I fell in love with the Tour de France the first time I saw climbers race up Alpe d’Huez. Sara and I were vacationing in a little town near Gap. Some friends told us that this bike race was coming to Gap and we ought to see it in person.
What an amazing spectacle. Unlike many other sporting events — from the World Series to the World Cup to the Super Bowl–this one is absolutely free. Thousands (and sometimes millions) of spectators line the route. For hours before the racers arrive, a caravan of vehicles tosses swag–hats, candy, other tchotchkes–to the waiting crowds. Then come the team cars, honking self-importantly while carrying extra bikes and equipment. Finally the racers arrive in a blur of color.
The race takes a variety of routes through France, and only comes to Alpe d-Huez every two or three years. The stage is something special. It’s a mountain that goes, basically, straight up. I drove a car up partway and was terrified even to drive.
Along the route are thousands of spectators who have been camping for days. Many of them passed the time by getting pretty liquored up. So when the riders come by, they can (and sometimes do) reach out to touch their heroes.
I’ve been a bike racing fan ever since that first Alpe d’Huez stage. I suspect I am the only woman my age who made her selection of cable channels partly based on which package offered the OLN channel. (During the 11 months a year that OLN does NOT show the Tour (when it was formerly known as the Only Lance Network), its programming seems to consist largely of bass fishing.)
I know from peeking at the tour site that Floyd Landis has regained the yellow jersey, but I haven’t had time to watch the whole stage yet. But I’ll be cheering for every single one of the riders –those who finish in front of the peloton and those who are in danger of being dropped as they struggle up the mountain.