Seeing the Tour de France through a Fan's Eyes
Waiting for Lance with Sheryl Crow.
Over the years I have attended the Tour de France I have been aware there is a problem. Often the closer you get to the grand race, the less you see. Simply put, the problem is that stage bicycle racing as offered up to millions of roadside fans in France over twenty days is not a spectator sport as much as a participatory sport. To best see this ? grande boucle? , you need to get on our your bike, mix with all the peoples of the world and hope you are in the correct spot to see a 10 second flash or a critical move by a world class rider. The math is not too good if you figure there are nearly a half million fans at every stage lining a hundred mile plus stretch of roadway for five to six hours of racing. If you really want to spectate and follow the race closely you better stay home and watch it on OLN. For many it must seem that the closer you get the less you see. But, I have found the past few years that the more effort you put into shadowing the tour route and getting into unique, strategic viewing spots, the better you understand why this event has held the attention of so much of the world for so long. And, you just might see the ten seconds of glory that an OLN couch potato could never imagine. What I encountered as Lance and the Postal team was zipping up the Tourmalet a recent glorious day in July may shed a bit of mountain light on the conundrum: how can one get really close to the Tour de France and still see it. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" /?>
I led a group of fourteen Thomson Bike Tour riders down the Col de Peyrosoude earlier in the day. We were after the best viewing spot at the first major mountain stage of the 2004 Tour de France. We swept down the valley and stopped at our strategically placed camper van and grabbed more water and snacks before we started our plodding ascent fourteen kilometers up into that day?s overcast finish at La Mongie. The patchy cloud cover and cool weather made the climb bearable. Tens of thousands lined the route picnicking and painting the names of their favorite riders on the pavement. I wore a faded Postal cycling hat that drew favorable comments from many along the roadway. At the top, Thomson Bike Tour riders herded their bikes into the adjoining woods and began the wait for the climbing gods due in four hours. Most of us broke out sandwiches or snacks we had hauled up in our jersey pockets or in small daypacks. We all donned windbreakers or rain gear as the temperature started to drop and the clouds thickened. Then it started to drizzle; soon it was full rain. We scooted back further into the overhanging branches of Norway spruce.