For people who enjoy cycling and follow it fairly closely, we’ve had very little luck with the Tour de France. We’ve been in many places which have featured in the race, just not at the right time. Notably, there was the year a stage started from Brioude a few days after we left, and the year we just missed it passing through Normandy. The Grand Départ in Yorkshire this year topped it all off. Stage 1 left from outside the Leeds Central Library, where I used to work. It passed the end of our road in Harewood. It went all over the Dales, where we used to walk most weekends. It finished up in Harrogate, where I used to work. And there we were, watching it on the television in France. Still, it’s an annual event, so the chances are it’ll come within striking distance of us at some point in the next few years.
In the mean time, we were quite excited to see this poster in Brioude a few weeks ago.
The Tour de l’Avenir is billed as a mini Tour de France for young riders under the age of 23, competing in national teams. Stage 1 finished in Brioude yesterday afternoon, so we, and a surprising number of other people, headed into town to see the end of the day’s racing.
The route swept into the town, then went three times around a small circuit, so there were plenty of places to get a good view. We carefully selected a position on a tight bend, followed by a sharp uphill climb, thinking that the competitors would have to slow down for the corner, then they’d have trouble accelerating away again. This sort of worked. They did slow down, but it’s all relative, and they still charged past and up the hill at the sort of speeds that I can only occasionally achieve going downhill.
We got a really good view though, and they did pass us three times, so David (of 750 metres blog fame) got some pretty good photos.
We then had time to walk to the finish, and see the winners cross the line. For the record, the peloton failed to chase down a three man breakaway, and a Norwegian rider won the sprint to take the stage. A rider from Team GB took fourth place at the head of the peloton.
The classic comment about watching road racing is that there’s a lot of waiting about, followed by a few seconds of action. That is kind of true, but even for a small race like this, there was a wonderful, lively atmosphere surrounding the event, with whole families turning out, cheering madly, and shouting encouragement. There’s something very heartwarming about a slightly tubby elderly French gentleman bellowing “courage” at the stragglers.
The other nice thing about it being a relatively small event is that the riders finished the race, then proceeded to sit on camping chairs outside their team vehicles (small vans in most cases, but with all mod cons – see below), which were parked in a car park just past the finish line. There were no barriers, and spectators were free to wander around, admiring the bikes, congratulating riders, and begging bidons. It was all very relaxed, in a way that I imagine is not the case for a race like Le Tour.
The race leaves Brioude tomorrow, passing the end of our road and through La Chaise-Dieu on route for a finish at Saint-Galmier. We’re planning position ourselves on the climb of the Côte de la Chaise-Dieu, when the gradient should have slowed them down a bit.