Seeing Dots: the Tour de France

The grocery store chain Leclerc sponsors the polka dot jersey for the Tour de France. This is the jersey that is awarded to the rider who is the best climber in the mountains. The Leclerc truck pulled into town and handed out masses of polka dot T-shirts, guaranteeing that we’d all be seeing dots for the day.

I was coming home from some errands when I saw the sign posted at the edge of the big roundabout outside of town. On July 9, the road to Aigues-Vives would be closed due to the Tour de France.

Well, here was an interesting piece of information! I knew I had to figure out how to see it. I did a little asking around and checked in with friends; web sites were searched to determine the exact route through our corner of France. We ended up being a group of five who drove a few miles up the road to Aigues-Vives to watch Stage 13 of the 2021 Tour de France.

“No driving here on July 9.” The riders began the stage in Nîmes, and rode through Saint-Chinian and Agel before zipping through Aigues-Vives.
Tour jerseys and other stuff was available at the official Tour de France Boutique, which set up shop in front of the cave cooperative of Aigues-Vives (they were open for wine tasting).
We had reservations Chez Jeannette, and ours was a shady table right next to the street. It was perfect, and we could quickly nip out to the sidewalk when anything happened. From right, Sue, Trish, Kate, Laura and me.
Paella is ubiquitous here in the summertime, a great dish for feeding a large group. To keep things easy for lunch on the day of the Tour, the restaurant picked a simple menu and that’s what everyone got. (The handful of us who don’t eat seafood got chili.) It was all delicious, and the family who run the restaurant were delightful.
Sitting near us on the restaurant’s patio was this family, who arrived for the day wearing their official Tour de France polka dot jerseys. Sneaky photograph by Kate Dunn.

The first bit of excitement
About two hours before the bicycles hum through town, there is the caravan. This is a parade of sponsor vehicles with loudspeakers making all manner of announcements; they also honked their horns a lot. People in or on these vehicles toss swag to the crowd: packets of salami, crackers, cookies and candy; samples of laundry detergent; key chains; water bottles; shopping bags; etc. The vehicles were speeding through town, which meant that the goodies being tossed to the masses were basically swag projectiles.

My favorite vehicles were those with giant bicycle riders. Left, the vehicle for Krys, who were not tossing sunglasses to the crowd. Right, a 2CV all made up to look like a tablecloth, the perfect backdrop for saucissons from Cochonou (salami).
I struck up a conversation with Philippe and Nathalie, who were loudly cheering and waving their arms in hopes of scoring some swag. Philippe commented that the Tour de France is the only free sporting event in France (and perhaps the largest free sporting event in the world), and that it’s a national event. People from all corners of France and from all walks of life will venture out to watch a stage or two, happily clapping and yelling encouragement to the racers. He said that there’s a sense of nationwide community with the Tour, that everyone is in it together. He said all this with pride and a warm smile. It was lovely to meet them.
Meanwhile, across the street was an adorable family of budding young cycling fans, happily dancing and waving their arms in the hope that goodies would be tossed to them, all while proudly wearing their King of the Mountain T-shirts.

The next bit of excitement
After the caravan of sponsor vehicles sped down the road, there was a break in the action. In our group, a Scrabble board had appeared and a game was being played. Conversation hummed lazily, dessert was served, and we all thought fondly of a nap on a warm summer day.

Soon enough, though, we began to hear the distinctive whap-whap-whap of helicopter rotors, a sure sign that the racers were rapidly approaching. Back out to the street, where the crowds had grown and the excitement was palpable.

We had a nice advance warning system, as the crowd a couple of blocks away would cheer, and we knew that someone was coming.

The stage leader at just that moment, Pierre Latour (perfect name, right?). I’m not absolutely certain that’s who it is, but it’s my best guess.
And here’s the peloton. There’s a glimpse of yellow next to the corner of the building at right; that’s the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) being worn by the overall race leader Tadej Podacar. We didn’t know it until later, but the riders were stretched over a comparatively long distance, thanks to a crash that had taken place just a few miles up the road.
OK, it’s a little goofy, but I wanted to give a shout-out to British cyclist Mark Cavendish in the middle of the peloton. By the time the race arrived in Carcassonne, Cavendish was in the lead. He won the stage, putting him into a tie with the great Eddy Merckx with 34 stage wins. Cavendish wears the green jersey of the daily points leader, usually worn by sprinters.

So my first Tour de France goes into the memory books. It was a magical day: perfect summer weather, the company of good friends, delicious food served by generous hosts, and a whole lotta fun with the quirks of this beast of a bike race. I may just return for more in future years!

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