It may be dark, cold and rainy outside these days but remember the end of July? The sun was shining, the boys were on their bikes and the maillot jaune was riding the cobbles in Paris. Both Sheree and I were there at the end of the 2012 Tour – it was Sheree’s first Paris finale, while it was the fifth time I’ve made the pilgrimage. We decided to stroll down memory lane and look forward to the spectacular finish in 2013!
Sheree: I watched my first stage of the Tour de France in 2004 but it wasn’t until 2006 that I saw my first live Tour stage in the Alps. Thereafter, each year I’ve seen live stages in the Alps, Pyrenees or at the Tour start in Monaco but I’d never been to the finish in Paris. When the route for 2012 was announced, I decided this was the year I’d go to watch the finish and soak up the atmosphere in Paris.
Kitty: My first Paris finale was 2007 – as I’d seen the circus come to town in London three weeks earlier, I thought I’d top and tail it by going to see the finish in gay Paree. I’ve been going ever since, on the barricades from early in the morning until the last cyclist takes those final pictures with fans during the lap of honour. There’s nothing as fabulous as the peloton coming onto the Champs for the first lap.
Sheree: A girlfriend who was working for Eurosport suggested I accompany her for the last week of the Tour. In the end it was just the last four days of the Tour but it meant I got to see everything from a very privileged perspective.
Kitty: Sheree has much better connections than me – I was in the crowd, but I did get to meet Melissa German and hear about her encounters of the Jens kind. And certainly when you are on the barricades, you always find someone to talk to – I struck up quite a nice conversation with some Danish fans during the lap of honour.
Sheree: I was more excited to watch the finish than I’d anticipated. After all, it’s not as if anything’s going to change. The winner’s been decided and I was assuming – and everyone else – that Mark Cavendish (Sky) would win on the Champs Elysees cobbles. Maybe it was because I was aware it would be a truly historic moment with the first ever British winner.
I had a seat in one of the tribunes full of WAGs lining the finishing straight but, to be honest, the view wasn’t great. So I headed to a spot in the shade on the barrier just past the finish line to watch the peloton whizz past the requisite number of times. I rode along here a couple of years ago in London-Paris and was surprised at how emotional I felt heading towards the l’Arc de Triomphe. I wonder whether the professional peloton feels the same.
The soon-to-be-retired George Hincapie (BMC) was allowed to lead out the peloton to commemorate his record setting 17th participation. Cavendish won at a canter with none other than the maillot jaune Bradley Wiggins as part of his leadout train. I had to explain to everyone around me what Wiggins meant when he said that he was going to draw the winning raffle ticket. If only he’d said “tombola” everyone could have enjoyed the joke as no sportive in France is complete without one.
Kitty: Unfortunately, I hadn’t been feeling well so didn’t stay for the race itself – no, I wasn’t sick because of my feelings for the winner – I wanted to make sure that I was well enough to come back for lap of honour. That’s by far the best bit of Paris! The guys look so relaxed and thrilled to have completed the Tour and they always go over to the pockets of fans along the route for pictures and autographs. And I had to see Andre Greipel get his team picture taken in flip flops and surfer shorts, after losing a bet with Adam Hansen.
Sheree: I agree that the best bit about Paris is the post-race parade where the riders lap up the applause, take in the atmosphere while holding one of their various offspring [I’m sure that’s contrary to health & safety regulations – Ed] or, in the case of Wiggins and Cavendish, ride with them on specially made small yellow Pinarello bikes. Eurosport’s David Harmon told me that when the presentation was made to Bradley’s son he was thrilled while Cavendish’s partner’s son was heard to mutter it wasn’t as good as his Specialized! Out of the mouths of babes.
Kitty: I’m really looking forward to next year’s Paris finale! Not only will it be at night!! With fireworks!!! But I get to watch it in the company of my beloved Panache!!!! It’ll be an amazing end to what looks like an amazing parcours. Fingers crossed Cancellara will be there, although he’s hinting he might skip to Tour this year – he was sorely missed in Paris!
Sheree: After the Champs, it was party time as most of the teams conclude the Tour with a rip roaring celebration. But not this year – the celebrations were somewhat muted. Sky departed that evening for a week’s seclusion prior to the Olympics and they weren’t the only ones. This does of course mean that I’ll have to return again next year for the whole full on experience!