Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Live and Direct

There's this strange sensation on my face. It feels a little pink, and strangely warm. Could it be???? Ah, yes, I remember. Its sunshine!

While the rest of the UK is seemingly underwater, we are counting our lucky stars, nestled in the Pyrenees in the picturesque town of Saint-Girons. We're taking a couple of days away to watch one of my favourite sporting events, the Tour de France.

The first stage I saw was in Paris in '98, with Marco Pantani coming home in yellow. After that, a massive gap until we saw the Prologue just a couple of weeks ago in London. Hot on its heels, we're down here to see a true mountain stage in the midst of some wonderful scenery. As it happens, although yesterday was a mountain stage (2 category 2 climbs, 2 category 1 climbs, and 1 hors-categorie climb) we actually chose to watch close to the hotel, since in Saint-Girons there was an intermediate sprint. We were lucky, since le tour passed immediately in front of the hotel (La Clairiere - very pleasant for a one-star hotel), so we only had to leave the room fifteen minutes before the caravan was due.

For all I've seen the tour three times, this was the first time seeing the caravan. This is basically a stream of trucks and floats, advertising anything you might imagine, which pass down the route in front of the cyclists. On their way, they throw out all kinds of freebies. So we ended up with a whole bagful of things. For caravan "virgins", we soon learned that there were good places and bad places to stand, and it was infuriating that the kid just 10 metres along the road was accumulating gear at a much faster rate than us. So, we repositioned ourselves a little close to a roundabout, where of course everything had to travel that little bit more slowly. But it is all a bit of a lottery - Jacqueline would have loved a baseball cap but unfortunately it was caught by the guy next to her, probably we caught things that other people would have loved to have. Still, all in all great fun as long as you don't allow yourselves to get too disappointed.

Having been warmed up by the caravan, we strolled on into the centre of Saint-Girons and eventually settled into a nice spec, just 10 metres or so from the sprint line. An hour's wait (interminable for Alice) and the leaders raced past. Unfortunately at this point the camera refused to work (probably not the camera's fault, more likely a lack of brain-to-hand coordination!) and unfortunately the one shot I did get had a big green "hand" placard in the middle of the shot! However, all was not lost, since this was a breakaway of a dozen or so riders (including Vinoukourov, the eventual winner) and the main peloton was yet to pass through. Ten minutes later and I made no mistake - the camera has this high-speed mode, allowing me to shoot 7 shots per second, and as soon as the peloton came into view I started snapping Around 200 shots later... So hopefully one or two of them will look good.

Now, after Saint-Girons, those poor guys still had another three or four hours cycling to do, and four of the five peaks still to climb. So, I had a mad idea to try to catch up with them again at the finish. According to TomTom, we could make it, however as we neared Loudenville, the gendarmes had other ideas. 10km (or 5km, or 6km, depending on which gendarme I asked) from l'arivee, they were turning all cars back and only allowing people through on foot. Although we were able to park quite easily by the side of the road, it soon became apparent that we were never going to make it with a seven-year-old in tow. Admitting defeat, we turned tail for a town called Arreau, where we ate a belated lunch.

Although we passed through some beautiful scenery, indeed we could see snow-covered peaks in the distance, in truth the weather was starting to cloud over even before we left Arreau, and certainly by the time we arrived back in Saint-Girons, the cloud had turned into rain, weather which I guess is quite prevalent here. Home to a quiet night in the room, via Intermarche and MacDonalds.

This morning we have sun and blue skies once more, though there is quite a stiff breeze making it a little chilly. This afternoon, we have another treat in store - more later!

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