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.
I 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.
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.
I had been making good eating choices all week and even before I knew of the terror attacks in Paris I had decided to get a donut in the morning. I was up early finding solace in a email chat with my daughter. Eventually Lulu’s woeful looks got me up and I took my dog for a walk. Then I went to the Midtown Farmers Market. Usually the Sweet Dozen food trailer is there serving up donuts. Not today. Then I remembered they were supposed to be at Chocolate Fish in East Sacramento. I was too hungry to bike there on an empty stomach. So I warmed up leftover Thai food and watched a comfort episode of I’ll Have What Phil’s Having on PBS.org. I watched the Paris episode and prayed for the citizens of this great city: may they find comfort today too. Though I watched Phil dive into fussy pastries and pull apart a messy croissant and it only deepened my craving for the humble donut.
I jumped on my bike and headed to East Sacramento. By the time I arrived the Sweet Dozen trailer was shuttered. No donut. I got in line for one of Sacramento’s best flat whites and I realized what I really wanted was a donut. I plugged “donuts near me” into Google Maps and up popped Stanely Donuts at 37th and J Streets. I could check my P.O. Box, and then stop on my way home.
In my experience the best donuts in California are made by Cambodians. I learned this from friends who work in Cambodia and seek out donut shops run by Cambodians to practice their Khmer when they are in California. Turns out there is a bit of a Cambodian donut cartel once you step outside of the “gourmet” donut world. These are fresh, yummy donuts offered in super clean stores with regular hours. Stanely you have my loyalty!
After a lovely chat with the proprietress (who gave me an extra free donut!), I walked across the street for a Starbucks coffee in a controversial cup and free wifi. Next up: a quick stop at Geographica, a delightful map and art shop where I always seem to find a great gift or something I cannot live without.
I am so thankful for the relative peace in my little part of the world today. Praying for all those caught in conflict around the world today. Peace be with you.
Kim and I had a relaxed afternoon and evening mooching around Paris the day after Le Tour ended. Kim the extreme cyclist from Austin was a complete stranger when we were assigned to the same room in St Lary Soulan; by Paris we were happy to share a walking adventure together and split the costs of an extra night in our spiffy hotel near L’Opera House.
We started by giving ourselves a little over an hour to speed shop in Galeries Lafayette. Then we began the slow climb up to the Sacre Coeur basilica.
My friend Jane from the Alps gave us a recommendation for a restaurant near there for dinner. (She had met the papa of the chef on her travels and dined there earlier in the week.) We stopped as our whimsy directed including a wonderful toy store. Eventually our hunger was prioritized over shopping.
We climbed and climbed until we finally found the restaurant, La Cremaillere 1900. The interior of the restaurant was beautiful (admired on the way to the loo) and all of the seating was outside in the courtyard on Henri Boulard. We enjoyed our meal and a glass of rose and then moved on to see the basilica.
The Sacre Coeur is very popular more for the view of Paris from the grounds than as a place of worship. I waited for Kim in a seat near the back and watched as people ignored the sign of “Silence, respectful dress, and no photos.” There was even a guy with a Heineken beer bottle cruising through with his family (sold outside on the steps by ambitious “entrepreneurs”). We walked past hundreds of people already waiting on the steps for the sunset.
We sauntered back to the hotel and packed for an early morning departure. I will never be a Francophile and after four visits to Paris I am satiated. After all of the frustrations traveling in France it was fitting that I had one last experience.
The hotel doorman hailed a cab for me and said “Gare du Nord” to the driver. I jumped in and noticed the drivers earbuds and did not think much of it until we started driving down the Boulevard that parallels the River Seine. Hmm. I do not know Paris that well but I did not think we were headed in the right direction. It took a few minutes to dig out my Paris map and establish that we were headed to Gare de Lyon not the train station for the Eurostar chunnel. I asked him if he was headed the right way to Gare de Nord. The driver removes his earbuds and says “Gare de Lyon”. By this time I had no time to spare to catch my train. Ideally we would be pulling up to the station in this moment. I probably shrieked, “NO! Gare du Nord!” He began to insist that the doorman said Gare de Lyon. We argued back and forth while he turned towards the right train station. He said he would only charge me 15 Euros and hurry as fast as possible to Gare du Nord. We pulled up at 9:05 and my train was leaving at 9:15. It took a few minutes to figure out where to find the security entrance and Pierre informed me that I was too late. Fortunately because I was there before the train departed I could get a new ticket for the next train at 10:15 at no extra charge. Huge sigh of relief. This misunderstanding with the taxi driver could have happened anywhere, yet the driver never apologized; he just kept blaming the doorman. So French.
Not sure if it is the caffeine (and sugar) I consumed at lunch or the sheer thrill of booking two legs of my Tour de France Adventure earlier today. I am stoked. I put a $100 deposit with Thomson Bike Tours so they would send me an announcement about their spectator tours as soon as they came available.
I received the email this morning and already booked two tours! I previously determined that mountain stages are easier to view with help from a tour company. I learned on October 23 that le Tour 2014 has 3 mountain ranges! I looked at the tour operators sanctioned by the Tour de France and zeroed in on Trek Tours and Thomson Bike Tours as they are English speaking.
Thomson especially offers more for spectators in the mountains. This morning I spent some time looking at the itineraries of the Alps trip and the Pyrenees and Paris trip. The Alps trip offers better access to 3 mountain stages, but substitutes site-seeing instead of Stage 12. They organize it so we will stay every night in Albertville and then transport us to the various stages. I can spend my travel energy on le Tour, not shifting hotels. I weighed not viewing the start or finish of Stage 12 with the upside of a tour operator worrying about the details for me and pressed “Book this Trip”.
The second trip is longer and tackles more challenging logistics. It offers 5 nights in St Lary and 2 nights in Paris. There is another trade-off: travelling to Paris instead of viewing the 20th stage, the time trial. By this time I will have been travelling for a month and I anticipate appreciating anyone who is willing to sort out my details.
I have not gone on organized tours very often. It can be challenging moving about with a group of people (any number greater than 4). Yet there is also built in camaraderie and professional guides offer greater knowledge and access.
I also plan to start le Tour with Trek Tours. This is a trip for cyclists, not spectators. For this trip (not yet published), I am improving my cycling ability and endurance. I am purposefully planning it for the start of my adventure when my energy level will be at the highest level (and before the mountains). I am so excited about riding from Cambridge to London that I want to jump up and down.
One of the great benefits of planning your own travel is that it increases your overall enthusiasm and anticipation for the adventure. I will be traveling on my own until I get to Yorkshire, and then again when I leave Trek Tours (probably in Reims). I have to sort out hotels, and transportation between towns (I am not worried about food in France!) until the first rest day on July 15, about 2 weeks into my trip.
The good news is that my friends the Watson-Lovells will be coming from their Germany adventure to join me for one or two days during that period. Brian is very good at travel planning, so it is good to have someone to consult for part of that on-my-own section.
I also have a couple of other gaps that I will need to sort out lodging and/or transportation. Then I will stop planning the details because I want to leave room for the spontaneous delights of the unexpected.