Today, instead of chasing the Tour, the race came to us, passing literally straight past our hotel . We took the chance for an easy day on the bike, exploring the streets of Vichy.
By now I had a bit of an idea of how important the TDF is to the French people. Everywhere we had gone the villages of France had been lined with spectators. It’s an awesome sight, and an awesome feeling to get the cheers of the locals as you ride through before the professionals.
I had begun to wonder whether it was like the Melbourne Cup, where everyone gets a day off to celebrate a national spectacle. So, with a lazy day planned we took the opportunity to talk to some locals, in very bad French guided by our rather rudimentary phrasebook.
I have to say we did OK. We managed to ascertain that because the Tour takes place during their summer, kids are on holidays from school, and like Australians at Christmas time, everyone takes the opportunity to take holidays and enjoy the sunshine. The family that we spoke to were on holidays in Vichy, and were also looking forward to watching the Tour come through town.
I haven’t really written much about the Caravane Publicitaire, or promotional caravan. The only way I can describe it is, to imagine a normal Australian street parade, but on speed. The concept is the same – most of the Caravan consists of floats on cars, buses, four wheeler bikes, you name it – however because the Caravan Publicite needs to stay ahead of the cyclists of the Tour, it travels the tour route at an average speeds of up to 50kph. It travels the entire route, so speeds its way along highways and winds its way through roadside villages at what seem like breakneck speed, all the while distributing promotional products to the millions of spectators the Tour attracts.
I’d been told about the Caravane before my trip to France, but the fact that I marvelled at it shows that it really is something that can only believed when seen in person.
Today’s stage, being a flat stage, saw the field stay fairly much together, and they raced through Vichy at such a speed that it was almost like a “blink and miss it” experience. We stretched out our experience by soaking up the atmosphere of the Caravane. We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the end of the Tour stage in a bar in the middle of Vichy’s famous Parc de Sources, where the Hall de Sources houses taps that deliver the mineral water the city is famous for, and that night found a restaurant in which to enjoy a beautiful meal, the first of a few four course set menu meals we enjoyed during our time in France.
At the end of today Cadel Evans is in fourth place, 1:34 behind Sastre... what will tomorrow's time trial bring...?