July 23, 2006
Tour de France
As you may have heard, today was the final stage of the Tour de France. We happened to be there for the final circuit around the Champs-Elysées in Paris. The race itself is quite an event, and this year’s drama was certainly worthy of the name. We saw Floyd Landis in yellow amongst his Phonak teamates pass us up and down the boulevard, during their eight-lap mini-criterium. The event was enormous, complete with a parade of strange cars and costumed women waving at us as they sped by. This is the traditional “caravane” that precedes the arrival of the main peleton.
When the riders arrived, I was amazed by the speed. They were racing along the cobblestones of the old “Elysian Fields” at probably between 50 and 60 km/h. That’s really fast. You barely have enough time to pick out the jerseys of the cyclists, much less identify specific riders. However, we could always see Landis’ yellow jersey safely tucked behind his teamates at the front, and it was also easy to pick out Michael Rasmussen’s polka-dot kit hanging on a few riders from the back. When the largest breakaway emerged, that stayed away for a good two laps, we could make out Jens Voigt, Chris Horner, and Yaroslav Popyvich, but after that it was just a sea of jerseys.
Thor Huschovd won the day on a breakneck sprint that–unusually–split the peloton, giving riders different finishing times, and saw Robbie McEwen and Erik Zabel just in arears. The thing that impressed me the most about the race was the unrelenting pace. Watching on television can give you no sense of just how consistently fast these riders ride. When they finish a stage averaging 45 km/h, that means that when they break for turns, they are going as fast as most people ever go on a bike.
We watched the race with the Floyd Landis fan-club. That’s Sarah and Liz Boltz, from Indiana, who had followed the tour with their mother to every stage! They had gotten to the point that a couple of cars in the caravan, and the Phonak team driver, actually recognized them. They had t-shirts made, painted umbrellas and an American flag. We got way more camera time than we deserved and front row seats, so life was pretty good.