Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tour de France

Day two started with a French breakfast at the B&B. I’ve never stayed at a B&B before and most enjoyed meeting the other guests in the dining room. First, I discussed international affairs and Germany with a family of 4 from Vancouver. The daughter was getting ready to start school in Ottawa and be a page in Parliament, so we had lots to discuss. Then I met a couple from England. They had a daughter who married a Canadian in Ottawa and a son who met an Australian in Thailand and is getting married in England. I am just fascinated by “small world” stories!

Anyway, after breakfast I took a short train ride to Caen and had no plan for the day other than to scope out the Tour de France race route and enjoy the sights. Caen has not hosted a stage of the Tour in 22 years so the city had gone all out with musicians stationed all along the race route.

I ran into these monks first (still unclear to me whether they were really monks)

and then a group dressed up like cyclists, then hippies on stilts and then this group that looked, well, French.

I was surprised that people were not already lined up along the street by noon. I expected the motorcade to go through around 3:45pm and the bikers soon after. As I later discovered (and as everyone else already seemed to know,) the bikers did not go through until almost 5pm. But this misunderstanding didn’t matter in the slightest. I scoped out the whole route, watched the crew set up the finish line, bought souvenirs, people watched, had a baguette and just enjoyed. I was amazed how many police officers were on duty—every 50 feet or so! (As a side note, French police, inn keepers and tour guides remind me, in some ways, of the Austrian ski patrol ;-)) It was also fun to watch the groups of little kids who were obviously members of childrens' cycling clubs around Caen. They were all dressed up in little cycling outfits. American kids play T-ball, maybe French kids bike!?

I was also surprised by the parade before the race. That’s something you don’t see when you watch the coverage on tv! It wasn’t a people parade, but rather 45 minutes-1 hour of cars and trucks advertising different products and passing out samples. In some ways, the parade reaffirmed a few French stereotypes. When my section of the crowd wasn't making noise, one of the guys passing out samples made a face, gave us the “to heck with you” with his hands and didn’t pass out free stuff to the people around me. Another truck was spraying the crowd with fairly high-powered water hoses. Parading in France is obviously serious business!

Were it not for the pictures I took, I would not believe that I actually saw the next part of the day—THE RACE! I would guess that the first 180 riders flew past me in less than 2 minutes. I remember hearing cheering from down the street, leaning over the fence to take pictures, realizing that I was going to get hit if I didn’t move back, taking one more picture and the race was done. WOOSH! There were a few stragglers, including one rider who had obviously crashed, but for the most part it was over before I could even process what I was seeing.

An equally cool part of the day happened as I walked to the train station. I stumbled upon the Team Discovery (Lance Armstrong’s old team), Liquigas and Ag2r team busses and chase cars. The crew was washing all of the bikes by hand and completely taking them a part to travel to the next destination. Best of all, I noticed this bumper sticker on the inside of the Team Discovery truck. The guy in the foreground may have been one of the riders, but I am not sure.

I would love to come back to the race one year with my sister, as she is the real Tour expert. Here are my favorite Katie quotes of the last week:

“What, Jan Ulrich was kicked out of the race for steroid use? Well maybe if he hadn’t been so big he could have beaten Lance in the mountains. After all these years of accusing Lance of the same thing, isn’t this an interesting turn of events.” (Ouch, KT with the slam-a-jama!)

“Erin, did you see Tom Boonen ride by?” “Katie, they came by really fast.” “No, but did you see him, go find him.” “Sure, no problem Katie, he will be the guy wearing tight shorts, sunglasses and a helmet, I am sure I can spot him.” “But Erin, he is really hot.” (The joke of this is that I am sure Katie could spot any number of the riders because she does follow the race so closely. This is why she needs to come with me next time:-))

I headed back to Bayeux for dinner—a Camembert and walnut crepe and then a pear caramel crepe for dessert. Again YUM!

More tomorrow…


At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's both a little disturbing and a little comforting to see the ol' DMWT slogan in France... hope they remember that when we're there later this month. :-) Glad you're enjoying your trip! JP

At 4:14 AM, Blogger Erin said...

Yes, well somehow I think the former Lance Armstrong mobile can get away with a bumper sticker like that, but I certainly would not wear a Don't Mess With Texas t-shirt down the Champs Elysees and expect to be warmly welcomed at the cafes:-)
And as much as I like to rip on Paris, I think even the Parisians will love you (or at least tolerate you) if you try to use a bit of French.
Happy Travels!


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