By Tina of CityGirlRides.com
This July I had the opportunity to witness the final stage of the Tour de France during a vacation in Paris. The 98th Tour de France came to a close Sunday, July 24th, with BMC Racing Team’s Cadel Evans the first Australian to win the competition with brothers Andy and Frank Schleck placing second and third. Beginning July 2, 22 teams started at the Passage du Gois in western France, covered 3,430.5 kilometers (2,132 miles) in 21 stages, and climbed some of the highest points in Europe — Stage 18 included a run through Col Agnel, a 2,744 meter (9,000 feet) high pass through the Alps. The first half of the tour this year was horribly plagued by crashes, most notably Netherlands rider Johnny Hoogerland’s who tumbled into a barbed-wire fence after being bumped off the road by a car, ouch! That Sunday riders descended into Paris ending the race supported by fans and compatriots from around the world.
The day before the final race, I walked along Champ Elysees where Place de la Concorde and the Arc de Triomphe are in clear view and found many boutiques set up memorabilia for tourist and fans to purchase – you bet I got mine! There you could find decorations of flags, posters, and campers setting up to reserve a spot to get a clear view of the final stage. You could also find hot spandex babes riding along the street to experience the road that the racers would make a final sprint on, it was a sight! Sitting in a café, I witnessed groups of fans staring at large screen tv’s of live coverage and holding their breaths to see who would take the stage before the final race, the excitement was so contagious, I even started cheering in French “allez!” With Cadel taking the win, I was excited to see his compatriots proud of their representative.
Excited to watch the final race, I set up camp early morning July 24th along bustling Champs Elysees. The Champs Elysées is probably one of the best places to see the race finish, as you can see the racers pass 16 times before you, it is also where the crowd is most important (plan to come several hours before arrival). As you watch spectators are in full gear wearing hats, t-shirts, holding flags, having picnics, carrying on conversations with people from around the world about the events of the race, while everyone is patiently anticipating the racers. Two hours before the race ends, you’ll find sponsors of the Tour de France parading up and down Champ Eylsees, it’s pretty cheesy but entertaining nonetheless, and children love it.
As police, maintenance men, and team cars begin to roll through, you can hear a whirring wind and the sound of rubber wheels speedily approaching. Everyone pushes closer to the barracks to get a clearer view of the racers, holding their cameras out. When the racers speed through, you can see they are exhausted after three weeks of racing but excited to be at the final stage, finally. Crowds begin to cheer, clap, showing their support. You can feel the power of their group riding creating winds that manage to cool you down in the summer heat. They are going fast, so you do all you can to get a clear photo. After racers finish eight times around Champ Elysees, everyone runs to the final podium to watch Cadel and the Schlek brothers take the final stage, the moment everyone has been waiting for.
The spirit of Paris during the Tour de France can be political or just good old team spirit. Yet, when you’re faced with the reality that these men have been racing for three weeks straight throughout France, facing downpours of rain, injuries, unbearable hunger and conditions, you are excited just as they are to see that they made it, taking their victory laps along the beautiful Champ Elysees in Paris.