well that’s what we thought anyway even if it’s not what one older woman near us considered. She dived and tussled for every little thing that came our way, actually fighting with children and snatching things off them. She wasn’t helping a grandchild and appeared to be on her own. It was truly extraordinary behaviour. She must have been gripped by some sort of TdF mania – she was wild and out of control!
And on to the cyclists. The fun of the caravan was over but the wait continued Until finally the leaders whizzed by in a split second. Blink and you missed them. They sped by probably faster than the speed limit and trying to recognise any of them was practically impossible, especially while taking photos too. The peloton was a little slower and more interesting to watch. We managed to spot the yellow jersey though I didn’t see Lance Armstrong who was riding that year. Three years later there’s still writing on the road cheering him on “Go Lance Go!” leaving us with a constant reminder of a fun day. It’s an amazing sporting event; everyone gets gripped by the adventure, the heroics and the drama of it. It is an integral part of summer in France and I’m looking forward to next year’s 100th race already.