If all you see are the bikes, you miss much of The Tour.
The Tour is much bigger than a mere bicycle race. Towns must outbid each other for the right to host a stage start or finish, and the millions of $$$ that that flow from tourists, teams, sponsors, and reporters. This is about as biggest cycling event you will ever find. Seeing as it was passing within an hour and a half’s drive from our home, I couldn’t sit this out! So on Tuesday, Karen and I drove to the Belgian town of Andenne to take in a bit of stage 3. The day was partly sunny, with temperatures in the mid 70s.
Riders were scheduled to arrive about 12:55 and ride down main street. The police started shutting down access to main street at 10:30, a full 2 1/2 hours before the riders arrived. We picked out a spot, taking up station at the roundabout coming into town.
At 11:00 the caravan arrived. Race sponsors drove decked out vehicles along the route, passing out swag and trinkets. The floats are not like the Macy’s and Rose Parade variety back in the states; they are distinctly European and can only be described in pictures:
With the caravan past, life settles down a bit as people await the coming storm:
About 30 minutes ahead of the riders, team cars recon the route, advising their team about current conditions. After that, traffic is limited to official vehicles and cops, lots of cops, most on motor bikes. As 1pm approached, the tension in the crowd grew palpable. The pace of the vehicles had increased. Gone was the frivolity of the caravan, the allure of a warm summer’s day. The vehicles now swept through town quickly and with purpose. This close to the chasing peloton, any delay could interfere with the race.
The immanent approach of the peloton is heralded, not by winged angels, but by the thrum of helicopters. One is for relaying video from the ground vehicles and also provides some stunning video of the race. The other? It is for “official business.”
At last, the riders arrive. Rolling along at around 30mph, the group of 190 riders blows by in about 5 seconds
After the riders come more motorcycles, then the team cars, then… it’s over! 10 minutes after the riders passed by, main street was open to traffic and life returned to normal, if just a bit better. The spectators, officials, float girls, pilots, drivers, reporters… all have given their best to acknowledge the best as they ride by.
We can never fully comprehend the dedication and talent of tour riders. But, rather than regarding them as gods of cycling, I would suggest that they serve to inspire us all to explore our talents, to pursue excellence in whatever ways we have been gifted. Without the riders, The Tour would would be mere hype. Without the officials, spectators, reporters, and sponsors, it would just be some guys out for a ride. But together, they create Le Tour, the greatest annual spectacle of sporting endurance in the world.