“A big picnic, with a cycling race attached,” is how Nadia of @foothillsfrance describes the Tour de France, from the spectator’s point of view. In July 2011 we met up with the Tour on our way back from cycling down the Loire.
(from F2W, chapter 5)
To its great credit Brittany Ferries warned us by text message that the Tour de France would be crossing Normandy on the afternoon of our return sailing from Caen, with a rolling programme of road closures that we should beware. It was not difficult to establish the details of the day’s ride, with estimated timings of exactly when the tour would arrive at various points along the route. Rather than visit the château at Angers to see its famous Apocalypse tapestries we decided, in the spirit of our enterprise, to head north and intercept the Tour near Falaise, after a hypermarket visit to buy wine.
According to Ouest-France something called la caravane was expected to reach the junction of the D511 and the D39 at 1418 precisely, and that made a good fit with our crossing. We were not quite sure what relation la caravane bore to le peloton, but they could surely not be far apart so we craftily went past Falaise, did our shopping and approached the D511 from the north, in the interests of an easy getaway.
A small bank of spectators had gathered beside the road and we joined them. Occasional police motorbikes came past, lights flashing importantly. A car pulling a large caravan – not the caravan – approached from the south, attempted to cross the road, was told it couldn’t and crashed into a parked car while trying to reverse. A great cheer went up – “Bravo la caravane!” – but, with police watching, it was bad luck. At last the word went round: “la caravane arrive!” Cameras were primed, necks craned. It was a carnival procession of sponsor vehicles, with music blaring and dancing girls hurling sweets, cheesy wotsits and advertising leaflets at us. “The caravan lasts for more than an hour,” someone said, so we made our escape and saved the Tour de France proper for another day.
PS July 14 2013
A chance renewal of my acquaintance with la Caravane came on Friday afternoon (July 12) when we crossed it on the motorway near the official centre of France, St Amand Montrond. La Caravane, including the three horse chariot pictured above with half a dozen Haribo convertible minis poursuivant, was making its way south from the stage finish at St Amand to the next day’s stage start, St Pourçain s/Sioule. We were on our way home from holiday in the Tarn.
The sight of la caravane gave grounds for hope that we might see the Tour itself, and we slowed down as we crossed the Cher between Chateauneuf and St Amand, hoping to see le peloton streaming along the riverside D35 and over our carriageway. Imagine the excitement in the family estate car, as we glimpsed a telltale encampment of picnic tables and dormobiles ….. but no cyclists.
A few minutes later we overtook the Visit Luxembourg float, complete with the duchy’s emblematic red lion, making its way slowly north, having presumably abandoned the Tour. Why, we wondered – with the thrills of the Ventoux and the Alps to come? Homesick, no doubt.