a belated recount
It is early Sunday morning and we are excitedly getting ready to spend the day watching the bike race. It feels like football Sunday and all those mornings spent driving to Candlestick Park to tailgate and go to the 49ers games. It has the same buzz of energy and the same early morning motivation, as we set off after cappuccinos on a brisk walk to the Champs Elysees to find our spot. It also has that same Autumn chill, as Paris seems to have, even in the full form of summertime. I don't think I have ever visited Paris and not been chilled... Anyway, off we go, to find the perfect spot, camp out, and prepare for the entourage of equipment, parades, vans, team cars, and finally, bikers to arrive.
We get to the Champs Elysees and I am surprised honestly that there isn't more of an event planned around today. It is evident from the hotels that everyone has come in droves to see the bike race, and the streets are filling up with people, but there are only a few vendors capitalizing on the event. And after several blocks of walking, I discover that the authorities have made no effort to manage the crowds. There are no extra trash cans, and believe it or not, NO extra bathrooms. Not a porta-toilet in sight. I was horrified by this observation, surely this cannot be, but after asking at least 4 vendors and different groups that seemed to know what they were doing, they assured me that, yes, I was correct, there was only 1 bathroom. In the park. Already at 9AM there was a line that took me 40 minutes. One toilet, for thousands.
So, back to the race. We secured a front row spot, as close as us free spectators could get to the finish line and the megascreen and decided to set up shop. I pulled out all of the toys and games for Bodhi and we sat on the concrete pavement. The people next to us had driven down from England and they were cozily setting up beach chairs, tables, coolers, the whole works. We didn't even think to bring our apartment towels. Luckily I did remember to bring sunscreen because despite the prediction of rain, it was a warm, absolutely magnificent day. Within the hour, we had several rows of people deep behind us, and Bodhi was getting sleepy. I decided to try to walk him around in our Ergo carrier, where he sleeps best when we are out in a crowd, so I walked through the adjacent park while he rested. When he woke up, I walked back to our spot, and we sat down for a picnic lunch. All was a relatively normal day, except that we were having to live it within a confined 5x5 foot space while we waited for the Tour de France to arrive in Paris. I won't lie, it was definitely a challenge keeping a toddler cooped up in such a small space for an entire day, but somehow, we were determined to make it happen. We hadn't come all of this way to not have the full front-row experience of the Tour. It was our first time at a Tour de France race after years of talking about going to see it, years that probably would have been much easier, we decide to come when we have a toddler to occupy. Sometimes even I don't understand our decisions like this, but we have to seize the moment, even though some times it bites.
Around 2PM the floats and promotional trucks and hoopla comes whizzing down the Avenue, and the crowd begins to stir. More people gather, and they gather in closer. There is some pushing and angling, like we are at a headlining concert. Luckily for us, behind us are the nicest Dutch family, and they are very comfortable being where they are and giving us space for Bodhi and his stroller and his desire for jumping. Then the announcer begins talking about where the bike race is, and when they will arrive in Paris, but unfortunately for us, the only words I can make out are "Pari'" and "Maillot Jaune" (Yellow jersey = race winner/leader). Around 3:30PM, the team cars start entering the circuit, and we know the riders are near. Another push or two and now, I have Bodhi in the carrier, because there is no room for him to get down. Luckily, he is a good sport about it and there is lots to see: megaphones, motorcycles carrying cameramen, cars in all colors and designs. Then, after hours of waiting, the moment arrives. You can feel the rush of excitement building as the bike riders race down the cobblestones of the Champs toward where you are standing. Suddenly, there they go, one, two, three, four, five, like flashes of colored lights. Then a whole pile more, zoom zoom zoom. The sound of the bike wheels hitting the stones and the spokes turning on the wheels sounds like a low-pitched whirrrrrrrrrrzzzzzzhhhzzzhhh... the type of sound that could put a baby to sleep. A soothing yet loud shushing noise that really amplifies the experience of being right there. In years of watching the race on TV, I definitely was not aware of that sound.
Eight times the racers blew past us at boggling speeds, giving us enough time to savor, snap pictures, catch names and jerseys, and simply take in the whole experience all at once. It is absolutely worth the wait, is all I can really elaborate my thoughts in the moment. wow, what a display. Of skill, hard work, talent, dedication, perseverance, teamwork, motivation, excellence, pain, effort, agony, pride, exhaustion, elation. You can almost feel the palpability of the emotions that the riders have on this, their last day of the longest, most grueling and painful bike race many of them have experienced. All of their efforts have led them to this day. And for many, it is a day of disappointment, as for Andy Schleck, coming in close second after weeks of amazing effort. For most, it is a day of relief and satisfaction, to have made it all the way through to the end, and to be finishing this long race. For one, a victory lap. This year the victory went to the Australian Cadel Evans. For me, it really didn't matter who won, I was just there as a fan of the event. To see in person the culmination of what these athletes have worked for, in making it across the final finish line on the Concourse. And to feel the energy generated by all of that effort and experience. It is a truly inspiring race, and being there at the finish is a day I will not soon forget.