Finally, the day came.
The Tour in its finale, as it turns out, is much like combination of Thanksgiving and the SuperBowl. There is a parade. Big floats. Crazy fans. Lots of security. But very much worth the journey.
We started with a very fancy lunch at the famous Laurent restaurant. We all got the all important wristband. Later that evening we would all get the platinum version of the Lance wristband, this time in clear plastic with a silver clasp and the number "7". (When asked what happened if he hadn’t won, they pointed out that the number was designed to work as an "L" when turned upside down, just in case…) Trivia question, tour fans: Who was the American who finished next after Armstrong (in position #6)? Answer:
We toasted with Cokes to the chagrin of the maitre’d. He didn’t mind the cokes, but he hated the idea of drinking out of a bottle. In France, lips must only touch crystal…or air. The meal began with a salad containing a whole lobster (check out the menu). Shelled, of course. Andrea doesn’t eat sea food, so the rest of us started out with more than one lobster. Man! Then, steak, and more. The meal’s pent-ultimate course was the mother of all desserts–a giant sandwich of a meal in itself with cream, chocolate, and pastry. The ultimate Belgian waffle, but the French would not call any food Belgian. A Belgian student told me the proper term for fries is "Belgian fries", not French fries. "They stole it," he said.
The meal ended with chocolate and pastries (no, the Mother Waffle didn’t count as dessert). We had shots of all of it, but this is just a summary. We’ll figure out a curricular implication for the meal (health comes to mind—or math for the calories) and share the rest later.
We headed out from the Laurent fortified for the day.
We passed wild fans and fought security lines.
Some of the fans along the way. We especially appreciated the young fan with "Discovery" painted across her face. We’re working on a series for her: "Trading Faces"
There were many fans in the riding colors of their favorite teams. Considering that these full jerseys go for some like $100, it is more than just wearing a t-shirt. The Tour de France does not seem to appeal just to the affluent, however. It is not the PGA on wheels. There were young and old and rich and poor along the roads on the way to Paris. There seems to be a genuine love of cycling among the fans. One of the manufacturers of bike parts and I had a long talk about his worries that Americans may be losing their love of bikes. While most adults may have a bonding experience with their bikes as kids, their own kid do not. Neither my own daughter (8) or son (17) bike much. It’s not safe, there ‘s nowhere to go, and other modern factors. They skateboard. But that does mean that in 50 years the next Lance will win the all-skateboard Tour? Not a laughing matter when you consider the way snowboarding is pushing skis off the slopes. Hit the comment button to weigh in on the issue. How do you think sports will change in the future to reflect current kids’ activity preferences? What would the hypothetical sports section of the daily news be in 2050?
We got the VIP treatment as Discovery folks ("hold up your wrist bands!"). Some fun. Here, a somewhat bellicose French fan tried to follow us by going over the barricade.
No, no, monsieur…
The fans in the street were a wild bunch, but not disorderly in anyway at all. It was like a crowd at a church picnic. And not all these wild folks were who you would guess. The girl and her mother, draped in the American flags, were French–Armstrong fans.
The girl had an autograph from Lance on the flag. She gave us some words for American teenagers, which we’ll share in an archive of collected comments on the DEN site.
The guy with the Lance fan, is a Belgian. So flags don’t always have political meaning.
The finale began with the crazy French equivalent of floats–modified cars and trucks with slick representations of the sponsors products. In the first, giant version of Lance Armstrong, you can make out, just over his wrists, the French Armstrong fans wearing the American flags. From the thousands of people viewing the race, Jose miraculously spotted them right across from us.
But you don’t have to have a ticket to see the Tour finale. People start out very early, sometimes overnight, to get good seats next to the street. Leaving a little time to catch a snooze before the thundering rubber tires hum by….
Another sleeper. My favorite sleeper, a beautiful baby in a stroller, had some magical power that defied digital photography (true, I tried seven times), but take my word for it. Naps effected young and old.
For our part, we got prime seating under an orange canopy.
Next to us, under a yellow canopy, the celebrities watched from the same distance. Sitings included Sheryl Crow, Lindsey Lohan, John Kerry, the Prince of Monte Carlo, and others we didn’t quite recognize. Below: Miss France 2005, Kerry, Lohan, and Crowe.
One of the best things about the seats in our tribune, one of the three seating areas at the finish line (you get it– "tri" as in three), was the giant television screen in front of us. That was amazingly cool. We could see the riders as they got closer to us. We could see our own canopy from the helicopter shots. Below, the riders fly by at the finish in person as they fly by on the screen.
Virtual reality and reality swirled together in a mix of multicolored team uniforms. In this shot, Lance has already shot by. The riders go around the finishing loop from the Arc de Triumph to where we were sitting eight times. Very nice arrangements for those of us with digital cameras. Brad and Dave, who were right at the front, I’m sure will be posting great shots of the Lance as he entered the street. A great pro photo is here. It gives a good idea of the powerful image of the Arc in the background.
After the race, we just had time to return to the hotel and get dressed for the private party at the Ritz. Yes, that Ritz. As in, "putting on the Ritz", Ritz. Check it out online. More great canapes, champagne (or whatever an American could want), and celebrity siting (no cameras, please!). Dave and I had a long chat with George Hincapie’s wife, who confirmed many of the rumors about the Tour de France…She and Sheryl were very tight, for you people watchers. We chose not to speak with Sheryl herself..
No cameras, so you’ll have to be satisfied with text. Which will come in the next blog. The party went on until 3:30 AM, and we had to get the teacher team to the airport at 7:30 AM. Tired, but I think I can say happy, and headed back to their children. And
hours of editing (and you thought this trip was just for fun…)
Til next time..