The final Tour de France ITT. The big day is here. No, not for Wiggo, for me! The day to fulfill a lifelong dream and see a Tour de France stage in person.
The 1009 train from Paris Montparnasse station to Chartres is SRO. I suspect every British citizen took the Chunnel overnight. Just when I resign myself to standing for an hour and a half, I find a flip down seat next to a squeaking baby no one else wanted to sit near. Thanks for saving a seat for me, babe!
We arrive in Chartres. It is actually my second time to this town, having visited in 2007. I feel obligated to make my first stop at its magnificent cathedral.
Chartres cathedral owes part of its fame is its unusual façade, with both a Romanesque and Gothic spire. And its sheer massive size.
Plaque on the sidewalk in the plaza just outside the cathedral doors. Don’t forget to get your credencial stamped inside, on the way to Santiago…
Oh yeah, the race. Though I wish the overall race had been more exciting so that these finish times would mean something for GC, ’twas not to be. Nevertheless, I’m excited to see what being at a time trial is like.
I’ve never been to a TT stage – I’ve been to a few sprint stages at the Tour of California, but that’s it. I make my way from the cathedral to today’s parcours.
Nutella beignets? Yes, please! Little did I know this would be my main source of sustenance today.
FDJ selling brats. Can I have Pinot with that, please? Um, I mean *a* Pinot?
The Union Jacks are ubiquitous today. Very helpful for me as I am able to approach anyone with a Union Jack & get a race update in English.
The chicanes start at 2 km. I sneak over to the less crowded side to start my recce. There’s an S-shaped jig into a 90 degree turn just after the 2 km mark, but nothing too ‘technical’. (Why do you cyclists say technical as a euphemism for twisty-turny?) Just a gentle downhill slope for 1 km, then slight uphill for the final km.
“Technical”? Or “Twisty-turny”? I like the latter.
L’Equipe headline: “Wiggo le Froggy”. I’m not making this up!
Lots of Union Jacks, in UK and Oz flags. There is a paucity of Stars and Stripes, however.
On my way to the finish line, the very first riders trickle in. I get a photo of the Lanterne Rouge! Beginners’ Luck.
Jimmy Engoulvent, 2012 leader in the Lanterne Rouge competition.
At the finish he is knackered, but manages a smile:
“Good job, Tyler – hang in there!” –Me to Tyler after his ITT.
All the team buses are lined up straight away after the finish. No ensconced city block like in AToC. But still, Liquigas is nowhere to be found, just as they were in AToC at Livermore (even their riders couldn’t find their own bus). Grrrr…
The first Sky rider finishes. Not sure who it was until I make it to the team bus…
Why, hello Mr. Eisel!
Bernie is chatty with the interviewers, showing off his polyglot prowess with French & German, interspersed with English. I think of how jealous some women would be of me right now, and smile.
Oh my gosh, Brian Holm just drove past me in one of the OPQS cars. He was so close he could have handed me a bidon.
Now to check out the rest of the team buses. Some, like Saur’s, are a decidedly less slick outfit than Sky’s.
Sky has a bus, rollers, and lighted runway; Saur-Sojasun has… a van.
After Cav finishes, it is an outright mob scene at the Sky bus for Bertie & Jeeves – I mean Cav & Bernie photos. While everyone is clamboring for photos from above the mob, I spot a guy shooting photos from underneath a nearby metal sign. We share a convo and a laugh under the shadow of Bernie’s piriformis muscle:
“This is clearly a ladies shot.”
“I’m not complaining.”
“My wife will like this one.”
“Yes, she will.”
After the excitement of being so close to Bernie’s gluteal musculature, I had to take a little break & clear my head. TT’s are a loooooooong affair.
I walk back to the cathedral, get a beignet, stop by the toilette, then walk back to the finish again, all with plenty of time to see the last 40-50 roll in.
But first, HARIBO!!
My first Tour de France swag. Awww.
Be nice to these guys, THEY have the Haribo!
Ahhh. Sitting at 200 m at a grassy knoll. It’s a slightly uphill finish, and the guys are tired as stink, so they are going slower than usual. Kind of like the bulls in Pamplona toward the end of their run. I try to snap more photos, but they are going fast enough for me to foil my attempts. In fact, I miss every rider’s shot except for my very first ones of Degoulvent & Tyler. I have only beginner’s luck, apparently.
Then it dawns on me to use the iPad for pics. Big duh.
Announcement of Sagan’s impending arrival spurs a mass exodus toward the finish line.
Score!! Peter is the green speck in right-center. Even so, I make a conscious decision to take no more rider pics and just enjoy my fleeting visual rendezvous with them as they pass by.
Then Fedrigo’s unmistakeable *ahem* profile passes by.
Part of me wants to re-enter the fray of team buses at the finish, but I’m pretty happy with my grassy knoll. It’s kind of fun to guess the riders by their riding style and profile, as I don’t have an updated GC list. Oh, and the announcer helps, but only a bit. He’s giving a constant litany of riders who finished, who are out on course, and who are coming up, but since I don’t understand French well, it’s just a jumble of names.
Peraud passes by, quickly followed by one of those awful Astana Mylar balloon Skinsuits. And yes, they look even worse in person than on TV.
PhilGil. Saw the tricolore helmet & said in my head, Phil! Wait that’s Boonen! Wait, this is the TT! PhilGil can TT? Then he was gone.
George. Right behind Cofidis guy in a nat’l champ kit. Recognized him by his scruff. Seriously.
Thinking: TT’s are WAY better than sprint stages.
Two guys encroaching on my view. Now I’m standing forward to stake my claim here on the step. Hey, I’m like Zaccheus here, gimme a break.
Edvald’s crew. Never pass up the chance to shoot a photo of guys in viking helmets.
LL Cool J. Noticed his striking facial structure. Plus, I have a 1 in 4 chance of guessing him as he was in a Rabo colors.
Vino quickly follows Velits. Announcer animatedly yells “Veenohkoooroff!” I am the only one to let out an audible woo-hoo.
Sun out. Should have brought sunscreen. At least I have my hat.
Levi. He gets a nice reception from the 200 m folks who have become my neighbors..
Laurens Ten Dam. Again, identified by his scruff and the way he holds his mouth open. Wow, I watch entirely too much cycling to know how to identify these guys in a split second.
Wiggo Fever was everywhere!
Whereas you must have constant vigilance in order to witness a millisecond of Peloton action on a sprint stage, TT’s are easy. You can basically do what you want until you hear the hands slapping against the chicane boards. It’s very much like My Fair Lady. Except I’m saying “Come on, ___! Move your bloomin’ arse (and get me some fantasy points)!”
Jelle, then Basso. Nice reception for Basso. I join in.
HUGE reception from the French faithful for Voeckler. I join them, mainly cheering the fact he is not in full Syphilis dots today.
More mass exodus to the finish/team buses. More grassy knoll for me.
Mick Rogers. No words. Whattaman.
Chatting with an older French couple, Monsieur & Madame. See an FDJ, get excited and think it was Pinot, but he corrects me, saying it was Jeremy Roy. We chat about Voeckler, l lapse into Spench, saying “Il est un grand luchador!”. He asks who my favorite rider is and I tell him Vincenzo Nibali, with a silly fangirl grin on my face. I tell them also of my taking a newly found shine to Pinot; he responds, “Ahhh, leur physique?” while rubbing the tip of his chin. Exactement, Monsieur! How did you know??
Katusha rider, then Coppel. Then Valverde a short time later. Monfort, then Martinez.
It’s nice to witness every rider finish his time trial, as only a select few ever get tv time.
I would not mess with this dog, Phil.
Movistar rider comes in. Monsieur looks to me to inform him who. Costa, I tell him. I now have official street cred in his eyes as a cycling fan.
Menchov. I heave a big sigh. He still has my heart, no? He passes very close to our side of the chicanes, looking fine in his national champ suit.
Debating again whether or not to fight the crowds to the team buses or have my fleeting rendezvous with the rest of the riders at the 200 m mark. Choose the latter. Inertia always wins. Plus, I’ll have another chance to play groupie tomorrow.
Chris Anker bobbles up the uphill finish.
Announcer says Nibali’s name for the first time. Monsieur gives me the thumbs up.
Horndog in. I tell Monsieur “Horner.” He looks at me puzzled, then figures it out. “Orrrr-nehhhr?” “Oui!”
Speaking of Horndog, here at the finish they are selling footlong hot dogs in a baguette! A brilliant melding of two iconic national foods.
I must say that Tommy V looked resplendent in the dotted jersey, especially with his characteristic über-straight out of the saddle style.
Nico, then Pinot. Both Fils de France, and they get an appropriate reception. Monsieur looks at me with a knowing expression when Pinot rolls through.
Who is that Astana guy? Oh yeah, Brajkovič. I keep thinking he’s still with RadioShack. Sorry, Janez. My next thought: You mean Nibali will need to wear that awful Mylar baloon TT suit next year?
Yikes. Almost knocked over this Orbea bike parked next to me. I sense a collective gasp from my tweeps.
Anticipation builds for Rolland. He’s really laboring up this final uphill. Will he be France’s Andy Schleck? Do the high mountains but TT lacking?
Zubeldia in, Monsieur and I say his name simultaneously. So glad Monsieur & I can speak in cyclists names, at least.
Tejay, then followed closely by Cadel. Must watch replay of that; apparently Tejay caught his minuteman-cum-team leader. Ouch.
Long pause btwn Zubeldia & JVDBke. Hope he didn’t crash. Or worse, get passed.
We see 3 helicopters circling in the sky, one for each of the 3 riders left. The excitement builds with the overlapping din of the 3 choppers approaching. It is really cool to watch in the sky. Sorry, no photo – Nibbles is approaching!
Crowd goes crazy as Nibali–Froome–Wiggins roll in. I rush to the screens to find out who actually won and what the winning times were. Nearly all the team buses are packed up and ready to go; some, like Garmin, whose riders all finished long ago, were completely gone.
Only Sky and BMC have mob scenes in front of them, and at one point Cadel had to leave the bus and rides his bike, escorted, down the street. He’s mobbed, and a lady tries to grab his arm while he is riding; he shakes her grasp loose. Noli me tangere, lady!
On the way back to the town center to catch the train, I hear the familiar TdF fanfare echoing off the buildings along the river basin of Chartres. I make a quick stop at the cathedral to catch my breath in the cool stillness felt only in Gothic churches. Then I make my way back to the queue to the train back to Paris. I can already tell it’s going to be a stampede.
“Is this what it’s like being at football matches?” (actual question asked out loud by me in this very moment)
Fortunately, I make it on the train, but this is my makeshift seat, and I’m grateful for it, seriously:
One of the few times it is advantageous to be small.
Though happy, I feel myself fading, having eaten only a Nutella beignet all day. Then I remembered…
Time to take these tired puppies home, to rest up for more adventures on the Champs tomorrow.