Tuesday, August 11, 2009

July's Epic Travel - Le Tour - Part Six

Stage 18. Annecy, France.

What a beautiful town. Right on an alpine lake, surrounded by mountains - I could see this as a cool place to take a holiday.

Oh, but there's a bike race on.

The teams were corralled into a paddock so the VIPs could have special access. It makes sense in terms of glad handing the high rollers (I guess) but it would have been much cooler to have each team bus fenced off so you could get a bit closer and let each team do it's own security.

As we were walking around, Stuart O'Grady rolled by rather casually.

We walked around to check out the different setups at each teams. Early riders were warming up, so we didn't see too many big names there. From what we could gather, the hotels were pretty close and riders were simply riding over when they needed to. We saw a number of riders doing this on the finish straight. But we did see plenty of bling, and Bert Grabsche, the current world TT champ warming up.

Got a peak at Dave Z's Captain America disc.

After a while, we walked over to the sign in/start house and then walked down the course a bit.

As we walked, we happened to notice that it there was a rather pretty town in the middle of the race.

Many pictures were taken here of the riders because it was easy - and sunny. I tried to get one of every team. I'm not sure if I did. If you feel your team is under-represented, just leave a job offer in the comments and I'll make sure to get as many pictures of your team as you want in the 2010 season.

I don't know if I mentioned this in an earlier post, but all throughout the race, we saw an unbelievable number of Australians. They were everywhere, every day. The only time we saw any real concentration of Americans was at the TT. I'm not sure why that is, but it's how we saw it.

We also saw good representation from shops that have had a direct bearing on my life.

After a while we turned around and walked back past the start and got some sandwiches (with an amazing amount of fresh butter) and went to the finishing straight. This was basically the only time we saw the finish line or podium. We set up farther down the road, and when it was time for the podium ceremony, you couldn't get there. More on that later.

And so, we watched riders in the final 500 meters for about two hours. Pretty amazing energy, and I'm sure that the riders appreciate having so many people cheering for them. The fans were remarkably supportive of everyone, too. While someone might cheer particularly loud for their favorite rider, everyone got a yell of encouragement.

In the end, as everyone knows by now Contador had an amazing ride, and won the day (and took a big stride towards the overall). As soon as he went by, we (and everyone else) started moving to the podium. Things were going pretty well until we got directly behind the VIP grandstand, then it was total gridlock. People were getting mean, pushing, shoving and swearing. Somebody passed out and the paramedics had to try to get to them. It was actually amazing - on two accounts. On the one hand, people went total mob mentality. It was horrible. On the other, the Tour organizers should be ashamed of themselves. Had they rotated the podium 180 degrees, they would have had an essentially endless field to house spectators. You wouldn't have the masses of people trying to get through such a small bottleneck. It really was pretty poor planning. Oh well. I guess that was the real downside of the whole trip.

After a quick dinner at the lovely Le Ramoneur Savoyard and a quick trip to the patisserie, it was back on the train to the hotel, for a quiet night. The next morning, we had to get up at about 4am for a 4:30 drive back to Zurich from Chambery, and an end to the trip. My trip didn't really end, as it then took me five days to get back to Oz, but that's how it goes.

Whew. Trip report finally over. I'm sure I left things out, but it's good to get it down. Christian Prudhomme sent me an email and said that I won the lantern rouge for bloggers. Next year I get to wear a red number on my camera. But hey, like I said, if anyone wants to pay me to take pictures and/or write up their team, I'm all ears.

Hopefully I'll be back to put that red number on.

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