Published: July 25th 2006July 12th 2006
Tour - Stage 9 (Dax)
We decided to catch a stage finish in Dax, which was about 45mins from Biarritz. I've been watching the Tour for 4 years now, ever since I began competing in triathlons. I was very excited to finally see it in person. I bought a program in France (in French) that broke down each stage in detail, with estimated arrival times and detailed maps of the mountain stages.
The 9th stage was a flat one, so we were expecting a mass sprint finish. We arrived about 3hrs early to find parking and make our way to the finish line. We found some room along the barricade at the 250 meter mark and set up camp. We brought lunch and some beverages to kill the time. About 2hrs before the riders were expected to arrive the sponsor caravan came through. I didn't know what to expect from this b/c you never see it on the TV coverage. It was a circus. There were 25 or so sponsors, and each had a set of floats with loud music and people throwing out souvenirs from their vehicles. There were 4 different kinds of hats, 5 different 'thundersticks,' pretzels, water,
gummy bears... People were fighting over this junk. I took a few hats but that's it. I also bought a Phonak (eventual winner rides for them) water bottle. A bunch of police cars and motorcycles, press and team buses came through as well.
Once the caravan went through, they gave race updates over the loudspeakers. There was a breakaway early in the stage that was caught a few miles before the finish. We could see the helicopters that were above the riders getting closer and closer - very exciting. Then came a bunch of police motorcycles and race officials. Then we could see the riders. They were moving (over 35mph). All of the spectators lean out over the barricade to see, and we almost got hit b/c the riders happened to come on our side of the road (the green jersey pic is not zoomed). It was amazing how fast they were going.
But within 30 secs the race was over and the stragglers were in. It went by so fast - it was kinda disappointing. But I was just excited to be there so it didn't matter. I also knew the next stage would be better. Tour - Stage 10 (Col de Suscousse)
Stage 10 was the first mountain stage of the tour - in the Pyrenees. On the Tour map (attached), we are down in the lower left corner. I chose a point on the map near the top of the largest climb of the day. On TV you always see huge crowds lining tight, steep roads in the mountains. I wanted to experience it firsthand.
Again we got there pretty early. Parking can be a real problem because of the nature of the roads. There were hundreds of cars lining the mountain road and we found a tight parking spot on the side of a cliff. We walked about 15mins to the 'Col de Suscousse' about 3kms from the very top of the climb. Again, the caravan came through. I can't imagine driving some of the tiny floats up and down these mountains for 2200 miles in 20 days. I hope they get paid a lot...
The stage was much more entertaining. A breakaway came through first, and then a few more riders spread out over the next 9 minutes. Each solo rider or small group was surrounded by motorcycles, team cars,
press cars... It was wild. Then the peleton came through about 9 mins later. I ran along a bit and yelled at Hincapie, one of the American favorites (at the time).
The stage was much more fun and if I were to go back, I'd stick to the mountains (and catch a time trail, and Paris). As you can see from the pics, I finally got a haircut/shave. The beard/fro was killing me, especially in the heat...
There are more photos below