Surprise post! To commemorate the last day of the Tour de France, I want to share how we experienced it for the first time. Stage 14 of the Tour de France came through Lyon last weekend. This stage started in Clermont-Ferrand and ended right in the heart of Lyon. The cyclists would travel 194 kilometers (120 miles) to the finish line. Spectators were not allowed within 400 meters (1300 feet) of the finish line, but we knew we had to find a way to experience the Tour de France. And we weren’t the only ones!
To pump ourselves up for the race, Jordan and I took our bikes out for a 31 kilometer (19 miles) ride of our own. Masks are required throughout the city of Lyon, both indoors and outdoors. The only exception to the rule is when cycling or running. It is too hot in the evening to go on long walks with our masks on, so we chose to cycle one night after Jordan finished work.
Our destination was an old dam on the Rhone river. Jordan had been before and was excited to show it to me. I joked that the Tour de France lost my entry to the race at the beginning of our ride (nevermind that I’m a female and couldn’t race anyways). Then, I noticed cyclists who were commuting home from work were flying by me. In dress pants! Next thing I know, I am asking Jordan, “are we there yet,” every five minutes. I had given up all hopes to be a professional cyclist by the end of the ride. The dam was ultimately closed for visitors, but we still were able to get our mask-free exercise in for the evening!
The Tour de France finish line was near our apartment. Jordan researched online to find the perfect spot to watch the race. The road we would view the race from was part of a hilly incline in the Croix-Rousse area of Lyon. The cyclists should be moving slightly slower as they cycled uphill than on a flat road. We hoped this would be our best chance to see the race.
Many of the roads were closed in Lyon in preparation for the race. We were not planning on driving anyways. Alternative transportation is both quicker and easier. As an extra bonus, we did not have to worry about parking! We packed a backpack with two bottles of water and left our house around 2:00 pm. The caravan would be coming through the Croix-Rousse area around 4:15 pm, and the cyclists about an hour after that. This would give us plenty of time to get to our viewing point before the race.
Across the street from our apartment were two electric scooters available for rent. We usually use scooters or bikes when the metro does not go directly to our destination. Scooters are a convenient hop-on-hop-off alternative! Lyon has a few different companies that provide scooters, scattered on streets all over the city. The scooters can be parked in most areas, but sometimes they end up in the river or knocked over. The youth! It is easy to rent them as well. First, we download an app on our phone to create an account and add payment information. Next, we use the app to scan a QR code on the bike to active it. Viola! C’est ça. The ride has started!
We navigated on our scooters towards the Saone river to take the path along the river. This path is wide and is typically less crowded than the main roads. Once the path ended, we went back towards the main streets. We zoomed past multiple cars stuck in traffic. Don’t they know how inconvenient it is to drive in Lyon? Finally, the road opened up, and a bike lane was available that we quickly jumped on.
Scooters are allowed to go on the bike lanes, and there are plenty of dedicated bike lanes available throughout Lyon. The bike lane twisted along the banks of the Saone river, and we took it all the way to our destination. After we parked our scooters, Jordan checked his map to see how we could on the Tour de France course. There was only one way up, a giant staircase!
Climbing a lot of stairs on a 90-degree day with a mask on is not my idea of fun. After summiting the staircase, we actually went down a separate set of stairs to get to the road. A gate was blocking the stairs, but not well enough to stop people from getting by. We walked past the gate and chose a shady spot to sit in. There were no ropes or fences blocking spectators from being on the course. At this point, not many spectators had come out to watch the Tour de France.
We had about an hour before the caravan drove through. My favorite thing to do when passing time is people watch (something I took after my mom), and that is exactly what I did. An Irish family sitting next to us got their giant Irish flags out and wrapped them around their shoulders. Their child was scream-crying behind us and was a little too loud. A group of people made a giant billboard that read, “Ici, C’est Venturini” and were hanging it up on the wall by the road. They were wearing matching shirts with the same phrase. Locals were biking up the winding road as waiting onlookers cheered for them. Everyone was wearing a mask, a mandatory requirement when outside in the city of Lyon. Many people were also enjoying a beer or two before the race (we stuck with water).
Over the next hour, more and more onlookers started to join us. The atmosphere quickly turned electric! Now this was the proper way to experience the Tour de France! The sides of the road started to fill up, and we moved away from our shady spot against a wall to have a front-row seat of the action. We sat on the rounded curb of the street with our legs extended in the road; we would move them once the bikes came. You could start to feel the excitement in the air.
Many official vehicles passed through the course during this time. This included tour buses, equipment vehicles, police, and the press. Official vehicles waved and honked their horns as they went by. Some of the horns were even to custom tunes. The crowd loved it! During the wait, three spectators hopped on their bikes to race each other to the top of the hill. Everyone in the crowd started cheering. A group of people did “the wave” and yelled with excitement each time a bike or car passed by. A famous French sausage brand, Conchonou, stopped their branded truck on the hill and started passing out iconic red and white gingham hats. The crowd went wild! People from all directions ran towards the truck to obtain a free hat.
With numerous fans now donning red and white hats, it was time for the caravan to come through! The caravan is best described as a fast parade (my mom’s words, not mine). Cars and sponsored floats quickly whizzed by us. Loud, energetic music was playing on each. Horns were honking, and people were waving. The people on floats threw branded freebies into the crowd. They were harnessed to their vehicle so there was no risk of injury. I happened to snag a bright yellow LCL hat! The next thing I did was Google what LCL is; it’s a bank, and not even ours. But now I have a free hat! Jordan managed to grab a bottle of water from one of the floats, which was good as we were running low. Others received snacks, plastic grocery bags, and even jerseys.
The caravan ended, and we had another hour to wait. We pulled up the Tour de France live stream on our phones to know when we could expect them to bike up the hill. During this time, more tour buses, equipment vehicles, and police drove by. It was amazing to see all the people and equipment that needed to travel with the cyclists. It’s not as simple as jumping on your bike and just going! After a while, official merchandise vans appeared, and the crowd started to boo. The spectators wanted free items, not items for purchase. We knew the cyclists must be close if the merchandise vans were coming through. Even in the Tour de France, it’s not a complete experience without a gift shop!
The excitement started to build up in the crowd. After all, we had been waiting on the Tour de France course for over three hours to experience it! Even after all the waiting, we were not ready when the cyclists arrived. There really was not any warning. Two cyclists were in the lead and quickly came through the turn. The crowd went wild as they cheered on the leaders.
Next came the peloton (in French, pronounced as ‘ploton’), a group of seventy-ish cyclists who were staying close together. The cyclists were riding close to each other as they quickly climbed the hill. We tried to spot the cyclist in the coveted yellow jersey, the jersey that indicates who is the cumulative leader of all the stages in the Tour de France. If one of them were to sneeze, I’m certain that all of them would have crashed based on how close they were to each other. These cyclists have so much confidence and trust to bike close to another person. I know, they are professionals. But I don’t even like biking next to Jordan!
Followed by the peloton were more equipment vehicles and police cars speeding behind them. There were a few waves of cyclists in the back, and they looked exhausted. The crowd cheered them on just as much as they did the leaders. And just like that, all of the cyclists had made the turn up the hilly Croix-Rousse street.
The end was somewhat anticlimactic. There was no indicator that all cyclists had finished crossing our spot on the course. The live-tracking on our phones stopped as soon as the first person crossed the finish line. We only knew it was over once all the other spectators began walking on the street as they left the area. So we left too!
The Tour de France was such a special event for us to experience. I had been to one bike race before in Athens, GA, called Twilight. That small bike race could not prepare me for the energy, passion, and excitement of the spectators at the Tour de France. There were moments where it felt strange to be a large crowd of people, but it also felt so normal. We hope we can experience those feelings of normalcy again soon.
This was not the only sporting event we watched last weekend. College football is finally back! Remember those prime-time 7:30 pm TV spots? That means we enjoyed watching Clemson play from 1:30 am through 5:00 am Sunday morning. Needless to say, we did not see the Tour de France head off in Lyon last Sunday afternoon.
Enjoy your Sunday and try to catch the last stage of the Tour de France on TV today!