Nick, a friend of mine whom I normally rope into fun adventures, and I happened to be in Amsterdam towards the end of the Tour de France. As Paris is a mere four hours away by train from Amsterdam, we decided to hop on down and catch the finale of the Tour! Random doping issues aside (and ripe for another post), the finale was a fantastic spectacle and well worth the trip.
The 20th and final stage of the tour is is a 85.5 km / 53.1 mi flat ride into Paris followed by eight 7.5 km / 4.6 mi laps up and down the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysées. People start staking out the best sight-lines about 9 AM or so, in similar fashion to tailgating at major events, with the exception that once the race gets in, you don’t have to move (and indeed you can’t, given the crowd that surrounds you). It was raining off and on, so Nick and I decided to hit the Musee d’Orsay for a few hours and then find a space about 2 PM, when the Caravan arrives. We found a nice spot at the upper NE corner maybe four people back, which gave us great sight lines and enabled us to take some great pictures (and a lot more bad ones!).
About 2 PM, the Caravan arrives, which is a huge parade of the Tour sponsors. While cars decked out in flowers are not to be seen, there are a number of cars, vans, and semis weaving about up and down the course. At one point, the Caravan managed to get stuck, leaving the Aquafina clown stopped near us have a bit of fun.
After the Caravan arrived, we stood in a densely packed crowd, anxiously awaiting the peleton, to arrive. After a wait of nearly two hours after the Caravan ended, about 4:40, the peleton arrived! The peleton takes surprisingly long to travel up the Champs-Elysées. It is proceeded by a large contingent of lead cars, as then the peleton of 130-odd riders arrives!
The peleton then arrives, and in just a few seconds the riders have cornered and gone. I managed to get a number of photos as they passed; on the first round, I happened to get a great (albeit slightly blurry) shot of Alberto Contador, who was in (and kept) the yellow jersey. Check it out… he was even on a custom-painted yellow Trek Madone! It looks to be an amazingly sweet ride… and you know that they had that pre-made in case Contador was in the lead!
I also caught a number of other good shots. Here is one of my favorites, which is a shot of a José Ivan Gutierrez in a breakaway of about 8 riders passing in front of the photo pool. I happened to catch the rider just as the flash of another photographer was going off, which made for some spectacular lighting conditions:
For those interested, I was taking the shots using a Nikon D70 and a 70-300mm F/4.5D lens, shooting using continuous auto-focus and alternating between aperture priority (when we had a bit more light) and shutter priority (which was better, as it prevented some of the blurrier shots), and continuous shot mode. When the peleton would come about, everyone would raise their cameras up and start shooting… this generated a ton of bad shots, but hey, it’s easy to delete shots in the 10 minutes between laps.
After the tour, the crowd dispersed, and Nick and I headed to an amazing French restaurant, Le Coupe Chou. I remember eating at the fine Latin Quarter restaurant when I was last in Paris in 1999, and noticed that even back then they had a website. It’s still as charming and tasty as ever!
Incidentally, for those going again — I highly recommend staying at the Hotel Belfast, which is a block away from the Arc and right next to a RER and Metro stop, making it super convenient for both the Tour as well as getting about in Paris.
All in all, an amazing experience… I’m glad we were able to go and see it. Now, if only I can convince Mary Kaye to go with me again for so we can follow the full tour! 😉