Paris & Tour de France, Jul 2009

So another unexpected confluence of events happened mid year when Russell and Gonzalo (aka the Buenos Aires tango kings), announced they were spending a month in Paris.  So I thought 'that's nice, I'm jealous, hate you'.  Or something like that - but definitely in that order.  I then realised that their time coincided with the final stage of the Tour de France when they ride into Paris, and then started to tremble with excitement when I realised what that meant.  Almond croissants and free lodging!!  And then (strangely, just like last year) in that wonderful way that a good idea seems to gain even more momentum, Pam and Michael announced they were changing their travel plans to come to Paris from Prague to see the final stage too.  Clearly no-one had warned Paris what would happen when that group of people got together, and so the die was cast for a wonderful few days in the City of Light.

DSC_0005  After spending an extra day waiting in Philadelphia for the flight I had missed the prior night (courtesy of weather, grumble grumble) I luxuriated in my Economy seat for a sleepless night across the Atlantic.  And I know you will be impressed by the fact that I actually paid for an International ticket.  Last time had been 5 years ago to Sicily, so it does happen.  Poor Russell had the coffee and croissants waiting (a second time) although the flight was early and I returned his hospitality by getting him out of the shower to answer the door.  There are not many people who would answer the door at 08.00 dripping in their towel, but Russell is a real trouper.  

DSC_0010  He and Gonzalo had bought some clunkers (which they then sell back at the end of the holiday) so we took off to check out the route and experience the cobbles of the Champs Elysees.  As you can see, Russell had trouble keeping his training (w)heels on the ground.  I am sooo tempted to make another comment here but I don't think our friendship could stand the repercussions....

DSC_0025  A lovely nap followed in the Tuileries Gardens, followed by lunch in the Gardens, followed by another nap.  Jet lag remember.  Russell made a short video of our training ride, please vote for him at the next Oscars in the Hilarious Documentary category.  (I don't know how to  make it smaller).

DSC_0049  Since realising the last time I followed the TdF for a few days, that the best place to see the riders was at the start (hint, they aren't moving at 35mph there) the plan was to train down to Montereau-Fault-Yonne.  This is the place to live if you are afraid of living in a town with only one name.  And 18,000 people must think that way.  Anyway the Tour took it over that day, and the only thing missing from our pockets was the super important entry card into the 'secure village' above.  So we hung off the outside fence looking like chimpanzees wanting to break into jail.  Target for next year is ENTRY!!

DSC_0047  The buses all arrived and a scrum formed around them like worker bees around the queen.  Those buses held several million Euro's worth of talent.

DSC_0041  Did I say Talent?  If I was closer I would have snatched that security card from his neck.  Amongst other things.

DSC_0051  This very obviously Aussie couple were from Wollongong in NSW.  They had intended to follow the Tour for only a few days, but this was Day 9.  Enjoyed chatting, see you next year then!

DSC_0053  Cycling is probably the last sport where you can get so close to the competitors that you can speak to them if you wish.  The little narrow streets of the start villages are a great place to check out people close up.  This was the start line, coming up on 13.30.  Check out the guys half way up the lamp post.

DSC_0076  Adrenalin starting to build.

DSC_0128  But we couldn't stay and wait for the building excitement, we had a luncheon booking on the Champs Elysees to attend!  So as soon as the riders had left we swapped our trusty 8.80 Euro train (down from Paris) for a chauffeur driven Bemmer to get back.  Long story how that happened, the best I can say is 'ask Pam'.  Here Michael, Pam and I achieve our cool tourist impersonation.  

DSC_0139  Many shops trizz themselves up to celebrate the Tour.  This upscale ladies clothes shop had a bike suspended above the entry, with all the clothes names painted on.  Bugger the clothes, give me the bike!

DSC_0146  How much better can life get other than 1) being in Paris, 2) with good friends like Pam & Michael, Russell & Gonzalo, 3) having just arrived by chauffeured BMW, 4) to a first floor window front table for lunch, 5) ON the Champs Elysees to watch the riders as they come by, 6) with a chilled glass of Rose about to dabble its way onto my tongue.  I guess that's why I look happy?

DSC_0166  And here they were for the first of 8 circuits from Place de Concorde up to the Arc de Triomphe.  If you look hard in there you can see Contador, the Yellow Jersey.

DSC_0190  We had the added benefit of being able to watch the race on the TV as well, so the bits that didn't race by in front of us could be seen too.  This is simply a wonderful shot of this lovely city.

DSC_0194  And I would dearly love one day to be able to take a photo like this live, the breakaways ripping up the cobbles towards the Arc at 35 mph, people screaming from the roadside.  But until then, this TV shot will have to do.  The hieroglyphics top left mean there was 12 km to go and the Yellow Jersey was 11 sec behind this group.

DSC_0200  After the race finishes there is a ceremonial ride by of all the teams to celebrate the completion of 3500 kms of grueling riding.  Led by possible champions of the future.

DSC_0249   So I climbed up on a vantage point to get some better photographs and saw this advertisement on a Mercedes showroom.  Says it all I reckon.

tdf09st22ed-conquistador  Two things were notable the following day, this cover page of l'Equipe, the sports paper of France.  And the headlines on a local paper that said simply 'Chapeau a la Texan'.  Who would have thought after the contentious relationship between the French and Armstrong you would ever see him complimented?!

So follow along on the pages below for more riveting stories and pictures.