August 6, 2013

Tour de France Finale Fever. ~ Tina Wild

Read the first parts here and here.

I was finally reunited with my family and friends in Paris.

A rarity given we live on opposite sides of the world with me in Australia and them in England. So many occasions to celebrate—birthdays, anniversaries, immense gratitude for precious time together. And of course, the Tour de France centenary finale.

We were eight fragile English flowers wilting in the scorching 37 degrees, in the city of love.

We admired the elegance of Notre Dame and the Arc de Triumphe, romantic Pont Neuf Bridge, and the contrast of ancient and modern at the Louvre.

The riverboat has to be the worst design in the world, enclosed in glass, trapping the sun inside like a sauna. I will never forget everyone’s pained sweating faces. We only managed three stops. The new fake beach along the riverbank was packed with sunbathers cooling themselves under water spray machines, and most exciting of all:toilets, a scarce commodity.

At 50 cents a visit and 2.50 Euros for a small bottle of water, life’s basic necessities didn’t come cheap. Taxis are the only bargain in Paris. The best meal we had was ironically at an Italian restaurant in Monmartre, Caratello.

Anyway, onto more pressing excitements.

The hotel, Chat Noir was situated right next to the Moulin Rouge in the heart of Montmartre, the red light district. Like most Parisian hotels, the rooms were small but it was modern with clean lines and themed with the Moulin Rouge’s black cat.

The spire of the Sacre Couer (white heart) peeped atop the tall shabby buildings, reached by a breathless climb up the labyrinth of cobbled streets lined with artists’ at their easels and paintings for sale. The panoramic view over Paris’s rooftops at the peak was worth the effort.

On the day of the final stage of the Tour de France we spent the afternoon lazing in the park near the Louvre, seeking shade. We ate ice cream and soaked up the peaceful beauty of the manicured gardens, noting the discreet fence warning us to keep off the pristine grass. Nature was clearly to be looked at, not touched or interacted with.

You could feel the anticipation buzzing in the air for the Tour de France race around the city to the finish line on the Champs Élysées.

We realized we were trapped in those beautiful gardens by the Louvre and the big wheel. Barricades encircled the city centre so we were unable to reach the Arc de Triumphe and Champs Élysées. Some people were jumping the barriers despite the police that patrolled the perimeter. We were tempted, but as a large group with two seniors we decided not to chance an arrest.

After three hours of wait, the carnival floats came through with pumping music, entertaining the excited crowd. The energy in the city was electric.

There were union jacks everywhere, waving from balcony windows and draped around people, teeming along the roadside. Royal Air Force jets zoomed overhead casting stripes of red and blue in the sky. People hung out of windows and stood on attic roofs on Rue de Rivoli where we perched on the wall.

The swish of the wheels on the concrete as the peloton sped by was deafening. They were a blur of colour. As soon as we pressed the camera shutter, they’d gone. The roaring crowd echoed, like a Mexican wave, around the city as the peloton reached each section of the ten circuits.

The riders took it in turns to hug Chris Froome with happiness, and perhaps, relief it was over—while traveling at around 60 km per hour. They were practically touching the back wheel of the team car to keep in their slipstream—I think this an exception to the rule for the final stage. Their skill amazes and inspires me; they possess the stealth and balance of a cat and steely endurance of a bull.

Christopher Froome’s victory of the centenary made it a day to put the Great back into Britain.

The few days in Paris were over as quickly as the blur of cyclists; it felt momentous in terms of witnessing a unique sporting event, but more so the precious time spent with family.

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Assist Ed: Julie Garcia

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Tina Wild