Last month there was a trial run of the Tour de France through Carcassonne where local riders got to leave as a group from the official starting point and follow part of the route that the competitors would be taking one day soon. That day arrived yesterday and it felt as if the whole city turned out to greet the racers. Their official departure time was 1:35 PM but all of the activities got started well before then.
For as long as I can remember, there were 3 big sporting events associated with France: the French Open for tennis, Le Mans for sportscar racing, and the Tour de France. Other than those names, I didn’t know a lot about any of them but when THE Tour comes to town, it’s hard to miss. Over a three-week period, the 22 teams of nine riders each, travel the 3500 kilometer (2175 mi.) course divided into 21 stages or sections. We were right in the middle with Stage 11 starting less than a 10-minute walk from our house.
The morning got off to an early start with the opening of the Village where dozens of race sponsors and national vendors displayed their products and answered questions. The sponsors then got a second advertising opportunity with the parade of colorful automobiles, kind of like floats, with some throwing out samples of candy and dried sausages.
With the bills paid for the day, it was time for the cyclists to arrive to the roar of the crowd. It was easy to spot the colorful jerseys that represent the leaders at that point in the race: green for best sprinter, polka dots for mountain climber, white for youth, and yellow for overall leader. Speeches and the awarding of medals followed plus the chance to meet some of the riders and maybe a picture or two. Celebrities from two of France’s television networks were on hand to provide live coverage and to add a bit more excitement to the festivities.
In a flash, though, it was all over. Right at 1:35 PM the 198 cyclists moved out en masse and in a few seconds the Village seemed empty, except for those few thousand spectators and of course the sponsors hoping for one last sales opportunity before moving onto the next day’s location, 162 kilometers (100 mi.) down the road at Montpellier by the Mediterranean Sea. So it’s gone, but not forgotten, at least not in Florida where Bill’s sister Cheryl lives. She’s an avid cyclist so she’ll be the hit of her bicycle club all decked out in the jerseys we got for her: an official replica of the yellow winner’s jersey and one from Carcassonne.