As I mentioned in my previous blog, I didn’t initially intend to visit this years Tour which meant that all my plans were last minute and came back to bite me at the end of an otherwise excellent day, but more of this later…
The 0200 alarm came as a bit of a shock for a 9-5 office worker, but after a quick shower I was soon on my way to the Port and just over an hour after getting out of bed the ferry left the berth and headed out into the Channel leaving the White Cliffs behind. Despite the early hour the ferry was absolutely packed and it was difficult to find a seat. Arriving in Calais around 0600 French time I then set off for Arras which was about an hours drive on deserted roads.
Arrivng in Arras it was my intention to have some breakfast as I had an hour and a half to kill before my train. I should have realised that the French don’t do Sunday mornings, certainly not as early as 0700. There was absolutely nothing open and it was a long boring wait before I took my seat on the excellent TGV that pulled into the station, and back out again, on-time to the second.
50 minutes later I was in Paris. It was around 10 o’clock local time and I didn’t fancy my chances of getting anywhere near the front at this late hour. All week a Team Sky / Britsh Corner had been advertised on facebook, it had also been featured on both the official and unofficial Team Sky websites and twittered by Fran Miller and the Eurosport commentators, amongst others. I therefore made my way towards the Arc de Triomphe where directly opposite the point where the riders make their U-turn to drive back down the Champs Elysees the number of Union Jacks proudly tied to the trees and barriers announced that I had arrived at the right place.
The corner had been arranged with military precision by predominantly Dave Dunphy, a veteran of the last day in Paris. Camping chairs and stools had been strategically positioned to keep people from the barriers at a very popular viewing position. There was already a fair few Brits in the area and it was good to meet and chat with fellow TSF blogger, Neil Pollington. Interestingly, the main contributors to this website have previously never met and have only ever conversed by email.
For the next hour or so the little bit of Britain in Paris started to fill -
And even attempted to start a ‘Mexican Wave’, with varying degrees of success -
By now it was really starting to get busy and it was time to prevent people intent on invading our corner from getting to the barriers. One particular individual actually managed to get past all the fans and to the barrier before Dave pointed out the error of his ways and with military precision directed the contingent to rise up and move their chairs forward in a signal of our intention to hold onto our spot. The man left but one particularly annoying woman remained, claiming that as a Parisian it was her right to stand exactly where she liked, when she liked despite the fact that Dave, Neil and co had been in situ since at least 7 o’clock. She had absolutely no comprehension that her attitude and behaviour was unreasonable and I’m pleased to say that she never did see the front of the barrier all day.
By 12 o’clock the British corner was packed -
And I hate to say it but the Brits across the road had far greater success with the ‘Mexican wave’ -
Just about every nationality was represented in Paris. Everywhere you looked there was different flags proudly displayed. This wonderful sport of cycling really does appeal to and bring together supporters from all over the world, and not one hint of trouble or animosity. It was great to see so many British flags and Welsh dragons, not just in our corner but all over the course - fantastic..!
By 4 o’clock you couldn’t move. Paris was full. The entire Champs Elysees was packed, fans lining the barriers 10, 12, 15 deep. To be anywhere near the front it was necessary to stand for at least 6 hours, but boy was it worth it.
Through the wonders of modern technology we knew that the peleton had arrived in Paris and everyone craned their necks to get the first view of the best professional bike riders in the world. For the last three weeks these men have suffered, suffered, suffered. Survived crashes, pulled themselves over countless mountains, endured long transfers, hotels of questionable quality and hauled their broken, battered and bloodied bodies over 3,471 km at speeds you and I couldn’t even begin to contemplate. Chapeau to each and everyone of them!
The good news for the many, many Team Sky supporters in the crowd was the first sight of the peleton being led by Juan Antonio Flecha. As he made the turn and passed our corner we screamed our appreciation.
And it wasn’t long before we got our first glimpse of Cadel in yellow -
After the riders passed the team cars followed. Dave B was driving the Sky car and made a point of tooting the horn and waving every time he passed the British section.
It took around 16 minutes before the riders returned and process was repeated. On the third lap we could see as the riders approached us, on the other side of the road, that a six man break had gone clear. Imagine the reaction when Ben Swift swept past in the lead..!
At this point the peleton were about 20 seconds behind. By the third lap the break had slightly increased their lead and as the field took up the chase Cav caused us some concern when he required a bike change directly in front of the Brit corner. Lap four and the breaks still away but Cavs back in the bunch. Lap five and Swifty still leads… surely not..? Lap six, the peleton have clearly upped the pace but the breaks still away. By lap seven the main field were closing, closing but the break simply refused to conceed. Fully expecting the break to get caught the British section went absolutely balistic when for the last and final time the leaders passed our corner and Lars Bac (HTC) and young Ben Swift had broken clear and had a 15 second lead of the chasing peleton
Ominously for the break though, as the peleton passed HTC were starting to form their train with Cav perfectly positioned. As the peleton and team cars passed for the last time a surreal silence decended upon the Champs Elysees. With no ‘big screen’ to view Dave Dunphy was on the phone to this website’s administrator, Dave Marsdin, and was repeating Dave’s commentary to those within earshot. When it was confirmed that Cav had won the Brit corner erupted and our reaction was picked up by Brits all round the course. Directly opposite us was a sizeable group of Brits who after a few seconds realised why we were cheering and joined in. It was a great moment.
Sadly for me it then became apparant that I would be unable to stay and witness the celebration lap each team makes of the Champs Elysees. By the time the official presentations had been made I simply would not have had the time to get back to the Gare du Nord and catch my train, the day’s last train, back to Arras. Having attended and cheered on the Sky boy’s at Het Nieuwsblad back in February, and then the Dwars door Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem, Three Days of De Panne, Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix I was gutted that I did not have the opportunity to celebrate with the team at the end of the best Tour de France I can remember and a Tour that the team, my team, did so well in. Fighting my way through a packed Metro I caught my train, drove back to Calais and arrived home nearly 24 hours after I left.
Every cycling fan should attend the end of the Tour on the Champs Elysees at least once. It’s a unique experience, cycling’s equivalent of the World Cup Final, only ours happens every year, not four. Sure it’s busy and can get uncomfortable but the time can pass fairly quickly if you can chat to like minded individuals. Despite having to leave early I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Paris this year mainly thanks the efforts of Dave Dunphy and others that thought of the Sky corner and put so much effort into making it the success that it undoubtably was. As Dave said when he looked back at the 250-300 Brits standing 11 deep ‘What are we going to do next year?” I don’t know Dave, but I’ll be there and next year I WON’T be leaving early. Vive le Tour!