Monday, July 10, 2006

Tour de France - Stage 8 - St Meen le Grand

This morning we woke up in our accommodation in Rennes. Sunday is a funny day in France. If you are looking for an early start and a bit of breakfast you are way out of luck, unless you get breakfast at your hotel. Having already experienced this in previous trips through Benelux and Paris we stopped at the first McDonalds that presented itself on the road to St Meen le Grand - the starting town of Stage 8 of the 2006 tour.

Stage 8 is a normal road stage of 200.5 km down to Lorient in the south of the western tip of France. Road stages present a different start to a time-trial. While the TT is an all day event for the starting town, a road stage is a short morning sprint. This didn't deter St Meen le Grand though. The whole town was a carnival atmosphere. We walked into the town from the parking area past houses that were decked out in tour supporting colours and decoration from top to bottom. The team bus enclosure was a more guarded area this day and we were unable to get much of a view without passes. We watched a bit of the official sign-in where the riders clunk up to the stage in their cleats and then avoid slipping down the wet stairs on the way down.

Apart from the cyclists, the other main event of a stage is the promotional parade. All of the official major and minor sponsors of the tour drive along an hour before the cyclists and through free, somewhat useless, marketing trinkets at you. The sheer uselessness of the objects doesn't stop people from clambering over their own offspring and grandmothers to get. The moment it hits the ground feet stomp on it, people dive on it, until one person emerges with the tightest grasp on it. Our team was well composed - Jonathan was the quick-reflex catch man, Kelly was the behind the crowd runner and Liam would go down low covering the ground. What are we going to do with all of the stuff that we got?

Anyway, an hour later the cyclists actually start out. We found a place about 800m after the start, on a wall on the small hill up into the centre of town. This gave us a good look over the bunch as the crawled up the hill. The bunch was led by the jersey wearers - Honchar, McEwen, Pineau and Fothen. Everyone else followed behind chatting to their neighbour or adjusting this or that piece of clothing. The real racing wouldn't start at least until the other side of town and probably not for a few kilometers after that.

Walking up into the centre of town, Jonathan stumbled across another sausage and crepe stall and we had a bit of lunch. The town was still abuzz as the tour had come and gone, but that wouldn't stop the party for the next couple of hours.

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