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Tour de France 2002 as seen by Paul Norrell

Click here to see the photos thus far Click here to view last year's journal and photos

7-6 Saturday

I lazily get out of bed, knowing I have until noon until my car is ready for pick up. I grab some coffee, and some croissants and return to the room to relax a while. I take a look at the car forms one more time to refresh my memory of where to go, and I gulp when I see the date for pickup was the 5th!! I also note that the office is closed on Saturdays, except by appointment. Ah sheesh I think to myself as I plan my next move. I head for the phone booth, and phone the office, where someone answers. The gentleman spoke English, and luckily had other appointments, so heíd be at the office until 2pm that day. I scurried back to the room to gather my stuff and go. After a brief delay by the apartment rental people, I snatch a cab for Schiphol.

The cab driver was a character for sure. He happily and accurately hummed along to the current pop hits blasting over the radio. Once we figured out exactly where it was I needed to be, he swept me there quite quickly. He kept telling me he needed to be back downtown by noon, so I think he was in more of a hurry than I was.

At the rental office, I have no troubles picking up the car, and am soon on my way. The tiny brand new Peugeot feels like a toy compared to my quarter century old Volvo back home. I go and get myself totally lost within about five minutes. Realizing this will be the case much of the time for a while yet, I gas up at the first opportunity, so at least I donít find myself stranded. While Iím stopped for gas, I realize my position is not too bad, and I begin to make decent progress on the super highways towards Luxembourg. I drive and driveÖ Once Iíve gone about 450km more, I approach Luxembourg. Keeping my eye out for my hotel (which it turns out I unknowingly drove right by almost immediately) or signs of the Tour, I roll through town cautiously. Without any uncertainty, I end up smack dab in the middle of the Tour frenzy. Lots of cars, lots of people, lots of Gendermarie, and plenty of roads blocked off and a bit of chaos thrown in for fun.

I ask a police officer where the street to my hotel is, and they just told me it would be impossible because of the Tour, so I assumed it must be along the course somewhere.

I skirt around the course, trying to stay close but not get blocked by other traffic, and after a couple attempts I soon find a legitimate and decent parking spot, at least for my ultra compact Peugeot.

I had conceded that Iíd probably missed the racing for the day due to my mistakes and shenanigans earlier. I walk up to the swarming crowds, and to my surprise there are still riders on the course. There are thousands of people gathered around the barriers, up to six deep in spots, cheering Ďgoí in many languages. There is not an empty spot along the rail at all, at least not near where I was. I wander about, still keeping an eye out for a sign of my hotel as well.

The riders keep streaming by, always surrounded by a cheer from the fans. Eventually Lance himself rolls along, and beats them all in the Prolouge!! I was surprised again, and the crowd was gleeful he took it, even from frenchman Laurent Jalabert, who ended up with the 2nd fastest lap.

After Lance went by, I started heading back to my parking spot, and ended up in the biggest non-moving mob of people Iíve caught myself in lately. It was just a big bottle neck area caused by the barriers, some grandstands, and the press area. Lots of people were gathered around to see if they could see riders or celebrities walk by, and others were just trying to pass through. It took about 10 minutes just to wade through this one section.

Unfortunately, technical problems prevented me from capturing photos of this day.



7-7 Sunday


I set out today to get a good spot on one of the points climbs of the day. I started driving out of town towards a town I thought was the right way, and soon came across some of the magic yellow route markers of the Tour. With confidence, I followed them for quite a ways. I thought it was a bit curious that there were no gendarmes, or people standing along the road anywhere, but assumed I must be pretty early. I followed arrows for about 20km, and even pulled over at a spot I thought would be quite nice. I took one more look at the map to see where I was exactly, and before long I realized that I was on the course for the following dayÖ Ah sheesh! Again I fouled myself up, but it was still somewhat early in the day, so I could recover from this mistake. I picked a new spot which was closer to where I was, and further along the route, which would buy me a bit more time.

I make a few good turns, and am navigating my way well enough, but before long find myself at a spot where all the roads seem to go in the wrong direction. I backtrack a couple towns, still not finding the way, and was close to just giving up when I saw a gaggle of cars, a couple of which had bicycles mounted on racks. Figuring they would be heading where I wanted to be, and I had no better plan, I followed them right onto the Tour course, for the right day even. We were allowed onto the course at a very sweet time, between when most of the roads are barricaded, and intersections are manned, but they allow you to keep driving the course if you are already on it. I cruise it for quite some ways, and eventually get to the spot I wanted to get to, which was the Cote de Hostert.

Fans are lined up through the town of Hostert, which is along a steep hill, with the point sprint at the very top. I drive almost all the way to the top, and turn off onto one of the scarce side roads packed with parked cars and picnickers. I luckily spot and grab a quite convenient parking spot, again just big enough for my handy little Peugeot.

Since Iím hours early for even the publicity caravan, I decide to just hang out in the car and use its built in seats until it gets close to time. I take it people donít really hang out in their cars, as people seemed to stare a little bit. It might just be the European way. People tend to be less shy about really taking a good look as compared to habits in the States. Oh well, I just ignored the people, and made myself occupied with Tour magazines, maps, and a good deal of organizational tasks.

Once I felt it was close enough to ďtimeĒ I sauntered over to the course to locate a decent viewing spot. Itís true that sometimes you will want to choose a different spot for the publicity caravan than for watching the riders. I found a spot that was good enough, and waited and waited.

The caravan was running a little behind schedule, but along they came. The crowds go crazy for the free stuff, which many of the vehicles throw out. The Aquarel vans were funny, because they sprayed fans with a fire hose as they went by instead, hah!

About an hour after the caravan is by, the racers begin to charge through. Iím near the very top of a pretty long, and quite steep hill, and they are blasting by, really after it. Since Iím along the inside of the turn, I canít see as well, but they come very close to me up the hill, so that was fun. Lance rode right by me too quickly for me and my camera to catch him. They were really going fast up that hill.

Once the team cars started coming by, I made my break for my car. I was among the first back into a vehicle, and joined the migrating herd of pedestrians in my car. I eventually ploughed a path through the crowd, and made a halfway decent escape. Finding my way back was no problem, all the signs include Luxembourg when youíre this close to town.





7-8 Monday

As I wait for the Tour stage to come by today, I am sitting in my car, listening to German radio. An eclectic mix of American and German hits from the 70ís to 90ís.

Because of my unintentional recon mission yesterday, I already knew of a decent spot to watch the riders from today. I arrived quite early, and am the first to park in the little oasis Iím stationed at. One by one, cars trickle in, some park here, some turn around to seek other spots. Its still an hour and a half before the caravan comes, but the parking is now getting very scarce. You have to get out pretty early to get a good spot.

After quite a bit of waiting around, the caravan rolls by in full form: Horns blasting, loudspeakers blaring, and fans cheering. Goodies are thrown to the kids, and the Aquarel vehicle sprays everyone along the roadside.

After the excitement of the caravan settles down some, a helicopter hovers overhead, signaling the riders are near. About an hour behind the last publicity caravan vehicle, the real official cars start to come through, followed by the Coca Cola motorcycle, the Mavic car, and then the riders themselves. Since I was stationed along a climb, I got a pretty good look at the riders as they came by. It was a break of three, shortly followed by the enormous main field. I had chosen a spot closer to the start of the stage than to the finish, so almost anything could still happen with this stage.

Once the riders come by, and the team cars start jockeying their way through, I make my way back to the car to make my escape. Before long I see signs that just say ďFranceĒ with an arrow one way, and ďLuxembourgĒ the other way. Usually the direction arrows are a bit more specific. Since Iím heading for Metz, I choose the ďFranceĒ route and soon am on a superhighway going 130km per hour on my way towards Metz. With some incredible luck and some fancy driving, I happen right upon my hotel in the ďtechnopoleĒ of Metz. I take it from the surroundings, ďtechnopoleĒ is like a business park. Anyway, it appears that Fassa Bortolo and Kelme teams are staying here tonight as well.

 

 

Tuesday, July 9th

By 10:30, Iíve got my spot situated. The riders come by in about four and a half hours, the caravan an hour ahead of them. People do not seem to mind showing up very early, and making a day of the event. They typically get right out of their car, and head for the spot where they want to be. People stand by the roadside for hours and hours. Unless you actually stand at the roadside, pretty much in the road, someone will easily just come up and stand in front of your spot anyway. Because of this, Iíve started being a bit more tactical. I find a good spot to park nice and early, and just wait in my car until it gets much closer to time. The French seem to want to be out of the car as quickly as possible, so I get some odd looks sometimes when I am one of the only people sitting in a vehicle thatís not a camper. Some get there earlier than me even, and will happily stand right by the road for hours, watching each car drive by. They seem to be more into hanging out and watching the world go by.

As for the actual Tour watching, I have some tactics here too. Its good to be near some kids for the caravan part, but not too close to them. If youíre too isolated, the caravan speeds up too fast to be throwing stuff, or if you are in a spot too crowded, the kids get most of the stuff. For the racers coming, I tend to find another spot, where I think the riders will be going slowly, and where Iíll have a good unobstructed view of them. It can be hard to get all this.

Iím already thinking about how it will be on Ventoux. I want to be there on the climb somewhere, but I bet it will be hard to get spots on that one. From the pictures Iíve seen, its just a road cut into a hill of gravel with no trees, grass, or any life, doubtful if there are many spots to park there. Any that are there will be likely taken, but I think my little Peugeot might find a suitable spot. Iíll also need to have a way to create shade for myself in case it is a scorcher. I donít need to die out there of heat stroke or sunburn. Iím thinking of some tape, and just taping up the windows with paper or maps once I get to a spot. Maybe a cheap bed sheet would be in order for over the top of the dark blue car.

I am so uncivilized without any lawn furniture for Tour watching! Everyone is breaking out their folding chairs and folding picnic tables. Oh well, I donít think Iím ready to convert all the way yet.

Anyway, the riders eventually come by, and I get a few decent shots, including the one of Lance there in a blur.

Onward to Epernay, which was the town of my hotel, as well as the start of the next dayís stage, the Team Time Trial. Getting to the town was not much problem, but getting around town was a pain. They had closed many of the major roads, even the day prior to the Tour. This was apparently to allow easier access to the official Tour vehicles, but driving around for civilians was a joke. I parked the car, and took to foot. I end up buying a ďplan de villeĒ (town map) and with a little more confusion, I find Iím not where I thought, but still only a couple blocks from the hotel.

 

 

Wednesday, July 10th.

The hotel turned out to be right across the street from the parking lot that the media and some of the caravan used. That part was not all that interesting, but a quick walk into town, and swarms of people, lots of champagne drinking (even by 10:00!) and Tour buzz was easily found. I just wandered about, checking out the team busses arriving, and especially the crowds of people around. After a while, the riders were getting warmed up, most on the stationary bikes, but some also were taking to the road apparently for a warm up. I stood in a section between the parking for teams and where they had to go to line up for the start, and ended up seeing almost all of the riders of the Tour. I got photos of Jackie Durand, who had been in a very long breakaway the previous day, Erik Zabel in yellow, Domo team with Richard Virenque, the Posties with Lance looking all business, the winning Once team, and others for sure.

I saw the Credit Agricole team had gotten trapped on the wrong side of the barriers, so they were riding through the crowds of spectators, fully kitted out with the aero helmets and time trial bikes. They looked way out of place, and a little stressed, maybe knowing they were due to start soon.

I just hung out in town today and watched the Tour spectacle locally, then on Eurosport. (British Eurosport even!)

 

Thursday, July 11th.

As I am waking at my usual time, just before 7:00, I hear the sound of chains out my hotel room window. I look out to find exactly what I had suspected, and hoped would not happen. A parking lot attendant was there chaining up the entrance I had used to the parking lot across the street, which was now nearly empty since the Tour had left the previous afternoon. Well, the attendant took another exit to the lot, which I couldnít see, but I figured there must be another way out so I didnít let it worry me much. After petit dejourner, Iím off Ė out of the hotel by 8:00 as usual. What I believed to be a free lot, was actually the type using the standard ticket system: Take a ticket when you enter, pay the machine when its time to go, and insert the validated ticket at the barricade to allow you to exit. Since I had no ticket, I wouldnít be able to use one of those barricade things, and I knew I wouldnít do so well at explaining exactly what happened. I tried walking up to the ticket dispenser, but understandably, it would not dispense to a pedestrian. Luckily, nearby I spotted a way out that was only blocked by some movable Tour de France style barricades. Acting as if I had every right, or maybe worked there, I moved the barricade, then my car, and even replaced it behind my as I broke out of that lot and escaped from Epernay.

Todayís stage looked like one of the flattest of the whole Tour, which I least prefer, so I opted to skip the stage today, and take a drive through the Foret de Fountainbleau, to the south of Paris. It was a nice fairly scenic drive, but I ended up spending a little too much time on the road. I passed through scores of little villages, and a few modest cities on my way. I stopped in a small town somewhere at a grocery store to stock up on supplies. I got camembert, fruit juice in a cardboard carton, something that looked like Pringles which I havenít tried yet, and some other stuff. At least I knew to bring in my own bag this time. I made a separate trip to a boulangerie for baguettes, which were soft and still warm from the oven.

Once in the forest, I find a spot to park and picnic. I soon discover that camembert I bought had either gone bad, or just was bad. Anyway, it was awful smelling, but I tried it anyway as smelly cheese sometimes tastes good. Filthy rotten socks is what comes to mind for both the odor and flavor. I scooped bits out of my baguette, and even tried it without the white outer crust, thinking that it might be less intense that way, but no matter what it was just bad. Since I was in the forest, I had dropped bits of the cheese on the ground, and unknowingly trampled all over it. When it came time to go, I discovered plenty oí cheese lodged into my shoes. The forest floor was really dry, so the efforts I took to scrape the cheese off were failing. I switched shoes for the drive to not completely soil the new car.

Evereux was my final destination for the day, and its name began appearing on the route markers before long. Its always nice to know you are heading the right way. As I skirt around Evereux, I actually spot my roadside style hotel from the highway. I loop back, and easily find my way.

After I relax at the hotel for a little, I head back out towards the InterMarche I saw a sign for. It is a supermarket, but is more like a Fred Meyer with the supermarket attached. I wandered about in there, marveling at the choices of cheese, chocolates, cookies, and applesauces. If you wanted to live on chocolate, cheese and cookies, (and who do you know that doesn't!) this is the place to be.    

 

Thursday, July 12th

As usual, Iím petit dejourner at 7:20, and out the door by 8:00. I donít have the next map Iíll need, but the one I have will work for part of today at least. I end up driving on the course before long, and plot myself out a spot just after the feed zone for the day. Iím parked early, around 10:30. I bust out my new ďTurbocarĒ brand ďblanque du picnicĒ I got at the InterMarche, and voila! I could pass as a Frenchman, as long as no one tries to speak to me, heh.

Well, before I know it, another car shows up in my little area, then another and another, and they all know each other. A whole bunch of kissy noises, and French speaking, and all of a sudden there are like 10 people in the secluded little spot I had found. I knew others would join me, but this is a little weird. Before long, yet another vehicle shows up after some instruction via wireless phone from the party, so there were like 14 or 15 people there with me, pretty close to the middle of nowhere. I felt pretty uncomfortable at first, with everyone kissy kissy and French speaking, crowding about my picnic spot. Well, I am the guest here after all I thought, and they just came to see the Tour too, so I accepted it.  

The people were quite nice, even offered me champagne and candy, even though I was an American oblivious to their language. Most of the group were kids, so when it came time for the caravan, it was fun to watch them freaking out to get the stuff. Every car that drove by would get waves as well as ďway!! way!! way!!Ē

After the riders rolled by and they allowed traffic again, I took off and get myself a little lost. Eventually I find some major roads and can find my way to Domfront, very close to the town Iím staying, La Haute-Chapelle. Once in Domfront, I should be able to spot signs for La Haute, but have some trouble. Even after finding one sign for it, I get off course and am back in Domfront. I scout my way again, and spot the tiny black sign pointing down the goat cart path to La Haute-Chapelle. I get to the town, which is tiny tiny, but I have no idea where in the town the place might be, what it looks like or nothing. Thereís not really a street address, so I figure it must be somewhat obvious. The only thing in town I can find that appears public is a tabac/bar. I stop in there hoping for some help, which I do get, but just barely. I pretty much get a general direction to go towards, and get a clue that it is near the church. I go and park near the church, and begin walking around the tiny village. My search is pretty hopeless with no real idea of where to go, but I spot some kids on bikes riding around. They see me as I approach them, and cheerfully greet me with bonjour misseur. I cryptically explain to them that I donít understand much of their language, but show them the name of the place on my reservation notice. They all look at each other and talk amongst themselves, and decide where it is. I think they were excited to have a mission, and eagerly guided me to the spot from their bikes, just kitty corner across from the church where I had parked.

The sign for the place was very small, but it was it for sure. It was a bed and breakfast home in an absolutely grand mansion made of a stone exterior, with raw unfinished wood interior with exposed beams. It had to have been hundreds of years old, and was quite tastefully updated.

 

7-25, Thursday

Where does time go?? I guess it has been nearly two weeks since Iíve posted or written a thing, and I do apologize for my lapse. It sure doesnít seem like quite that long to me, but I guess a lot has happened. So much of my time here involves miniature adventures of epic struggle, that Iíve often been too tired to do anything but collapse at the end of the day in the hotel. Iíve apparently punished myself for not writing by wrenching my ankle on a rock in the Alps, which is forcing me to sit still for a bit: Quite unglamorously I lost my balance while searching for a private spot to answer the call of Mother Nature alongside the course near Les Deux-Alpes. I ended up landing on my left foot wrong, and sprained it quite well. I donít have my textbook with me, but it looks like a textbook ankle sprain to me. Opting for quickest recovery, Iíve conceded to stay in the room for a couple days and watch the stages on Eurosport instead.

I have been out along the course for nearly every stage, but have missed a few now and then, a couple on purpose because I needed to do laundry and take a break, and another because the walk was just too much for me on that day. Unfortunately, that day was also the stage finish in La Mongie, where Lance busted a move and reclaimed the yellow jersey. I ended up approaching the town from the opposite side of the Tourmalet, but they had closed access to cars already. It would have been doable, but I had already over-walked myself earlier on the trip, and knew I needed to pace myself some. I walked for a couple hours up and down the face of the ski runs of the Tourmalet before I gave in and turned around, with the town of La Mongie in the distance. All was not lost though for me though, because the weather was wonderful and I was able to get some good photos of this beautiful area. Iíd imagine the area would be just as spectacular if not more so in the wintertime.

Before the race got to the Pyrenees, I managed to get myself over to the Atlantic coast for a drive along the coastal towns. The towns were quaint and the beaches seemed quite peaceful, at least while I was there. I was in the Normandy region, so there were also plenty of war memorials here too.

Mt Ventoux was another spectacular spot I got to see the race from. The area is just plain weird, but it didnít feel spooky or as unforgiving as I thought it might. The top is just a huge pile of broken, sun bleached, pumice type rock with hardly anything able to grow there. It almost seems like the road could just slip right down the side of this enormous gravel pile, but theyíve glued it down pretty well. I snapped a shot of Virenque as he was on his way to a brilliant stage victory. I didnít get a chance to get a picture of Lance because I ran along side him and told him to ďgo!Ē for a second instead.

After the Ventoux stage, I made the trek back to the car which was nearly a two hour walk from where I watched the race. Once in the car, I sat in the worst traffic jam of my life I think. My hotel was in Avignon that night, less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) away I think, but it took me until 11:30 at night to finally reach the hotel. I had almost given up on my search for the hotel that night because I wasnít quite thinking clearly: A combination of dehydration, tiredness, and frustration from the never ending traffic jam impeded my ability to comprehend the townís public maps. The town was also having a carnival of some sort, so it was a struggle just to get around. To my surprise, CSC Tiscali, Lampre, Lotto, and some other random tour vehicles were already there at my hotel once I arrived.

I followed the Tour through the Pyrenees, where there were lots of Basque people. They can usually be easily spotted by the orange t-shirts and/or Basque flags. When I saw them, they had come by the bus load, and were singing songs, drinking wine all day, and giving some of the straggling Euskatel riders big pushes up the steep grades. It was very apparent that these people are serious about their cycling.

My adventure in France is all about contrast. Iíve seen so much, but have certainly missed even more due to my lack of knowledge of the regions and language. I seem to be either in a hurry to get to or away from a good viewing spot for the race, passing by countless points of interest, only to sit along the roadside in a remote spot for hours patiently waiting for the Tour proceedings. Wanting to be in a choice spot for the race action, but also trying to avoid being among crowds of people. Feeling like Iím hauling too much stuff around on one hand, and then wishing I had this or that at other times. Enjoying the direct non-hesitative style of the Europeans, but sometimes annoyed when I get cut in line at the grocery store or ATM. I prefer the roadways of France to those in the US because of the graceful curves, nice road quality and very few traffic lights, but find the unfamiliar signage harder to follow at times. I also prefer most driving habits of the French compared to those of the US, except it seems far more acceptable to tailgate in France.

Since I know Iím not the most adventurous eater, Iíve also avoided the French cuisine almost entirely so far. I wonít eat fish or mushrooms, and tend to like pretty simple foods. I know the French food looks pretty fussed over, and I think more than anything Iíd prefer not to insult anyone by turning my nose up at something theyíve fussed over because of my own peculiar tastes. Iíve been hitting the grocery store for picnic style foods. You can almost always tell exactly what youíre buying at the marchť. I usually get one chance in the morning before I get to my tour spot. Since the weather often scorches, any cheese, chocolate or cold drink you get in the morning will be nice and cooked by afternoon when youíre really ready for snacking. At least I donít feel like such a savage now that I have my official picnic blanket. I know its not quite as civilized as the folding picnic tables or chairs most folks have, but its better than eating in the back seat of the car.

As Iím writing this, I receive and eat some of my first prepared French meal aside from the 2 pizzas Iíve had here in Grenoble and other small snacks here and there. Since my mobility is limited somewhat I decide to order room service. I ask if they will serve pizza, but no pizza, so I ask what him what they have. He immediately starts talking about fish, so I ask for no fish, and once he understands no fish, he suggests a salad. I think he even called it a ďbig saladĒ. I heard him say there would be some pork on it, which I thought would be good too, and if it was bad I could just pull it off anyway. It showed up to my room pretty quickly, and the salad was mostly meat slices, arranged in a visually appealing manner. Of the 4 varieties of meats, I felt 2 were suitable and ate all of those two: one slice of salty ham and three slices of salami. I ate the tiny bit of lettuce that was under the meat slices and the miniature pickles. I tried a small sample of one of the other meats but had no trouble realizing it was not something I wanted any more of and the last variety was not even appealing enough to me to warrant a try. Luckily since I was in the privacy of my own room, I was not embarrassed to smell and closely examine the items before tasting.

Since my next hotel has a ďmandatory dinnerĒ Iím glad that I now at least have a partial French meal experience under my belt. Perhaps I should use my French for Travelers book to form a cryptic statement about a special diet which forbids things like hanged hare, brains, and other strange organs and fish and mushrooms...

Click here to view last year's journal and photos

 

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