Saturday, July 7, 2018

Stage 1 (2018 Tour de France, one day ahead)

The start of Team NZ's Tour de France has finally arrived!

The previous day, we'd all finally been together, and had transferred from Nantes to our overnight accommodation in Pornic.  Sarah made her way there from Lake Como using a variety of transport modes, and joined us for dinner.  Highlights were an unfortunate lapse with google translate (do NOT ever order andouillette in France!!), and a celebration of Bruce's birthday.

We all inhaled vast quantities of pastries, bread, ham and cheese (and coffee) at breakfast, and then drove out to the start at Noirmoutier en l'Ile.  It was very cool to see route markings as we got near.  A virtually pan-flat stage lay ahead of us, with the likely challenges being the 201km distance (something we'll soon need to get used to), and the potential for cross-winds.

Roger Van De Maele, the driver of the Kortweg van (and who's driven 10 Grand Tours for various teams - Lotto, Quickstep and Wanty - and rode for Flandria back in the early 70s, with a couple of 4th places in stages of the Dauphine!), beat us there, and had our bikes on stands waiting for us.  We all felt very pro.

Matty, of Silver Eye Films, has been busy all day!
After a quick briefing from Jonathan, we were off!  Any nervousness about navigation soon evaporated, as we discovered that every intersection was already marked in anticipation of tomorrow's riders.

Before long, we passed a group of French women - Donnons des elles au vélo J-1 - who are doing the same thing as us (more on them another time), and sorted out how to deal with several kilometres of motorway.

The support crew were waiting for us at the 50km mark with a huge spread, much of which disappeared in minutes.  Bottles were refilled, snacks put in pockets, and then it was time to get going again.  Unfortunately, this meant I had to farewell Sarah, who was about to be dropped at the railway station to head to Nantes to catch up with my parents and daughters (aka, the grandgirls!).

We were fed again at the 100km mark, and were quite surprised to see the French women pull in across the road before we'd left.  They're encouraging people to ride with them for stretches, and it looked like they were going to be stopping quite a bit to engage with the locals.

True to form, we did have some nasty cross-winds to deal with, and it was a shame not to be able to echelon across the whole road.

It was amazing how many campervans were already set up, and many people (who did look quite bored, to be fair), gave us some nice encouragement.

Another highlight was watching the boys pass a sunflower field.  To me, the peloton doing the same is one of the classic images of the Tour de France, so it was a nice moment.

As we neared the finish in Fontenay le-Comte, my body was starting to tire a bit, but we'd made really good time, so it could have been much worse!

The last 150m was cordoned off, but Stu had a short conversation with a security guard, and he was quite happy for us to ride down to the finish (so long as we didn't go much further)!  It was one hell of a buzz passing the commentary boxes, and beneath a fair-dinkum Tour de France finish line.

Photo:  Steven Fish

Sitting in the van shortly after, I was a bit frustrated I didn't take more of the finish line in, and that I hadn't taken more photos of the campervans, but quickly realised I've got another 20 opportunities coming right up!!!

Together, we covered the 207km stage (including the neutral zone), in just under 8 hours, with an average moving speed of 30.3km/h.  One of the bumps was given a Cat.4 rating, presumably just so they could award the jersey tomorrow afternoon.

We've since driven to our overnight accommodation, which is about 30km from tomorrow's start.  We've washed, and eaten, and have started to realise how little time there is in the day for anything else...!!

A demain, as they say in these parts.

Matty's take on it:

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  1. Woohoo, and they're off! Bon chance, mon ami!

  2. Hey John. Great to see the first stage ticked off. Is it really just coincidence that the French ladies decided to stop when you did? Looking forward to following you and the team as you fly through the next 3000+ kms. Kia kaha. Des

  3. Well written Sifter! Look forward to more stories!

  4. Great to see you are doing it in a bunch this time Sifter!