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.

Survivor: Tour de France Stage 5

On the train from Lille to Arras I met up with a mother and daughter from Norway who are following the Tour de France from Leeds to the first rest day. Ashild is a huge Peter Sagan fan. She has been able to meet him and she shared her photos. She must be thrilled as he had a very good day today in spite of the cobbles and muck. 

My hotel, Chambres d’ hotes La Cour des Grands in St Nicolas-Arras, is lovely; however, I missed the small print that says check in from 5-7 p.m. I used the phone I got at Heathrow to call when I found the front door locked. The proprietor was gracious about coming over and letting me in, giving me a key, a map, the log in for wifi and the code for the front door. This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel that does not maintain staff at reception. Once I was in it was fine. I used my French phrase book to ask the maid where I might find a laundromat. She gave me excellent directions by pointing and waving her arms.

The plan was to do a load of laundry and then continue on with clean clothes in my pack and watch the Tour in an Irish pub in English. This worked well last year in Bergen and Lyon. Alas, the French manager at Dan Foyle’s Irish Pub in Arras is more interested in heavy metal music than sport. He turned the television to the Tour and then proceeded to block the view, even making out with his girlfriend. And to add insult to injury, the pub was out of Guinness. Revoke the Irish in the pub sign!

I hiked in the rain and muck to my hotel and tucked myself in bed to watch the last 78 km. What a day. I was cold and miserable walking around town. I cannot imagine how wretched the race course must have been. I watched rider after rider go down. I got teary watching Chris Froome abandon the race at about 66 km. Then I rooted for Fabian Cancellara to bridge to the yellow jersey trio and go for a win. It was not to be as Lars Boom was on fire. Tour GC leader Vincenzo Nibali earned more respect today by controlling the front all day.