Sheep and rain the story of our holiday.

Mont Ventoux – A week after the TDF, originally uploaded by kdt.

When we planned our holiday we thought our theme would be cycling and food. We were wrong. The theme has turned out to be sheep and rain. In every country we have got wet. We are proud owners of new yellow ponchos and our umbrellas and wet weather gear have been well used. Helen went so far as to buy a new cycling jacket.

Golly, there are a lot of sheep in the north of England. But even in Provence there are a lot of sheep. You can see Helen’s magnetic personality as a flock of Provencal sheep surround Helen on Mont Ventoux. This is a famous TDF climb. In reality it’s not that bad 24km with a bracket of between 6% and 12% going upto 1912m. Nothing really, compared with 17% and 500m in the Pennines. I reckon I can do it 🙂

What to shall we do in Paris today?

TDF, originally uploaded by Helen K.

Today’s forecast tells me it will be 19 degrees, with sun and clouds. What shall we do today – there a so many things for tourists to see Paris, but here is what we have decided:

1. Sleep in, for a change.

2. Have breakfast in the hotel, it will be more relaxing.

3. Stroll around the gardens. Perhaps enjoy food and drink. Oh, we might go and watch Cadel Evans win the 2011 Tour de France, and be presented with a yellow jersey. Is there anything else that can be compared to being in Paris today?

Yes, folks we have tickets for one of the stands on the final Champs Elysee. Don’t know what the experience will be like (welcome by tour host, gift – who knows what this will be like, food and drink through the afternoon), but today is a great day to be an Australian and be here in Paris to see the presentation of the Jerseys. And no, we didn’t bring a flag – in 2005 when we saw the TDF we were ignored so I left it at home, I’m okay with this.

As for Australia having a public holiday on Monday to celebrate – why not, makes damn good sense to me.

So, what will you be doing today?

Stage 7 start

Stage 7 start, originally uploaded by Helen K.

Viva le tour!

On Friday we said goodbye to the Tour de France, as we watched the sign-on of the cyclists and the depart for the last time.

After keying into the GPS “Bugatti circuit”, we arrived and eventually parked. By this stage we learnt to park like the French – anywhere is good enough. We walked to the started and looked around, much of the space in front of the sign on centre area was already 4-5 deep, and found a spot on the side on the fence that the cyclists had to go past to enter the centre area.

While waiting there was the usual entertainment, from the Nesquick Rabbit, and Skoda Yeti (of which I got a hug), and team Vittel. By now we knew the routine. Then right on queue as the riders began to sign on, it rained again, and out came the poncho. Our location turned out to be absolutely perfect. Interviews were done in the area in right in front of us. A few cyclists came to sign autographs for people nearby. Cadel, and Griepel spoke to the journos from SBS. Ah magic! While I didn’t get any signatures, I just kept taking photos.

Seeing the Tour de France was amazing – but on reflection, it certainly made me value the experience of the Tour Down Under, given the access to the riders, bike preparation area, not to mention location – given the amazing experience you can have at little or no cost.

Lorient – Contador

Lorient – Contador, originally uploaded by Helen K.

Anyway, back to Lorient. Once the heavens opened up, I decided €10 was a worthwhile investment in a poncho. Especially, given the umbrella was in the car (“it’s not going to rain”), and we were wearing summer clothing – much like everyone else. Admittedly, we weren’t at the front of the railing, but good enough to have a view of the cyclists arriving to sign on. However, those in front of us did have a jacket and an umbrella, but didn’t posses the ability to stand in persistent rain, and decided it was all too much, and left. Ah victory was ours! We were now on the front railing – perfect opportunity for photos, even if the rain continued.

Much like the Tour Down Under there was the traditional commentator (25 years going strong in the role), talking about the local town, the route and the entertainment. The town band arrived…. went on the stage but the rain prevented them from actually playing. The TV interviewers and commentators who spent time setting up earlier, packed up – all too much rain for them to persist. However we remained – given the advantage point we weren’t going to let a little rain move us.

About an hour after it started raining, the cyclists began to arrive. They rode up, leaned their bike against the railings, walked up the stairs, and signed on. The commentator called out their name and any significant races they had won. This was sometimes difficult to understand given the French accent. Once signed on after shaking the hand of local official, they proceeded down the stairs got on their bike, grabbed a powerade bar, and rode to the starting area.

Standing there, in the pouring rain, watching the “who’s who” of pro cycling in one spot was quite amazing. Seeing Contador, the Schleck brothers, and Evans, was absolutely fantastic. There were so many cyclists in the space of 20 minutes…. It was hard to keep up with who had arrived, but despite the rain, we continued to take photos.

Within 20 minutes, the cyclists were all signed on, the presentation was over and we had 15 minutes until the start. Still feeling the buzz from the presentation we thought walking along the neutralized section would provide a good advantage as the cyclists rode by. However, it started to rain again, and as we were walking past the start, there appeared to be plenty of room. We took a position, took more photographs until they rode off.

Ah…. It was a fantastic experience, despite the rain.

A rainy start to stage 4 in Lorient

Last Import-19, originally uploaded by Helen K.

Rain has a tendency to put a dampener on events – especially while on holiday. However for us, it gave us the advantage.

We drove in early to Lorient…. And spent 25+ mins walking to the start, as today’s TDF started near the submarine base (makes sense – away from the centre of town). It all looked good, slightly over cast, and cool. The biggest decision of the morning was “do we wait near the actual start or go where cyclist will be signing on?”. Given we had 3 hours before the start, we decided to go with the sign on area, even though we weren’t on the barrier to get the best view.

Entertainment during this time took the form of TDF sponsors giving out food, newspapers, and a range of promotional products which are meaningless to us. There were kids, men in costumes, and a band, but at 10:30 the overcast sky started to rain on their parade – and us.

No person need go hungry on tour

No person need go hungry on tour, originally uploaded by kdt.

The caravan is an amazing temple to consumerism. Like a Christmas Pageant on steroids a very long cavalcade of vehicles with pretty young things gyrating to pulsating dance music travel for the length of each stage. Alternating between taunting and delighting the crowd. The objective is to get the spectators to worship the products. This year a sausage maker is celebrating 40 years – the crowd sings its Happy Birthday in French. The sweet manufacturer has the crowd chanting its name. The bottled water supplier sprays the crowds with water while conducting acrobatic contortions from a slow moving truck. There are banks, newspapers, betting operators, television channels, the police and fireman are represented.

The photo is some of the stuff we have collected in two days. We need buy no more water, madeleines, sweets, snack foods while in France. I have a hat for every occasion, a baguette back (one of the best), pens, bottle openers, washing detergent (yes, that’s right we can wash our clothes), hand clappers, and to Helen’s delight three massive PMU hands.

After 5 Panches (A no alcohol beer freely served to the crowd), Helen was a convert. Oh did I mention the fresh bread and Nutella! If only I were a kid!

If only it passed through poor districts or visited the homeless!