Le Tour - The Final Conclusion !
Trip Start Aug 17, 2010
83Trip End Sep 16, 2011
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Where I stayed
HOTEL ARC ELYSESS
A different day today. We reluctantly leave the scrumptious Hotel de la Poste for Grenoble, where we will drop-off the hire car ( with great relief ) and head-over to the local park to watch the time trial, before jumping on a high-speed train to Paris !
The individual time-trial stage is a great tradition of the Tour de France; the pre-ultimate stage where it is man against man via the clock. The riders go out one by one and ride a 42.5km circuit against the clock. Fastest wins the stage. This is also where an individual rider can make time up on his rivals for the overall General Classification ( i.e. yellow jersey ) honours. There is no hiding from a time-trial.
The central park in Grenoble is mad – people everywhere milling about on muddy, wet grass. We position ourselves close enough to see the giant TV screen at the finish, as really the time trial is all about individual statistics, so we need to see what is going on. The riders head-off one by one, and suddenly we are up to Contador heading off, then – the man in red & black, off goes Cadel. 3 mins later goes Frank Schleck, then 3 mins later – the man to beat – Andy Schleck.
We are agog watching the screen. And quickly very excited. Cadel is absolutely scorching it, he's eating into Andy’s time right from the go – the difference is consistently dropping every minute. Poor Frank is not in it – he’s a climber, and a tired one by the look of it. Andy is digging deep, but Cadel is not to be denied – grimace firmly set on his face, he burns up Andy’s advantage, pulls ahead of him to the yells of the Aussies around us, and continues to pile the pressure on. Result – a 57s deficit turned into a 1m 34s advantage. Cadel has taken the maillot jaune – Cadel has effectively won the Tour de France. All he needs to do is stay upright and finish in tomorrow’s Champs Elysees stage. Wow.
Everyone is heading to Paris now. On the TGV, or bullet train. We hit 300km/hr according to various iPhone GPS and training monitors. The train canteen runs out of beer – appears everyone is an Aussie now and celebrating – loudly ! Its going to be a big day tomorrow !
Day 7 – 24th July
Paris – Champs Elysees – Tour de France. Difficult to see how it gets any bigger in this city. Last night the traffic was chaos. Today, the Champs Elysees is fenced-off, all ready for the final stage of Le Tour. It’s damp and grey, but nothing is stopping the enthusiasm of the crowds. We step out of our hotel which is situated a block away and walk to the end of the street to the famous avenue. We are just near the Arc de Triomphe – the turnaround point of the Paris circuit of the final stage. The crowd is already building and it is only 10am – the riders are not expected until 5pm !
We walk up towards the finish line as far as we can, until we hit the barriers keeping the public out. Luckily we find a group of Aussies and camp-in with them, glad of like-minded company for celebrating Cadel’s win. The crowds are mad, public toilets are scarce, but baguettes can always be found – this is France after-all. We can just see a TV screen, and witness Cadel enjoying the early parts of the stage – the peloton riding slowly, respecting the maillot jaune – Cadel sipping champagne while he rides, toasting with the BMC team manager.
While it is true that the Paris stage is largely ceremonial, there is some racing yet to be done – the stage honours are there for the taking ( the maillot jaune not being foolish or greedy enough to risk any accidents, so staying out the way ); and the green jersey – the overall fastest sprinter. So, as the peloton approaches Paris, we see Cadel put the champagne away, change his ceremonial yellow road bike ( I’m not joking ) for his trusty steed, and the BMC team gather close around him in the peloton, protecting him from any mishap and making sure that no-one thinks of breaking with tradition and try to make time up to challenge the maillot jaune.
They’re racing again – and as the peleton comes around into the Champs Elysees, they rush past at full speed, with Cadel nestled in amongst the red & black of the BMC, us supporters yelling hoarse as he goes past. By the way, they do 8 circuits of the Champs Elysees. And we see them go up and back – that’s 16 yells of "Caaaadeeellll !". But there is other action happening. A breakaway group has formed, and all the usual “cat & mouse” games of road racing are being shown. But there is an undertone. Mark Cavendish, the British cyclist, the world class sprinter, has unfinished business, and his HTC team mean to see he finishes it. Mark was way ahead on points for the green jersey, but the mountains of the last few stages had taken their toll, and he and the other top sprinters had been docked points for coming in too late. So he has to win on the Champs Elysees to win the green jersey. His team, HTC, and their infamous “road train” sets him up, and with the BANG that only Cavendish produces, he turbos his way across the finish to win the stage and the green jersey. Cadel, safe within the peleton, crosses soon thereafter, and we have witnessed the 1st Australian cyclist to win the Tour de France.
A surreal experience. Advance Australia Fair echoes down the Champs Elysees, sung by Tina Arena no less – and she does a really brilliant job. Aussies have appeared from everywhere, but the win appears popular with everyone, the French seem to respect the efforts shown by Cadel through the years. The parade of teams down the street begins – and finally we see Cadel riding slowly with his team mates. The Aussies we are with yell out, and he turns and acknowledges us with a restrained punch in the air, nodding and smiling – a fine moment for a truly deserving sportsman. Go Cadel – you are in the history books now.