By the time you read this, the 2013 Tour de France will be on day 7, the stage from Montpellier to Albi. On the following day the race will start at Castres and head for the Pyrenees, as close to St Chinian as it’ll get this year. The Tour de France 2013 is 21 days of sometimes gruelling physical exertion, with only a couple of rest days in between. You can find the whole schedule at the official website.
A few years ago, Le Tour actually came right through St Chinian, and what a thrill that was! For months before everyone was speculating exactly which roads the cyclists would be taking through the village. Would they come past the windmill, or via Fontjun, or from the opposite direction altogether via St Pons? And would they take the sharp corner from the grand rue to the avenue Raoul Bayou (impossible, some said) or go on towards the Cave Coop and take the bypass? A few days before the event, excitement reached fever pitch in the village.
On the day, everyone lined up along the streets hours ahead of the race. Then the Caravan started to come through. If you’ve never seen the Tour de France sur place it really is worth the effort – at least once! The caravan is a seemingly never-ending succession of promotional vehicles, and a lot of them have goodies to distribute among the waiting crowds. The caravan can be more fun than the race! The advertisers/sponsors always come up with fun ideas for their vehicles!
There are also the official souvenir vans, and of course I just had to get some for my nephews in Germany!
In amongst the caravan are the support cars, laden with bicycles, the VIP limousines, and of course the photographers and TV cameras.
And once all the cars in the caravan had passed there was the road-sweeping truck – what a sensible idea!! I hadn’t thought about that, but of course those racing bikes really don’t do all that well on loose gravel and other stuff!
Now the crowds were beginning to get impatient – are they coming yet?? All kinds of nationalities were present among the spectators, and many had brought their national flags along!
After several hours of watching the fun, I heard some shouting further up the road, there appeared the noise of a helicopter, and then the leading cyclists came whizzing round the corner. And I really mean whizzing!! I would never take that corner as fast as that in a car, let alone on a bike!
There was a little lull, while I waited for the peloton (the pack, made up of all the cyclists except the leading riders), I think there was something like a three-minute gap. And then more and more cyclists came pouring around the corner, it was almost as if someone had turned on a tap. Everyone was clapping, cheering and shouting encouragement, and as fast as they’d arrived they were gone, whizzed by. A few more cars came by, ostensibly with spare parts, and then one lone cyclist brought up the rear.
And then it was all over and we all went home… :-). Oh, but some people put in a fair bit of effort afterwards, and put some wonderful videos of the event together. I don’t take any credit or blame, but thank you for the two people who posted these on YouTube: