- Jul 5, 2011
- The Tour de France Gets Started
We hope you’re enjoying the first week of the Tour de France.
Garmin-Cervélo fans are no doubt thrilled with the team’s success during the first few days of the race. On this end, it’s been a thrilling start to the race. Watching the guys win the Team Time Trial; then seeing a perfect lead-out help Tyler take the win on Sunday; followed by the remarkable efforts Thor made to hold on to the yellow jersey during Monday’s stage – it’s all amounted to plenty of smiles over here at CB&C.While you’re following the race this week, we thought you might enjoy this piece from Mark Johnson about the Tour de France Kick Off. As Mark points out, in France the race is so much “more than a sports event, the Tour is a ritual marking the true start of summer and the freedom it represents.” The start of summer is always good for generating smiles too.Enjoy Mark’s report from the roads of France.
Story and photos by Mark Johnson
What it’s like at the start of the Tour de France?Well, let’s begin with this year’s official team introduction. While you might imagine ridiculously fit guys in Lycra tottering up a set of metal stairs in their cleats, standing on a stage and wincing into a hail of camera flashes, think again.Think Las Vegas meets the History Channel.On the Thursday before the Tour’s Saturday start, organizers introduced the teams in a theme park called Le Puy du Fou. Specifically, in a full-scale recreation of a Roman coliseum usually used to stage gladiator fights and chariot races.Crowds were so thick people were standing in the aisles and open windows along the top of the arena. The first team, French squad Europecar, entered on horse-drawn chariots to thunderous applause.After that, acrobats formed a human pyramid on the back of two running horses, a parade of people dressed like they were from the era of King Arthur's Court paraded through while waving banners. One of them blew glowing fireballs into the air. A couple of other team introductions took place.Then, a stage began rising from the bowels of the coliseum toward the open sky.On it, stood Garmin-Cervélo rider and Clif Bar athlete Thor Hushovd, wearing a long black wig and waving a giant hammer. His eight teammates were on their knees beneath him, ululating in obeisance to the God of Thunder. The crowd loved it.Then the master of ceremonies interviewed American team director Jonathan Vaughters and English rider David Millar. (Don’t slack on those language classes, kids; you never know when someone might hand you a much-amplified microphone in front of an audience of 10,000 and say “Let’s talk—in French.” Miller and Vaughters did it, with aplomb.)Once the ceremony was done, Hushovd and his teammates made their way out of the coliseum where they walked along a long white tape along which reporters and photographers gathered in clumps. The riders conducted interviews, posed for team photos, and then rode their bikes out of the park and back to their team buses.For North Americans, the experience was a bit odd, not because of the sight of Thor Hushovd waving a giant stage hammer over his head or the vision of pro cyclists threading their way through the crowded streets of the second-most popular theme park in France (Paris Disney is first), but because Puy du Fou is full of carefully recreated medieval castles and 18th Century buildings. That is, the stuff France is full of outside the gates of the theme park are exactly recreated inside.Two days later, on the Saturday of the first stage of the Tour, Tour de France organizers thought they could one up the Puy du Fou spectacle by having the entire peloton ride across the bottom of the sea.Really, they did.By timing stage 1 so it coincided with the dramatic Atlantic tidal shifts along France’s west coast, Tour organizers had the entire peloton, plus its interminably long publicity caravan, cross the Passage du Gois, a road that at high tide is deep underwater and trafficked only by the denizens of Bikini Bottom.That morning, the Tour de France really got rolling long before the riders did. In whitewashed seaside villages locals had tables and chairs set up in the morning sun a full six hours before the race was to come by. They waved flags and shook shimmering pom poms at everyone who passed.At the start in Fromentine, a seaside holiday town, the Village du Tour was in full celebratory mood.The Village du Tour is a fenced-in area at the start of every stage where VIPs mingle. In Fromentine’s Village, food kiosks did a booming business treating visitors to local culinary delights.At the oyster stand, the flashing knives of three shuckers could barely keep up with demand for the Atlantic specialty. Other Marché du Terroir stands served local cheeses and breads, piles of fresh grapes and peaches and crepes hot from the griddle. At 10:00 am the Marché du Vigneron stand was doing a cracking business in wine. And all this goodness is free.Roving around the Village, an Inspector Clouseau lookalike with an old-fashioned phone on the front of his bike posed for photos, as did a fetching woman in a yellow dress in the shape of a mountain and wrapped with a black road populated with cyclist figurines. Miss France signed autographs for a crowd of appreciative fans.Everyone here seemed genuinely happy. Smiling laughing, talking. More than a sports event, the Tour is a ritual marking the true start of summer and the freedom it represents.And then, the riders rolled out from Fromentine, rode across the Passage du Gois, and started racing once they left the damp road.Scooting across a marshy landscape dotted with rolled hay bales that looked like spools of thread dropped from the sewing bag of some mythic French giant who was running to catch the start of the race, the peloton looked splendid. The 98th Tour de France had begun.In 2011 Mark Johnson is writing and photographing a book on Garmin-Cervélo to be published by VeloPress in early 2012. You can follow his travels with the team on Twitter @argylearmada
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