09 July 2011

Tour de France: La caravane et le peloton

The day turned out to be cloudy and windy. We got to our friends' house out in the country south of Saint-Aignan at about 11 a.m. Already, cars were parked all along the side of the road, in every little lane and even in the fields, recently harvested. There were also camping trailers and RVs with people sitting around tables alongside, drinking wine and eating lunch by the side of the road.

At one point, our friend who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, said maybe he would recreate the scene when he got back home: he could sit out on the side of San Pablo Avenue in a folding chair, drink wine, applaud, and yell at the cars and drivers that passed. We all had a good laugh thinking about that image.

This was our view up the road, on a big curve
through a wooded area.

We first had lunch inside, up at the house, since it was windy and even cool outdoors. During our lunch around the kitchen table, we noticed that it had started raining outside. Then it started raining even harder, really coming down. But no worry, the shower lasted only about three minutes. Then the sun came out, off and on, for the rest of the day. We didn't get washed out, though we debated the need to take umbrellas and raincoats with us when we walked down to the road.

These cars decorated with baguettes de pain
were part of the caravane.

Down at the end of our friends' road, about 300 meters/yards, two or three cars were parked and 12 or 15 people waited for the main event. We joined them at about two o'clock, when what they call the caravane was scheduled to pass by. The "caravan" is made up of a lot of support vehicles, police cars and vans, press cars, and a lot of decorated, brightly painted cars and trucks that the sponsors of the Tour send out to advertise their products.

These are old Citroën 2CV's advertising the French
hard sausages called saucissons secs, eated with apéritifs.

When the sponsors' cars go by, they throw out what we came to call, affectionately, "crap." Key chains, hats, cookie and saucisson samples (in cellophane bags), and so on. At one point one of the tchotchkes landed on the edge of the road, and when Walt went to pick it up our gendarme yelled at him to be careful not to get run over. During all this, Callie, on a leash, just sat and watched calmly. She didn't bark, she didn't seem afraid, and she was generally on her best behavior.

Here come the riders, with their motorcycle escort.

Yes, we had our own gendarme — a tall, skinny young guy who told us he was assigned to the Tour de France for a week. He was stationed at the end of our friends' gravel road, on a big curve in the paved lane that was the Tour de France route. He made sure no cars came down the gravel road (there were maybe two or three that arrived from somewhere over the course of the afternoon), directed traffic when for some reason a traffic jam developed during the passing of the caravan, and chatted with us spectators.

The whir of the spokes and the whine of tires on pavement
as the peloton sped past were memorable sounds.

The pack of cyclists, the peloton, finally showed up at about 4:30, an hour late because of the strong headwind they had to ride into all day. We had plenty of time between the caravan parade and the bicycle race to walk back up to the house for bathroom visits and to get another bottle of wine and some snack foods. The rain held off, with just a couple of very moments of light drizzle, and then the sun came out brightly and quickly warmed things up by 4:00 or so.

And then it was over in the blink of an eye...

When we saw helicopters on the horizon to the west, we knew the cyclists were approaching. I went over and stepped down into a ditch along the side of the road — remember, with the drought everything is powder-dry — so that I could get some good shots of the approaching riders at pavement level. It worked, but the race passed by so fast that my little camera wasn't really up to the task. I did snap a few shots, as you see here.

A portrait of "our" gendarme doing his job

When Walt and I go home, we scanned through the TV coverage of the day. We saw videos of some of the region's famous châteaux, as we had hoped — Amboise, Montrichard, Chenonceau, Montpoupon, and less-famous Le Mousseau and L'Estang at Orbigny, and so on. We didn't see our friends' house on camera — that's too bad. However, we did see ourselves, standing on the side of the road and taking pictures as the lead riders raced past. I'll capture some stills from that coverage today and post them tomorrow if I can.


  1. Bravo, you got some great shots!

  2. That is so cool that you participated and were even on TV. It's easy to be a Tour fan when it's in your own backyard, isn't it? Sounds like a fun day. xo

  3. It seems a to be over so quickly doesn't it, but at least the caravan stretches the day out a bit. It is definitely better I have decided to watch a time trial as we did when it was near Angouleme, the day lasts much longer! Diane

  4. You captured it brilliantly Ken. What a great experience... and I rather like your own personal Gendarme :)

  5. Sounds like you had a great day:-) We watched it on the TV after waving goodbye to our guests around noon. It was fun recognising places we've been and little back roads we've driven.

  6. Hello from Australia. I read your blog often, and last night watched the Tour in the hope I would see some of the St Aignan area we stayed in at Christmas. It was beautiful, you got some great pictures, and who knows...I may have even seen you on the TV. Love your blog Ken!

  7. Looking forward to tonight's stage in the mountains Ken. But I need an evening nap to wake uo to watch in the late hours.. Love the coverage showing Chenonceau.
    Later next week we see it go thru Saint Chinian in the Languedoc, another favorite village of ours.

  8. I wish I had been there. Thanks for the great shots.

  9. Can you tell from your TV coverage where you are on the racecourse? Our coverage includes a kilometers-to-go counter, does yours? We saved the recording so we can try to find you.

  10. Love your Tour coverage, Ken! We are watching the race as I type. The guys are going downhill in the Auvergne and it's rather spooky. Voila les vaches;)

  11. That was great. That vaugely attractive young man is old enough to be a policeman?

  12. I kept looking for you guys but I didn't see you. Well, more than likely, I saw you and did't know it.

  13. The guy in the 2nd baguette-mobile looks like he's ready to rob a bank - I can just imagine the witnesses describing the getaway car.

    Glad Walt didn't get run over...

  14. Oh, curious...what time did they stop traffic on the road and how log after the racers passed, did they re-open it to the public?

  15. Ken,
    We love your blog!!!! You seem to have an artist eye, since you always have the best shots! Again, thanks for sharing a little slice of your paradise with us.....

  16. Hi Tom, the counter on my screen shows 64.7 km. I'm on the right, standing down in the ditch with one leg up on the rise. Harriet, Walt, Callie, and our other friends are just to the left of me, next to the tree and in front of the cars. I'll put the picture in by blog post tomorrow.

    Starman, the road closed at noon. The caravan came through between two and three, and the cyclists between 4:30 and 5:00. Then they re-opened the road.

    John, the gendarme's warning surprised Walt, because he wasn't in any danger. He was a very young cop, not very experienced.

    Craig et al., :^)

  17. aaah fabulous. I'm so very jealous! I love watching le Tour on the tv every year, enjoying the scenery and the race itself. Your photos are wonderful, thanks for sharing.

  18. Damn! Our coverage stopped for a commercial break at 65.4km and returned at 63.7. We didn't get to see you.


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