Monday, July 24, 2006

Tour de France - Stage 20 - Champs Elysses

As we previously mentioned, we really wanted to see the Tour de France while in Europe. A couple of weeks ago we watched stages 7 and 8 in the Brittany region in western France. Now, as the tour drew to a close, we were in Paris to see the final stage.

Without a real plan as to the best place to see the stage, we made our way to the Champs Elysses and found a place with a good view in both directions. It was a hot summer day in Paris. Not hot like a Queensland summer, but still warm enough when you are sitting on a black road. We setup camp around 11:30 and kept ourselves amused until something happened.

The tour caravan came past at about 3:00. It was the same as the one we had seen a couple of weeks earlier, except that the people on it looked very relieved to have finally hit the Champs Elysses and didn't have to do this too much longer. There were no freebies this time, either because they ran out or because everyone couldn't be bothered.

Competition for a view was fierce. We were second off the rails with short people in front, so we did quite well. Others were just plain rude about it. One fellow used his child as a wedge to get onto the rail - ask some sucker if your child can be on the rail an hour early, then once the riders come push your way through to the front under the pretence of rescuing your child from being crushed!

About an hour later we heard the TV helicopters overhead and the cyclists made their way up from Place de la Concorde for the first time. As expected the yellow jersey Phonak team of Floyd Landis led the peleton. The peleton was moving fast. Real fast. The Champs Elysses isn't a flat road, it rises steadily up to the Arc de Triomphe, but these guys make it look like a downhill. As the 8 laps progressed breakaways formed, but were quickly reeled in, and the pace consistently rose.

In the end it turned out to be a sprinter's finish, with Robbie McEwan, Thor Hushovd, Stuart O'Grady and Erik Zabel fighting it out. Go Aussies! In the end Hushovd won the sprint and stage with McEwan and O'Grady closely following. Maybe next year for an Aussie 1st and 2nd in Paris. McEwan retained the sprinters jersey.

As the last lap went by we made our way down to the podium, along with plenty of others. Hushovd got his stage prize, McEwan the green jersey and Landis the yellow jersey. And then it was over. Masses of people flocked to public transport or gave up and walked. The Tour de France had come to town and was now being rapidly disassembled.

It was a great day for us. We really enjoyed the tour.

Click on the photo to see more.

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