Out the door at 7am for a pleasant 1hr and 15min drive to the town of Livarot for the start of Stage 7: Livarot—Fougères! When we arrived at just after 8am, cars were already lined up along the two-lane road leading into a small village. The person who was meant to guide traffic jumped out of the car in front of us and got straight on the job.
We were in an entirely different part of Normandy, away from the sea, with lovely rolling green hills and dotted with the patchwork colors of healthy crops, freshly hayed fields, cows, and orchards. We were in the Department of Calvados, where the cheese is pungent and the apple brandy will knock you flat on your ass.
Always eager to get there but also to get up and get out, we took a hard right away from the queue and parked by an ancient little church atop a hill; beside it was an apple orchard that scooped down toward town. Hardly anybody had discovered it yet.
It was pretty. The sun had peaked the surrounding hills at least an hour before. The smoke and aroma of tripe sausage grilling on a wood fire rose in a cloud from the town; music and an excited voice belted across the valley.
The sights, smells, and sounds of a party in progress!
People flocked to the town square. Jersey banners were strung across the main street. Everybody was there, from newborn babies to the elderly, many different nationalities, and the local children cyclist group who later received brand new helmets from the French team Europcar. You name it, they were there.
Including the commercial caravan. They were on the street, on the job, providing entertainment and giveaways to the fans. Loaf after loaf of bread was served, smeared with apricot jam. Coffee and hot chocolate samples were made on carts and carried up and down the street. They even threw whole loaves of bread and tiny sausages into the audience.
Team jerseys and other gear or anything related to Le Tour was not given away. The jerseys were outrageously expensive, well over 100Euro, but the familiar yellow that represents the race was reasonable—at 20Euro for a fan pack with multiple items like a shirt, a hat, and a few other things. I bought a shopping bag, a deck of cards, and two water bottles for our bikes, and spent 20Euro.
Before the race: in addition to the commercial caravan, the riders must sign in digitally, and this too is made into a spectacle. Fans can see their favorites on the podium as they sign and have a brief interview. We had made our way to the actual starting line so we only saw them on big-screen televisions.
Then finally, just over four hours after our arrival, the vendors left in the commercial caravan ahead of the riders and the street filled with cameramen, photographers, the presidential motorcade, the tour director’s car—from which emerged none other than Bernard Hinault, former laureate of Le Tour de France. I was glad to see him in person and sad it wasn’t 5-time champion Eddy Merckx.
The only thing wrong with the entire scenario was that in the end, ahead of the riders, the politicians showed up and the fans that had been ready at the start for so many hours to be able to photograph and participate in the countdown, were suddenly robbed of it. People were exasperated and even asked for them to leave. They didn’t.
And then suddenly the racers were in position! The countdown allowed for just a few pictures of André Greipel in the green jersey, Daniel Teklehaimanot—first African rider—in the polka dot jersey, and Peter Sagan in the white. The rest of the group was difficult to pick apart, they were packed in like sardines much like they are on the road, and many had their heads down in silent meditation.
As they crossed the departure line, many a competitor made the sign of the cross. It’s been a rough-and-tumble race this year and there’s been an interesting shake-up in each of the stages so far with difficult-to-reach finish lines. The route is never for the faint of heart, but this time it seems over the top.
Hopefully it’s nothing but pure enjoyment for the next two weeks with crazy fans, challenging climbs, and harrowing downhills. All the way to Paris.
We will enjoy every moment, bow to the effort of not only the racers but everybody involved in this tremendous organization, and drink in the magnificent sceneries of France, the true shining star of Le Tour.
Bucket List Item: Tour de France start of a stage
Cost: gas money, toll, and time
How far from home: an easy drive of about 75 minutes
Picnic: food available at local bakeries and butcher shops, and on the street
Overall experience: super ambiance and totally worth getting up early for
Repeatable? Hell yeah!
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