Monday, July 27, 2009

Vive le Tour!!!

A weekend in Paris? Why not. Does 35 hours count as a weekend? Sure. Is Chris allowed to book anymore flights or trains for 6 am on a Saturday morning? ABSOLUTELY NOT!!! Unlike Barcelona, we were better prepared for the early morning departure so it wasn't so bad... However, we did get up at 4 am and that is never a good thing in our house. Couple the early hour with my no caffeine thing and it was close to miserable... or at least it would have been if we weren't going to Paris!!!
We arrived to our hotel around 11 on Saturday morning and headed to the Champs-Élysées for a bite to eat and to scope out our spot for the next day. After all, our whole reason for the trip to Paris was to catch the final stage of Le Tour de France! And to squeeze in whatever else we could in our short 35 hours but more on that later ;-)
Our early morning wake up started to take it's toll around 4 in the afternoon so we headed back to the hotel for a quick nap and a shower prior to heading out for dinner. We were staying at Le Meridien Etoile on the last of Chris's Starwood points. Chris picked the hotel based on it's close proximity to the the Champs-Élysées and because they had rooms available... so imagine our surprise when we awoke from our nap to find team cars, caravans and equipment trucks lining the street in front of the hotel!

I snapped this shot from our room just before we headed out the door for diner. Chris and I laughed about the possibility of running into riders in the bar or lobby. After dinner we came back to the hotel and had a drink in the lobby... just in case. We saw a few people in team shirts but no one that we recognized so we called it a night.

Sunday was another early morning as we wanted to explore the city some before staking out our place on the course to wait for the riders. Exiting the hotel we found the street was a buzz with activity. The team trucks were open and guys were working on bikes and preparing for the day. Chris and I headed down to the Astana Team truck (Lance Armstrong's team) and what did we find...

Lance's bikes laid out for the world to see!!! I took a billion pics but they are fairly uninteresting looking back now. The picture above is the bike designed by Damien Hurst. Apparently, the artist used real butterfly wings achieve the design... not exactly kosher in my book but it was a pretty impressive thing to see up close. It was even more impressive when we saw Lance zoom past us on the exact bike we had stood in front of hours earlier!! The black and yellow bike behind the Hirst's was designed by Shepard Fairey. Both of the bikes, along with a few others, will be auctioned off to raised money for Stages, a part of Lance Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation. **Correction: Looks like I made a boo boo about the black and yellow bike. At closer inspection, it is not the same bike designed by Fairey. Still trying to figure out who it was designed by??? Sorry**
After snapping a bazillion pictures and wondering if Lance would pop around to check on his bikes, we decided it was time to stop being groupies and continue with our day. As we passed by the front of the Astana truck we saw a cooler of Champagne being iced down for the traditional toast at the beginning of the stage!

Now Chris and I were starting to get excited... how cool that we were watching the preparations to help celebrate the winner of the 2009 Tour de France! A race that is in my opinion the greatest test of human ability... 23 days and 2,200 miles with only 2 days off!! The guys that complete this and other races like it amaze me and seeing it unfold before my hotel made me feel a part of it!

We headed down to the Eiffel Tower for some mandatory sight seeing and enjoyed a walk along the Seine before making our way to the Champs-Élysées. And yes, I will post more about Paris later for those who are less enthusiastic about Le Tour ;-) We made it to the course just after 11 to find most of the good spots already taken! The riders weren't expected for another 4 to 5 hours! We thought we would have a pick of spots but instead we were on the hunt for the best possible spot left! With a little luck and a lot of effort we eventually found a good spot on the about half way between the Arc de Triomphe and La Place de la Concorde and started the wait.

Within an hour we had eaten our sandwich, drank our water, checked out the shopping opportunities (you know how Chris is when it comes to shopping... can't keep him out of the stores,) people watched and declared ourselves tired of waiting! The crowds were steadily growing and we were constantly fending off people trying to steal our spot. Granted we had staked out enough room for 6 people in hopes of having a little bit of space between ourselves and the chain smoking Europeans. There are aspects of the European culture that I adore but I will never get used to the smoking. Yuck! Soon enough we were joined by none other than a few Tennesseans! Leave it to me to make friends with Tennesseans when I am in Paris! Ken, Ann and Judy made excellent, non-smoking neighbors who very generously shared their picnic with us and even bought a few cold beers for Chris!

We settled in with our new found friends to wait for a few more hours before the first group of riders flew past us at about 55kph!

The lead group of sprinters were about 30 seconds ahead of the peleton...

The first pass of the peleton! If you look closely (click on the pic to enlarge it) you will see the green, white and yellow Jerseys as well as Lance Armstrong on the butterfly bike! However, for the sake of full disclosure, I admit that they were going so quick that I had to look at the view finder after the passed to see who was in the pack!

This is the only time we saw Contador and Lance anywhere near each other.

As much as the riders amaze me... they still don't compare to the camera guys! Could you imagine bouncing along the cobblestones on the back of a motorcycle with you face in the view finder for mile after mile with no break!

After 6 passes the race ended out of our view and about an hour later than anticipated. We made our way back to the hotel via the back streets to avoid the massive crowds only to find a madhouse at the hotel. Apparently, Le Meridien Etoile was the final destination for every rider on the tour! The lobby was mobbed with photographers, news cameras, autograph seekers and riders. Some of the riders were actually arriving to the hotel on their bikes! They would ride up to the door and dismount, handing their bikes over to the team equipment guys and then stroll into the lobby and check in to their rooms!

We went inside to pick up our bags only to get caught up in the storm... the next thing I know I am standing next to Mark Cavendish with my hand on his squishy pants while Chris is taking a picture!

That look on Cavendish's face is likely due to my hand on his bum...
It was an accident, I swear ;-)

We took pictures of guys coming in with no idea who they were and waited in hopes of Lance turning up. After about 30 minutes, we called it quits and headed out the door only to see the Team Astana bus turn the corner. I left Chris on the curb with the bags and landed myself a spot in front of the bus door!

A team of police officers formed a barrier from the bus to the hotel lobby. As various team members exited the bus with little recognition, the officer who appeared to be in charge asked the driver if Lance was on the bus. The driver respond no and the the officer turned to walk away, dismissing the barricade and shaking his head. The driver quickly called him back and said Contador was on the bus. The gave him a confused look and the driver said "maillot jaune." The officer quickly apologized and called the other police officers back just as Contador exited from the bus...
The 2009 Tour de France winner, Alberto Contandor!

So no Lance Armstrong... but I was inches away from the current champion.
Not a bad days work!

After the hoopla at the hotel, we made a b line to the train station for our 9:30 train which turned out to be a 9:13 train that we almost missed! A few short hours later we were back in London... back to reality...

Until next time!

1 comment:

Chris said...

For anyone with good eyes, that's Denis Menchov (plain clothes w/ hand on head) behind Jen and Mark Cavendish in the picture. While he won the Giro d'Italia only a few months ago, he was the one who kept falling during the Tour. Maybe his head is still hurting??