Tour de France 2017 Starts Tomorrow

This year, as in every year, I briefly thought I would watch the Tour de France casually. I would not become obsessed and thus avoid the highs and lows of cycling in July and the gutted feeling when it is over and forgo getting up at 5:30 a.m. PST.

Then I got this email.

Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 9.51.21 AMI bought the NBC Sports Gold pass for cycling during the Tour of California in May. It did not include the Giro but it will include the Tour de France. I watch on my computer, follow VeloNews and the @letour on Twitter and watch every episode of Orica Scott Backstage Pass on YouTube. Screen Shot 2017-06-24 at 10.06.51 AM

The favorites are Chris Froome (Sky), RIchie Porte (BMC), or Nairo Quintana (Movistar) for the overall General Classification or yellow jersey. The race begins on July 1 with a time trial in Dusseldorf, Germany. Will my favorite Tony Martin win on home turf? Will Germans Marcel Kittel or Andre Greipel turn themselves out to win a stage at home? Will Mark Cavendish be healthy enough to compete? Will best rider in the world Peter Sagan win the green jersey again? We’ll know when Le Tour finishes in Paris on July 23rd.

If you like listening to podcasts. My cycling favorite is The 3 Domestiques. I listen on the Stitcher app to Matt Keenan, Sam Edmunds and Dan Jones discuss pro-cycling with great interviews.

So set your alarm and don’t miss the drama, the athleticism, and the tradition.

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I bought this fan kit in England and mailed it home in a box of books. It just arrived!

 

Tour de France: Making New Memories

Jens Voigt in his element: media interviews. He earned the KOM jersey in Stage 1 2014.
Jens Voigt in his element: media interviews. He earned the KOM jersey in Stage 1 2014.

This time last year I was having an absolute ball in Yorkshire with Trek Travel. This year the Tour is in Holland for the first two stages and I am watching it from California. Today in Stage 2 the wind, rain and nerves resulted in a split in the Peloton with a group of a couple dozen riders about a minute ahead of the rest of the Peloton. Crashes and pressure created a third group that fell off the back of the race for awhile. It was exciting to watch. One additional bonus was hearing Jens Voigt’s commentary scattered throughout the broadcast on NBC Sports.

When I arrived in York and met my Trek Travel tour guides I had a mental list of my cycling heroes that I definitely wanted to meet and ask to sign my California state flag. 1. Greg LeMond, 2. Jens Voigt, and 3. Fabian Cancellera.  Just 24 hours later I had all three!  And Jens Voigt and Fabian Cancellara struck me as opposite personality types. Fabian seemed almost shy whereas Jens is an extreme extrovert.

Cancellara's nickname is Spartacus and his Trek bike is tricked out accordingly.
Cancellara’s nickname is Spartacus and his Trek bike is tricked out accordingly.

Whereas Jens retired, I am still following Fabian Cancellera’s career. He had a serious crash at the beginning of the season and it was uncertain if he would make the Tour team. He is definitely coming on form as he came in third in the Stage 1 Time Trial. As he started Stage 2 he said in an post-race interview that he had not been thinking about winning the yellow jersey for the 29th day in his career. I guess it is possible that it was not a conscious thought, but he is such a canny cyclist that I do not believe that he had not figured out the scenarios where he could win the yellow jersey (fastest time overall).

The Trek Team must have given him a free pass to do what he can as he was the only Trek team member to get into the breakaway group. The three great sprinters were also in the group: Mark Cavendish, Peter Sagan and Andre Greipel. (Of the four favorite GC riders only two made it into the breakaway: Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.) If Cancellara placed third, the bonus time in the sprint would give him the yellow jersey. Tony Martin was in a similar situation and he also made the breakaway. However, there is a difference between theoretical opportunities and having the bike skills, experience and confidence to execute.

Cancellara preparing for Stage 2 in 2014
Cancellara preparing for Stage 2 in 2014

The sprint started at 500 m to the finish. It may have been too early for Mark Cavendish as he was out fast and first. The Peter Sagan broke wide and poured on the gas. Then Greipel’s huge engine kicked in and he surged forward. But who was the only rider with them at the finish? Fabian Cancellara. And he took advantage as Mark Cavendish faded to take third place and grab the yellow jersey.

I am delighted. This may be his last Tour and I am enjoying the new memories he is making!

Tour de France Finale in Paris

It was a very emotional day: the final stage of the Tour de France. After 21 stages in 23 days I can hardly believe it is actually over. It was also an exhausting and hot day. It took some staying and recovering to appreciate that I was actually on the Champs Elysees watching the last eight laps of the 2014 Tour de France.

IMG_3206My favorite moments were actually trying to snap a picture of the lantern rouge, the only Chinese rider Jl Cheng of Giant Shimano.  At the start of the day he was almost 6 hours behind Vincenzo Nibali. Today he was lapped by the main peloton. Ouch.

We were about 150 feet from the finish line, but it was on the other side of the road so it was only on a distant large screen television that I could see Marcel Kittel just barely beat Andre Greipel. 

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The end of the race was a nice surprise. Much of the crowd stayed and cheered for the riders as they made their way to the team buses. Some even high-fived us as we reached over the barrier. The winner of Stage 19 stopped to speak to his friend. Families helped to celebrate the end. 

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Thomson Bike Tours went on a river cruise. I chose to walk slowly back and see the team buses and savor the last moments of this magnificent event. The Vittel water sponsors were peeling off the logo from the vehicle and I got a section of it. Sounds strange I know, but it looks really cool.

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I paused to see Jens Voigt, Frank Schleck and others at the Trek Racing Team bus. Then I spied Gabe, my Trek Travel guide. It was great to give him a big hug and bring my experience full circle. 

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Now I cannot wait to get the DVD from NBC Sports so I can hear about this year’s tour in English!

The Tour de France Fan Tribe

Whilst I am traveling around England and France chasing the Tour de France, I am part of a unique tribe. We are not just cycling fans, we are keen enough to spend our vacation time and our savings to traipse around the countryside, stand in the freezing rain for the privilege of seeing the peloton go by in about 30 seconds.

You can usually recognize the tribe by their clothes. Many are wearing bicycle kits with team jerseys or Tour de France leader jerseys– telltale signs on trains and on sidewalks that these people are following the Tour. 

 A tribal subgroup is the English speaking fans who do not speak much French.  Today I met Greg and Lorrie from Cincinatti, Ohio in my hotel breakfast area. They stood out in the freezing rain on the sixth section of cobbles yesterday. (Hopefully Lorrie will guest blog and share her photos). “Our clothes may never dry, “ they said like happy fans able to partake in the suffering on Stage 5. 

 At the start of Stage 6 in Arras, I found myself standing next to Mark and Jessica from the Lake District in England (see photo). They were going to just follow the Tour in Yorkshire and then they went to London, and then they found themselves driving their car onto a ferry to Lille and now Arras.  We traded information like news starved sports fans that we are. They got soaked on the first set of cobbles and spent the day waiting and wondering what happened to their favorite rider Chris Froome.

 Thank goodness for Twitter and Facebook, Bicycling and Velo blog sites, and other English speaking fans. Together we piece together how the race is going.  Everything in France is in French only, of course.

 When I got on the train to Paris, I noticed a young man who was also following the tour. As we disembarked he caught my eye and gave me a knowing look that said, “The Tour, right?”  We had a brief conversation. He is from Australia and is wrapping up his Tour today, spending a few days in Paris before heading home.

I did not make it to Reims in time to see Andre Greipel win his first stage of this Tour de France. Although crosswinds split the peloton, all the leader jerseys remain the same. At dinner a friendly couple from Boston just happened to be from in the area and decided to watch the finish. They loved the experience catching swag off the caravan and then seeing the front group race for the finish. 

Communication challenges abound. Most people have been super gracious about my lack of French vocabulary. I stopped at the Cafe de la Prefecture and tried to order a jambon sandwich off the board. The waiter said something to the effect of “no, no you want this” and he pointed to a special that I thought was erased. Sure, why not. It was a delicious sausage with a warm mustard sauce, fries and a salad. Other situations have been more stressful. Like taking the train to Reims through Paris and discovering with just 28 minutes until departure that I am in Paris Nord station and need to be in Paris Est station “five minutes away”.  Everything is 5 minutes away, except when it is 10 or 15! 

Other times no communication is attempted at all. I was shifted to another hotel without any email or attempt to communicate. Fortunately both hotels were fairly close to the train station in Reims. I have to credit Eurostar, for all the delays related to the recent repairs, they have done A+ work on communicating with customers. 

This is why travel is fun. It is not always easy and it stretches us. Even simple things like stepping into the pharmacy to get contact solution and throat lozenges. It took quite a while to communicate that I wanted Bonbons au Miel. Meanwhile I discovered that in France you can get flea medicine for your dog or cat at the pharmacy.