TOUR DE FRANCE – DAY 2 – Saint-Lo to Cherbourg
I woke to drizzling rain and overcast skies. It seemed that Normandy had returned to business as usual and gone back to the default ‘rain and clouds’ that apparently has summed up the 2016 summer in this part of France – at least according to the locals.
It was probably going to be a pretty terrible day for the peloton weather wise.
My original plan had been to drive the 125km to Cherbourg (I definitely was not riding it this time) and witness the finish. But as soon as I saw the weather, I pretty much canned that plan. From what I understand, to get a good position to watch the final of a stage, you have to stake out a spot very early, and I didn’t have the necessary constitution to stick out seven plus hours in the rain.
So it was off to Saint-Lo – about 60 kilometres away – to see another start. This time though, I was keen to see more of the riders and the teams.
The drive was fairly unremarkable and after getting to Saint Lo the first obstacle I encountered was trying to find somewhere to park the car. Annoyingly some of the places marked out as car parks in the local TDF guides were actually parks for caravans. So I had to drive around for a bit all the while attempting to not become involved in a massive amount of car traffic pouring into the town. Eventually I found a fairly deserted car park about a 2.5 kilometre walk from the city centre.
Upon getting to the centre of town, it seemed a massive party was erupting. The tour caravan (which is essentially a massive parade that goes the entire length of the stage) was getting ready to take off, blaring random dance-pop songs in preparation for their nearly 200km journey to Cherbourg. Lots of very random floats including ones dedicated to gap-fillers (used in painting and other house DIY projects), orange juice, tour companies, and shampoo. It was fairly random though the float design was top-notch.
I set off in search of the team buses, hoping to get a glance of what the staff and mechanics were up to and secretly trying to find the Orica-BikeExchange bus so I could get myself in Backstage Pass :).
I found myself down one of the main streets when the tour caravan, which had previously been idle in the centre of tour, began its procession. It was wild, with people on the float dancing and throwing out random merchandise.
Eventually after wandering for a bit, I found the road that the buses were taking to the starting area. Unfortunately, no sign of the Orica bus, but Lotto-Soudal, Confidis, BMC, Sky and AG2R Mondiale all went past me. The buses then pulled up in a marshalling area where people lucky enough to get special yellow badges of privledges got to mingle with the team staff.
It was a bit strange watching mechanics and staff trying to do their job with hundreds of rubber-nickers watched on. No sign of any riders though – I guess it’s better for them to sit in anonymity inside their buses than try deal with the super fans outside.
Now it was starting to get REALLY busy around this area so I began to wander over to the main stage so I could get a good position to watch the riders signing in. It was a bit of a task though as moving around was made difficult by the amount of spectators as well as closures to the road around the place. Eventually I got a spot quite close to the main stage and with a view to the actually start of the stage. I could now get a view of many of the riders signing in before the race. I was there about an hour before the official start.
I didn’t really know what to expect with the sign in, but I wasn’t waiting long before random riders started filtering up to the stage and a bunch of random Confidis riders who I were not familiar with began to take the stage.
The process seemed almost random, with different riders from different teams just showing up, climbing on to the stage, signing off then giving the crowd a wave. The stage had a number of presenters and they would occasionally grab a rider for a quick chat for the benefit of the crowd – usually singlingly out French riders or ‘big names’.
The first guy to get a big cheer was the legendary Sylvan Chavanel who stopped for a quick chat with the crowd. Other riders like Warren Barguil, Greg Van Avermat and Dan Martin all were stopped by the presenters for some quick words for the crowd.
Some riders were content just to get up to the stage and down as quick as possible – which is fair enough when you’re trying to get your mind in the game before a big race.
I didn’t realise what it meant at the time, but the only full team to get up together was Lotto Soudal. They all got presented with cow plush toys for some reason and the presenter went through each of the names on the team (I gave Adam Hansen a big shout – what a guy!) before having a quick interview with Andre Griepel. In that moment, I just thought they arrived together cause they’re a bunch of nice dudes, but it was only later that I understood that this was the ‘best team’ presentation, given to the leading team on GC (I believe – correct me if I’m wrong though!). Regardless, I’m glad I got the photo above because I think Lotto Soudal have the best kit!
With about five minutes before the official start, riders began streaming in to sign off including Mark Cavendish, wearing his first ever Yellow Jersey. He came up in front of the crowd beaming with joy and giving enthusiastic waves. It was clear that the crowds held great respect for the Maillot Jeune. Mark was then interviewed briefly and his joy at wearing the yellow jersey for the first time ever was obvious. Despite me sometimes having reservations about Cav, this was a great moment to witness.
Things then started happening really quickly. Everyone was quickly on their bikes and off the to the start line. I was close enough to get some sneaky snaps of some famous faces including one of my favourites – Fabian Cancellera who seemed to be giving out some mechanical advice to Luke Rowe from Team Sky who looked a bit concerned about his front brakes. The media were still very close to the riders and some did some sneaky interviews literally a minute before the official start.
And a minute later they were off, the crowds frantic cheering ringing in everyone’s ears.
And like that, it was all done – including my Tour experience. I trudged back to the car, with the drizzle beginning to turn into proper rain.
Unfortunately, I left France the next day and didn’t get to see any more of the tour. It was a great and somewhat whacky experience, unlike any other sporting theatre I’ve seen before and I’d love to come back next time – road bike and kit in hand – and ride some of the stages and soak in even more of the atmosphere.
Till next time, France!