Sunday, July 22, 2012

Stage 17 and the long drive to Paris

On Wednesday night, we decided our plan for Thursday:
  1. Watch Stage 17 of the Tour as it leaves Luchon
  2. Watch the rest of Stage 17 (all the way to the finish in Peyragudes) on TV in the apartment
  3. Return the keys to the apartment to Mme Trichereau
  4. Drive to Paris to the Le Meridien Etoile
All of these activities are pretty straightforward except the last one. We were basically about as far south in France as you could be, and the drive to Paris was showing up as about 850km on Google maps! Even at 130km/h on the autoroute it was going to take a while!

Anyway, we got up around around 9:00, ate our breakfast at the apartment, then headed out to see what was up. We found all the team busses lined up along the Allee d'Etigny, the main street in Luchon. We took a bunch of photos (see my previous post) and basically hung out in front of the RSNT bus. In fact, one of the representatives from Radio Shack gave us a copy of the team's magazine while we were there which was pretty cool.

This would be a good time to show a picture of the little passage we went through about 50 times a day in Luchon:

The Passage Sacarrere

This little passage went from our street to the main street of Luchon, and saved us a lot of time getting where we needed to go in town. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for that little passageway!

Anyway, back to the point of this post. As before, the riders started making their appearances, with RSNT and Team Sky seeming to be the last to pop out of their busses. Not sure that's something deliberate or what, but it seemed to happen every day.

There was one funny thing we witnessed while waiting to see the riders. A German lady was standing behind the barricade with the rest of us. Nothing odd there. Then she stood on a bench on the side of the road to get a better view. Still pretty reasonable. Then, she decided she could rest her feet by climbing over the barricade and then sititng on top of it. A few minutes later, since she was basically inside the barricade anyway, she decided to just stand on the inside of the barricade, leaning against it. Finally, she just said to hell with the barricade altogether and just started walking around inside the supposedly off limits area, taking pictures and doing whatever she wanted like she belonged there, and no one seemed to be the wiser. We fully expected her to hop on the RSNT bus before she was done!

As it was getting close to the start time, we decided to move to a location where we could see the riders go by after the start. We walked down the street, past the start line and all the hubbub to a place where we could get a good look at the course and had some room to stand behind the barricade. When we got there, we waited until they came through. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later, here they came.

As I saw them coming toward me, I decided to take a video to capture what it was like. I guess I didn't reckon just how long it would take for the Tour to go by. I figured it would take 2 or 3 minutes, but I wasn't even close. In fact, I was amazed how long the entire Tour took to pass our spot. It must have been about 10 minutes or so.

After we watched the start, we went back to the apartment to pack up and watch the Tour on television. One funny thing that happens watching the Tour on French TV is that it switches back and forth between channels. We were watching an important climb when all of a sudden the station went to commercials and never came back. In a panic, we started channel surfing and there it was on the other channel!

That afternoon I called Mme Trichereau and let her know we would be leaving at 5:30 (after the Tour ended). This was without question my greatest French-speaking accomplishment of the trip! When she actually arrived at 5:30, I was elated, but then pushed things one step too far. I decided to use some of the other words I know to tell her that we were going to Paris. Unfortunately, I think I instead told her that "We have to Paris." Oh well...

After we gave Mme Trichereau the keys and loaded up the car, we were off. We took a different route that required no cols which was just fine by me. We encountered a bit of Tour traffic early on, but nothing too bad, and by the time we got to the autoroute, it was smooth sailing.

The journey was long and uneventful, and we navigated successfully all the way to Paris with no problem. Of course, once we arrived in Paris (around 2:00am) we proceeded to immediately get lost (even with the Google Maps directions on my phone). We had to call the hotel and get some guidance which did the trick. We were actually quite close to the hotel, but it was a good thing we made the call; we might still be circling!

We did see this while we were driving around lost in Paris:

The Arc de Triomphe lit up at night

Anyway, with that, we were done with our wild ride around France. The rest of our time would be spent in Paris (with the exception of our planned trip to the time trial finish in Chartres).

We finally got to sleep around 4:00, and while it was an exceptionally long day, at least we would wake up in Paris and not have to waste a whole day of our vacation driving.

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