le tour

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One thing we were really looking forward to on our trip was the opportunity to catch a stage of the Tour de France in person. Like many of you, the Tour has long formed the backdrop to my summer knitting and Tom, who is a keen cyclist, relishes it even more. I love the grand spectacle of the Tour as much as its sporting drama (what other event brings you titbits of information about regional specialities and buildings of historic interest in its commentary?) and I very much enjoy vicariously travelling through the varied landscapes of France as the riders pedal through each day.

So for one day only, the tour became an actual rather than vicarious experience. We were within reach of the Ventoux (a notorious climb up a notorious mountain) but, as this marked the conclusion of the stage, we felt the crowds would be too insane (which indeed turned out to be the case, as a spectator-related crash forced Chris Froome to dash on foot, sans bike, toward the summit). Tom had selected an inocuous-looking crossroads between two short climbs, which looked simplicity itself to access. We felt it was likely to be a very quiet location, any crowds being drawn by the nearby attractions of a Ventoux finish . . . but who were we kidding? This was the tour de France. Approaching our chosen spot, we were stopped by a gendarme, and instructed to park in a field with hundreds of other cars a couple of miles from where the tour would pass by. We walked those two hilly miles with scores of French families, all carrying furniture and enormous quantities of food. Further up the road were woods, in which picnics were set up and consumed. We saw some incredible food being eaten, including a gigantic, celebratory looking tarte, which I would not have fancied carrying intact up that hill.

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Finding our “quiet crossroads” rammed with excitable specators, we walked another mile or so up the road to find a spot to wait for the caravan to pass by. Crazy buggies in the shape of baguettes, tyres, goats, pens, fruit, cartoon characters, bottles, and madeleines appeared round the bend in the road, pumping out music, and chucking promotional items into the crowd. Sweets, baked goods, pencils, hats, bags . . . Tom had to protect his camera as the Vittel buggy sprayed the crowd with giant hoses, and I was particularly happy to acquire a chicken-shaped keyring from this buggy:

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Then it was time for the riders. How exciting!

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Here they come!

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The Sky train, with Chris Froome in yellow

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Gregory Rast

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I suppose the Tour is something more than itself – a cultural phenomenon as much as a race – and it was great to be a part of the event with so many enthusiastic French spectators who were all enjoying their day. It was genuinely thrilling to see the bikes go by at such close quarters, and real privilege to see these athletes up close. A grand day out indeed – which I’d highly recommend if you ever have the opportunity. So today it’s back to the time trial on TV while I work away on my latest design . . .

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