Tour de France: mistaken identity?
We all have little anecdotal stories from our past, that usually surface as after-dinner stories or amusing tales over a pint in the pub. We are now in the Tour de France season, and every mile I cycle in these coming weeks will be accompanied by empathetic twitches of leg muscles as my mind plays back the key moments of the latest stage. The fast twitch muscles in empathy with Mark Cavendish as he marked his 17th stage win of his career, and searing pain in the shoulder in sympathy with Bradley Wiggins who has just pulled out of the Tour with a broken collar bone. Here are my two ‘after-dinner stories’.
Northern Spain 1993. This was the era dominated by Miguel Indurain (5 times winner of the Tour). I was cycling across northern Spain, following the Camino francés, en route to Santiago de Compostela. As I frequently did (and still do), I was wearing a yellow jersey, not only my favoured colour but also for visibility. It was mid-July and the
Tour fever had gripped the whole of Spain. Indurain was riding for his third consecutive win and he was wearing the yellow jersey (the race leader’s colour). My accolade across the whole of northern Spain, for 700 miles, was to be cheered through every village (and I do mean every village) with a repetitive chant whose lyric was no more imaginative than “Indurain, Indurain…………….”(repeated 20 times!). By the time I reached Santiago I felt I had deserved the fat prize purse won by Indurain, but all I was awarded was the Compostela certificate (written in Latin!) declaring I had successfully completed the Camino de Santiago.
French Alps 2007. We took advantage of a week in the French Alps in early July, to enjoy the high alpine climate and get in some high altitude walking. The fact that the Tour was to pass within 20kms of La Plagne was an entire coincidence! Jenny never suspected anything……………….until we got there! So, on the appointed day, I jumped into our little rental car, headed down the mountain, through Bourg St
Maurice, and my plan was to make it to a little village called Sainte Foye Tarentaise, which had a little church high up on a promontory, providing an ideal viewing spot for watching the descent over the summit and the peloton’s progress along the length of the Val d’Isere. It was also a spot for the helicopter cameras to pinpoint and give the waving fans their 5 seconds of glory on the world media.
No sooner had I reached Bourg St Maurice when I met the anticipated road blocks. Police
were preventing traffic going up the route and the spectators were out in their thousands at the road side (some had been camping out for over three days!). But………to my utter surprise, the police waved me through their first road block. To my further surprise, spectators waved at me (even cheered me) as I passed by with the hood down on this sporty little car. I couldn’t believe my luck when, at every turn, police not only removed road blocks, but actually gave me directions. I was actually getting closer and closer to my target, and the police were even directing me. The
party atmosphere, with spectators waving and cheering, went to my head, and I began waving back, enjoying the moment (whatever that moment was!) as I climbed the mountain in search of Sainte Foye Tarnetaise and its prominent church. Finally, over the crest of the mountain, I dropped down…….and there it was, it’s church decorated with the red spots of the King of the Mountains jersey. I couldn’t believe my luck. The village was totally “en fete”, dry slope skiers were up to their antics on grassy verges, drink was being passed around ….. everybody was everybody’s friend for the duration of the stage.
Then it dawned on me! An hour and a half before the arrival of the peloton, the publicity caravan of sponsors began to filter through, throwing freebies to the expectant crowds. This cavalcade of vehicles was several miles long and took almost an hour to pass through, people chasing the caps, bottles of water, sweets (and much, much more) being thrown by sweetly smiling beauties from the backs of vans and lorries. Then, suddenly, over the crest of the mountain appeared the answer to the puzzle of my free passage through the police blockades. One of the principal sponsors was Orange phones, and our little rental car was exactly the same colour of orange! They had presumed I was an early arrival from the publicity cavalcade making my way along the route of the race. Serendipity at large! ;0)