With the 2010 Tour de France kicking off in a few short days I thought it'd be cool to take a trip in the way-back machine and have a look back on our trip to the 2004 edition. Lance will be looking for his 8th Tour de France victory this time around and in 2004 he was just about to capture a record setting #6 and Kel and I wanted to be there for it. It's hard to believe that trip was 6 years ago...time does indeed fly! Since this trip was before my blogging days started, chances are that many of you have never seen these photos. This trip was shot with a combination of a basic point and shoot and with my film SLR. It's interesting to see how much has changed in those 6 years when you look at the quality of the images.
This is a long post and photo heavy, so I hope you enjoy it. Leave me a few comments at the end if you'd like. And as with any photo here on kn.com, click to enlarge.
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We started our journey in Boston and flew to Munich, Germany before catching a small connecting flight into the medium sized city of Lyon on the eastern side of France.
We picked up our rental car [which we payed through the nose for because it was an automatic] and proceeded into downtown Lyon for some food and to take in the sights.
[yes, we ate at an Italian place for our first meal in France. Hey, it was a long trip over and we were hungry, so we went with what we knew]
After a few hours in town we hoped back into the car and made our way to the Swiss border where we'd spend the night in Geneva. We had only spent a few hours in France and we were already skipping town. No worries, we'd be back soon enough. The drive was only a few hours and was just breath taking as we made our way through the mountains. I do recall a few good arguments over the directions and reading the map, but we did pretty good for our first overseas driving trip together.
We arrived into Geneva just before dinner, got checked into the Hotel Cristal alongside the lake, and set out to get some dinner. After a good meal we turned in for the night as we knew we'd be up bright and early to see the riders in the Tour de France for the first time. I won't lie, I was giddy with excitement! It was a bit odd that our first night in town to watch the Tour de France was actually spent in Switzerland. Many of the teams and support staff stayed in Geneva as well since the start of stage 18 was just back across the border and since there were many more hotels here for people to stay. Here are a few shots from Geneva:
We were up bright and early to head into the mountains for Stage 18 of the Tour. We made our way back into France and through the small town of Gex as we drove towards the summit of the Col de la Faucille. This is a mere ant-hill to a professional bike rider, but for me it looked like one hell of a climb. As with any mountain stage of the Tour you need to arrive on the mountain early, before they close the roads to vehicular traffic. We were up and set before 9am and the riders didn't come through til 2 or 3 that afternoon. We stocked up on provisions for sure! There are plenty of folks in campers and vans who follow the Tour for the entire 3 weeks. These people have satellite TV, internet connections and the whole works so they don't miss any of the action. Some of them don't pop out of the campers until the riders are just about to come racing by. Here are a few shots of the area we camped out at for the day, it was about 3/4 of the way up to the summit. [this is why I rented an automatic car...no need for my first stick shift experience to be in the Alps!]
About an hour before the riders arrive the Tour organizers and the marketing partners sponsor what's call the Carnival. It's all sorts of decorated cars with people hanging out of them throwing out samples and souvenirs. We had no idea this happened and at first didn't know what the hell was going on. In the end it turned out nice because we wound up getting a few free snacks out of the deal.
Once the circus goes by every knows its only a matter of time until the real show starts. Slowly but surely activity increases and you see more police cars come by, tour officials, announcers yelling out how much longer until the riders arrive and finally you can hear the buzz of about 4 TV helicopters off in the distance. The anticipation quickly builds and all those people who've been watching the coverage inside their campers come running out to line the roads. I scurried up even higher on the mountain and got myself a great perch looking down onto the road below. All of a sudden two helicopters popped up from below a ridge and we could then see the riders moving up quickly. It all happens so damn fast and next thing you know its all over. On this stage there were a handful of riders who had broken away and were about a minute in front of the main peleton. Of course once the peleton arrived it was clearly being lead by the Postal Service team who were all working to protect the man in the yellow jersey, Mr. Armstrong. Once all the riders go by there's a cavalcade of about 100 team support cars, media and neutral service vehicles. I'll let all the photos do the talking.
Once everyone has gone by the show is over. Hours and hours of waiting for 30 seconds of excitement. Within minutes everyone is back in their campers and cars and it's immediate gridlock as everyone tries to get over the summit and closer to the next days stage.
After cresting the summit it was a mad dash with everyone else towards the small city of Besancon, France where stage #19, an individual time trial, would be taking place. We did make a few stops along the way for food and to buy some local wine. As we got closer to town dusk was settling in. We followed some windy roads into a valley where our hotel for the night was. When we arrived we stepped out of the car and were blown away by the shear beauty of this place. It was perfect...a series of small cottages and main hotel/restaurant building nestled into the valley that looked like they'd been there 200 years. Heck, they probably were! It wasn't until we got to the front desk that we got the bad news. Much like news Jesus and Mary received that fateful night in Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn. We argued back and forth with the guy as best we could, but it was to no avail. For whatever reason our Expedia reservation got lost along the way and they had no record of it, even though I had confirmed it a few weeks earlier. When I asked where else we could stay the night the only suggestion he had was a 3 or 4 hour drive into Germany because all of the area hotels were already booked solid with riders, teams and fans who were going to be in town the next day to watch the race. We were shit out of luck. I knew I wasn't going to drive 3 hours away just to come back the next morning so that meant only one thing, we'd be bunking in our car for the night.
I wasn't happy about it, but there was nothing we could do. We swung back into town, found a small pizza joint and sat down with a pie and a few sodas. As we came into town earlier that evening we noticed a number of cars and campers just pulling over alongside the next days route to sleep for the night. I felt a bit uneasy about sleeping alongside a major road like that so we decided to pull into a small field that a number of other campers had seemed to overtake. Lord only knows who owned the land, but we pulled in and set up shop just like everyone else.
In terms of "setting up shop" we didn't really have much to do. Our car was a hatch-back and the back seats could actually be removed in order to create a flat storage area in the back that was big enough to sleep two people. So we removed one of the seats and sat it on top of the front seats along with all of our luggage. We tried and tried to fit the second rear seat up front but there just wasn't enough room. Oh well we thought...we could just leave it outside in the field alongside the car. No worries there. The field turned out to be one hell of a party. We were alongside a whole slew of German's who stayed up all night drinking and singing. It was certainly a festive atmosphere.
Of course miss Kelly didn't know this at the time, but once we got to Paris in a few days I had planned to propose. All along I told her, and everyone else who would listen, that we were only going to watch a bike race so if she had another other ideas they better go out the window. Of course I wanted everything to be perfect and sleeping in the car on night #2 of the trip wasn't exactly perfect. It wasn't in the plan but it sure made for a great story afterwards! So back to that seat we had left outside for the night, remember that...well it rained overnight. It rained a lot. We woke up to a total downpour sometime around 3 in the morning when I realized, "shit, the seat is out there!". At that point there was nothing we could do. It was getting wet, very wet. The next morning when we went to load it back into the car it weighed about 3 times as much as it should have with all the water soaked in!
Once we got up and showered with deodorant we drove back into town to watch as much of the Stage 19 Individual Time trial as we could. Riders go off every 2 minutes in order of their current standing in the race...meaning the guys in the lead go last. Since Lance was going to be racing much later in the afternoon we weren't going to be able to see him, but we did get to see a lot of other riders and experience the city on race day. A number of photos are below. Kelly was also able to jump over a security fence and get up right alongside the Postal Service team bus and team truck as the riders bikes were set up for the day and they began to warm up. I wasn't as lucky and got caught by the police and turned back around.
As I mentioned above...we couldn't stick around all day and had to miss Lance and the rest of the lead riders so that we could catch a TGV highspeed train from Dijon to Paris. Dijon was about an hour or so drive from where we were in Besancon. The whole time we were out there in the countryside Kel had wanted to see a grove of sunflowers...we'll we finally found one on the way to Dijon so we stopped for a photo. They weren't in the best shape, but Kel got her photo and she was very happy! We got into Dijon and had a little bit of time to kill before we left for Paris. I didn't dare drop the car off until the last minute for fear that they'd discover the soaking wet backseat before we were able to skip town. Luckily we never heard from them about it! I hope it wasn't a family of 4 who ended up with the car next because someone was going to have a very soggy seat. Below are a few shots of Dijon. We had time to check out the Jardin Botanique Arquebuse as well as the Cathedral Stain-Benigne just down the road. After that it was full speed ahead to Paris' Gare Lyon train station.
We'll pick the story up in Paris after the jump!