Tour de France 2002 as seen by Paul Norrell
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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