Monday, July 23, 2012

Tour de France - Stage 18

France is conspiring to keep us here… Originally set to depart on Saturday, Air France has gone on strike and so it seems that we will be here until Tuesday, at least. These bonus days are a gift – one more chance to enjoy the local food and the sights of Clermont-Ferrand and surrounding area.

What would have been our last full day in France we had planned to cross something off of our must-do list. Although the Tour de France did not pass as close to Clermont-Ferrand as it did last year, there were several options open to us as we were willing to drive a few hours. As many of the mountain stages that were within our radius occurred while we were on holiday, the choice was made for us, and so we headed southwest on Friday to catch 222.5 km-long stage 18, Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde.

After visiting Rocamadour (which I have yet to write my journal entry for but I’ll share some pictures eventually) we backtracked in a hurry to Cressensac at 193km. Really having no clue as to how easy it would be to access/park/find a spot, we chose the intersection that we did based on proximity to the highway and ease of access, but mostly just chance. Thinking it might be better to avoid the stage 18 finish in Brive-la-Gaillarde as there would be more people there, our route from Rocamadour led us straight to an intersection with the race. The road was blocked off and cars parked up and down the sides of the road, so we just fell in step with others headed the same way.

Cressensac is home to a 14th century castle, the Chausseneige. Located in the Midi-Pyrénées region which is the largest region of France, the Pyrenees are to the south and the massif Central to the north-east. However, the stage was a flat one with a few minor climbs, so when we settled in with our blanket and snacks, we chose a spot on the inside of a curve where we had a view of a small hill they would be coming down as well as a straight stretch that would take them into the village.

And then we waited. Soon the sponsor trucks came, music blaring and throwing little trinkets to spectators as they passed at 40km an hour. Somewhere I read President Holland had chosen stage 18 for the customary drive, but I’m honestly not sure if he passed us. Caught up in the excitement we waved and danced and chatted with other people, some from the next village over and some from farther away, like the man from the UK to our left. He had arrived with a RV (probably very early that morning or the previous night), a large banner hanging down the side and chairs out front, and was kind enough to give us some of the free keychains when he saw us relatively empty-handed due to the quick little professional scavengers to our right, four local kids who seemed to catch the freebies in mid-air.

We later found out there had been an incident with a dog at 120km, which caused a crash and exchange of words, but at our location it was quieter. Their imminent arrival was announced by helicopters, and soon we saw the riders cresting the hill amidst all the cars and video cameras. A quick woosh, and they were past, in an exhilarating run that left us in awe of how quick it happened. And then the rest of the group was by; my impressions of that moment are of cheers, whizzing tires and colorful jerseys. It was over in a few seconds.

On Sunday this 99th Tour wrapped up, with Bradley Wiggins emerging as the first ever Briton to win. His Sky teammate Mark Cavendish won stage 18, but I’ll remember the 99th Tour de France more for the anticipation, the excitement and the bittersweet knowledge that this might be one of our last truly French experiences, than for the winners. Just after the peloton passed us Lauris turned to me, waved his hand in the up and down motion he uses for when he wants more and simply asked, vēl?

(I'll post a few more pictures once Air France allows the end of our in-transit status!)


  1. Sounds like so much fun!! I love that feeling of joining a huge group of people who are all there for the same purpose, with a sweet sense of camaraderie...

  2. Of all the places to be stuck, France is a good one :) the strikes have been annoying but so nice you can make the most of it. What a rush to see all those cyclists! Sounds a lot more fun than seeing the finish in Paris (where crowds of people really prevent you from getting a good view)

  3. I love the Tour de France too. Saw the final in Paris last year, but this year I'll be watching it on tv!

  4. Not a bad place to be stuck in, we'll be watching the Tour this year, the final stage in Paris. And great you got something ticked off your travel list!

  5. I love watching the TDF. We're lucky it's been trough our village twice in the last 7 years and I saw it in Paris once too. It is funny how you wait for hours and the it's over in seconds but that's just part of the fun. Thank for linking this lovely memory to #AllAboutFrance


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