Le Tour

Cycling for me is a form of transportation or recreation, a hobby. Before this year, I’d heard of the Tour de France (of course) but never followed it. In case you don’t know, the Tour de France is a yearly bike race, which makes its way through the provinces before finishing on the Champs-d’Élysées. It serves both as a test of racer endurance and a promotional ad for France itself.

As the route changes each year, we’re lucky that the Grenoble saw two of the stages in 2014. Stage 13, from Saint Etienne to Chamrousse, climbed through the Chartreuse, wound through the east side of town and then ascended to the famous ski resort. Stage 14 started off at Parc Mistral and rolled down the street directly in front of our apartment before heading south through a gorgeous gap, scaling another alp and finishing in Risoul.

Not being cycling aficionados, Andy and I hadn’t really thought about seeing the Tour de France. If it hadn’t been coming straight through Grenoble, we probably wouldn’t have made the effort. As it was, we had two great days of Tour festivities.

Our friends that live in Quaix-en-Chartreuse, partway up a mountain and directly on the Stage 13 route were as excited about the tour as the rest of us. They decided to host a grill out. JeanMarc suggested that interested parties meet and bike up before the racers got there. I was going to hitch a ride, then the car was full and I psyched myself up to tackle the hill ride. That was stupid. Lesson of the day: Just as I am not a red-level skier, I am not a mountain-climbing biker.

This is the only picture.

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Quaix-en-Chartreuse is quite the picturesque mountain hamlet. We took a walk up to look at some of the festivities and of course Andy needed his coffee.

I didn’t know this, but the Tour de France is proceeded by a parade/caravan of advertisers’ floats. Imagine…giant horses, dogs, and cheese crisps rolling by as the young people who are harnessed in below toss promotional hats, Frisbees, key chains, and snacks to the eagerly awaiting spectators. Now imagine them doing it at top speed. This and the aforementioned Bastille Day procession may be why The French is the answer to Who doesn’t love a parade?

As one would expect, there’s a hour or more gap between the caravan and the riders. We watched the progression on TV and ran outside a few minutes before riders arrived.

To be street level on an uncrowded section of the route was an absolutely amazing once in a lifetime kind of experience. The pictures aren’t even a close representation to the energy and the power that these men exhibit.

The next morning, the route passed directly in front of our place, so we of course invited people over. Breakfast taco bar, anyone? It was a whole different atmosphere than the previous day.

A few friends who didn’t go the Quaix-en-Chartreuse, came over just in time for the caravan. If I’d thought they’d been driving fast in the mountains, that was nothing compared to flat open boulevards. The cyclists started about noon, but the beginning part through town was more of a processional than a race; there was a pace car…

 

…and even a short delay.

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The firemen had a banner stretched across the road. They have been “en colère” since late last year. Most of their trucks are shoe polished to say so. It took a while, but I asked around until I found out why. Apparently, the firefighters were directed to work more hours without additional compensation. Then at their demonstration, as they were trying to enter city hall, the police threw tear gas and someone lost an eye. Nothing has really been done; they’re still mad. (That is a picture of our TV.)

Both days we watched the end of the race on TV. That had us invested enough to tune in here and there as the tour progressed through the rest of France. It’s not something I would travel to France to see, but I’m really glad that we were here and made the time to participate. Le Tour de France 2014 will be remembered.

If you are interested in seeing Andy and our friends on TV, you can check out this video. Skip forward – at 1:31:30 the riders start through the town, at 1:31:50, we’re the group in front of the house, and it you pause at 1:31:55 you’ll see Andy and our friends. I was in the best picture position and am a flash of pale arms in the shadows at the end.

As I said, the Tour de France also serves to promote tourism. If you watch the whole stage video, you’ll notice that the race often cuts to or shares a screen with scenery shots of the day’s region. We live in a gorgeous section of France. Here’s the teaser videos for stage 13 – The Vercors and The Chartreuse and stage 14 – The Belledonne. Yes, we live in a postcard.

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