We made our way to Pau in a mad rush. We had a paper that had printed out what were supposed to be the times that the riders would be going by each point on the course, and it said the riders would reach Pau around 3 hours later. This seemed super fast for the distance they were riding, but we didn't want to take any chances and spent no time dillydallying.
It was quite a drive, up and down hills in the foothills of the Pyrenees, but with me mashing gears in our manual transmission Corsa and Nathan navigating using the giant Michelin map and a map in the newspaper, we arrived in Pau around 4:00 or so, and immediately ran into barricades telling us the road was closed.
We didn't want to spend a huge amount of time driving around trying to find a parking space, so we just parked in the first place we found and started walking (with our backpack full of chocolate croissants!) We got out to the main street and found that it had been converted to the Tour route. There were barricades and signs all up and down the street and people were already packing both sides waiting for the ride.
We wanted to be closer to the finish, so we started walking. We were a bit dispirited when we saw the first distance marker said we were 3km away from the finish line, but we figured we just walk as far as we could and if the race came by we'd watch it from wherever we were. Fortunately, the timings in the paper we had must have been for the publicity caravan and not the race itself. We ended up having plenty of time to get to the finish line.
We stopped a bit when the caravan came by and got some new goodies:
Nathan in his sweet polkadot Carrefour hat
Me in my sweet Carrefour polkadot hat
Then we continued walking, past the flame rouge:
The marker showing the riders there is 1 km left
We found a nice spot where there was a restaurant with a TV right on a corner of the route. Here we could a) watch the race until it got into town, and b) see all the way down the street as the riders approached. This was nearly perfect, as it was hot and sunny out and we'd been doing quite a bit of walking.
We watched the race on TV and found out that several riders were on a long breakaway: Christian Vande Velde and Pierrick Fedrigo were among them. Side note: one downside to actually being at the Tour is that, unless you speak French, it's really hard to follow the Tour on the radio. Therefore, the entire time we were driving or walking, even though they play the Tour over loudspeakers along the route (at least in the finish city), it was nearly impossible for us to know what was happening, other than getting an idea that someone is doing something if they say his name a lot.
Anyway, pretty soon the breakaway came into town and were getting close, so we went outside to wait for them. Sure enough, the helicopter appeared overhead soon which is a sure sign the Tour is nearby. Then a single motorcycle came speeding down the road:
A harbinger of things to come
Then more motorcycles:
They are getting close
And then the two riders in the break, followed by cameramen, race officials, and team cars:
You may need to click on the photo to see them!
Here you can see Fedrigo and Vande Velde as they speed by:
Hey, baby! You're looking the wrong way!
Fedrigo went on to win the stage, with Vande Velde coming in second.
Since these guys were so far ahead of the peleton, we decided to move closer to the finish line to see if we could get a better feel for the bunch sprint. We managed to get to the 150m mark before we had to stop, and from here we watched the peleton speed by. I captured a video of the peleton as it came by to get a feel for the speed these guys generate:
Andre Greipel and his lead out man are in first, follow by the ever present Peter Sagan, then the rest of the peleton. I think Greipel came in third, but don't quote me!
One thing to notice is some of the stuff that is gathered around the finish line, included three giant viewing booths, stands, giant TV screens, awards stand, etc. These go everywhere the Tour goes, and get torn down and packed up every day to move to the next town. I've said it before and I'll say it again: the logistics of the Tour is incredible. Moving all this stuff around France every day has to be a monumental effort.
We moved to the stage where the trophy presentations were and got these photos:
Bradley Wiggins with the maillot jaune (best in
the general classification, i.e., the overall leader)
Peter Sagan with the maillot vert (best sprinter)
Fredrik Kessiakoff in the polkadot jersey (maillot ???
for king of the mountains)
Tejay Van Garderen in the maillot blanc (best
Team Radio Shack Nissan Trek getting the
team general classification prize
After the prize ceremony, we headed back to our car. Unfortunately, two things happened: first, we realized that we'd managed to get a decent bit of sunburn standing outside all day and needed to stop by a pharmacy to get some sunscreen and some aloe (or the French version of aloe).
Second, we listened to me and tried to save a bit of time by not returning to our car the exact way we came. This was almost a fatal mistake as we got disoriented in the twisty streets of old town Pau and had a really hard time time recognizing the roads that we had been walking down. In addition, they are so fast tearing down the Tour (barricades, signs, etc.) that the road that we needed to get on looked nothing like it did when we walked down it the first time!
The good news is that we eventually did find the proper street, and with a minimum of extra walking, but with a maximum of extra stress! We walked and walked (remember it was over 3km) until we FINALLY found the car. I vowed next time to take my GPS and set a waypoint when we park. (Note: I tried to do that on my phone but it complained that it didn't have data service so it couldn't save the location. See, I'm not completely dumb!)
Next up, a little several hour drive to Luchon.