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One thing we were really looking forward to on our trip was the opportunity to catch a stage of the Tour de France in person. Like many of you, the Tour has long formed the backdrop to my summer knitting and Tom, who is a keen cyclist, relishes it even more. I love the grand spectacle of the Tour as much as its sporting drama (what other event brings you titbits of information about regional specialities and buildings of historic interest in its commentary?) and I very much enjoy vicariously travelling through the varied landscapes of France as the riders pedal through each day.

So for one day only, the tour became an actual rather than vicarious experience. We were within reach of the Ventoux (a notorious climb up a notorious mountain) but, as this marked the conclusion of the stage, we felt the crowds would be too insane (which indeed turned out to be the case, as a spectator-related crash forced Chris Froome to dash on foot, sans bike, toward the summit). Tom had selected an inocuous-looking crossroads between two short climbs, which looked simplicity itself to access. We felt it was likely to be a very quiet location, any crowds being drawn by the nearby attractions of a Ventoux finish . . . but who were we kidding? This was the tour de France. Approaching our chosen spot, we were stopped by a gendarme, and instructed to park in a field with hundreds of other cars a couple of miles from where the tour would pass by. We walked those two hilly miles with scores of French families, all carrying furniture and enormous quantities of food. Further up the road were woods, in which picnics were set up and consumed. We saw some incredible food being eaten, including a gigantic, celebratory looking tarte, which I would not have fancied carrying intact up that hill.

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Finding our “quiet crossroads” rammed with excitable specators, we walked another mile or so up the road to find a spot to wait for the caravan to pass by. Crazy buggies in the shape of baguettes, tyres, goats, pens, fruit, cartoon characters, bottles, and madeleines appeared round the bend in the road, pumping out music, and chucking promotional items into the crowd. Sweets, baked goods, pencils, hats, bags . . . Tom had to protect his camera as the Vittel buggy sprayed the crowd with giant hoses, and I was particularly happy to acquire a chicken-shaped keyring from this buggy:

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Then it was time for the riders. How exciting!

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Here they come!

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The Sky train, with Chris Froome in yellow

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Gregory Rast

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I suppose the Tour is something more than itself – a cultural phenomenon as much as a race – and it was great to be a part of the event with so many enthusiastic French spectators who were all enjoying their day. It was genuinely thrilling to see the bikes go by at such close quarters, and real privilege to see these athletes up close. A grand day out indeed – which I’d highly recommend if you ever have the opportunity. So today it’s back to the time trial on TV while I work away on my latest design . . .

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37 thoughts on “le tour

  1. Thank you for the description and the pictures of the Tour de France. Every year at this time, I take part in a KAL during the actual Tour de France, organized and designed by Natalie Servant in which she designs a shawl depicting a memorable landmark or historical site in France. In 2014,Natalie designed “Peloton” which shows the riders in waves on the mountains and wheels. It is my favourite of those made so far. Like you, Kate, she has been to an actual Tour de France and has inspired many Canadians to pay attention to it. Glad to hear you have had a change of scenery and a rest from your busy schedule.

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  2. Oh! I think my friends were at the same spot, they said it was absolutely amazing :-) (they also said they have loads of giveaways to give out when we next see them. Small children being like magpies I expect most of it will end up in our van eventually, I would love a chicken keyring myself!)

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  3. Oh, be still my heart! The Tour is the annual highlight of my watching-sports-on-TV-while-knitting addiction. I’m feeling a bit dejected today, in fact, as it’s all over for another year. What a thrill to see it in person! I’m just reading Le Tour, by Wheatcroft, and it seems the early days of the race were even crazier: Cyclists could use only one bike for the entire race and could not accept any help with it; if it broke, they had to carry it to the nearest village blacksmith and fix it themselves, then hightail it back to the route. The stages were much, much longer, often beginning in the middle of the night. And more than once, saboteurs covered the road in nails.

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  4. How the Tour has changed since I saw it in 1967 –nearly 50 years ago! I was an exchange student living in Belfort. We all stood along the main street; there was no problem getting right in front. A few lead cars arrived first, then WHOOSH the riders went by in a blur.
    And that was it!!

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  5. You have to move fast to bag the freebies though! Our family has been to see several Tour stages and I particularly remember my then 10 year old DD beating half a dozen French kids (and one pensioner) into the bottom of a ditch to grab herself a Credit Agricole green cycling jersey. I think I got a fold up pocket ashtray (!) that same visit. All great fun.

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  6. I had no idea what the Tour de France was until one of my local knitting buddies (who was a brand new spinner) challenged me to Ravelry’s Tour de Fleece. I had been a spinner in the early 1980s, but had put my Ashford wheel away for nearly two and a half decades. That was 2011 and now I’m a huge fan (of both the bikes and the spinning.

    Right now on this tour, I’m spinning for colorwork. For (wait for it) “Sheeps Heid” LOL.

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  7. Oh! Oh! Oh! When I read that you’d been to France, I wondered if you’d been to the TdF. And you HAD!!! I’m ridiculously excited for you. I’ve watched the Tour obsessively for years – have even converted some friends into mad cycling fans. I’ve completed not one but TWO Christmas presents during my Tour knitting.

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    1. Did you hear that one of the riders broke his pelvis during a crash on yesterday’s stage AND THEN HE FINISHED THE STAGE? On top of a Swiss Alp? I mean, he didn’t know it was broken, but STILL! These are amazing athletes.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for these incredible pictures of the cyclists. We love watching the Tour (and I love knitting while I watch), but unfortunately this year, the coverage in Canada has been abysmal. Thanks for this glimpse of their ride through Provence.

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  9. Is n’t it great seeing live? We saw two stages when it came to Yorkshire in 2014. The build up is great and although the riders flash by in next to no time the excitement is wonderful. Love your photos you got some great ones. I shall think of you when I am watching the last 3 stages :)

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  10. The action photo’s of the riders are *really* good. I took note that the area you decided to watch, looked calm and empty-I had no idea you had to work so hard to get there. And there was a Madeleine buggy? That might have made me happier than the smiling oranges. We hiked up Ventoux and ate saucisson and biscuits at the summit. I have a knitting pattern for a Le Tour bunting-small cycling jersey’s of each color. Even the polka dot color jersey! Bill and I rode Paris-Brest-Paris in 2009 which was a pre-cursor to the Tour in the late 1800’s.

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  11. Fantastic photos…I, too, love using the backdrop of Le Tour, which my husband watches, as a backdrop for my summer knitting. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  12. What a wonderful day!

    I remember watch the London Grand Depart in 2007, both the prologue and stage 1 rollout. It was great to be part of it all. We could have had another one next year, only Boris bailed……

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  13. My summer knitting is also accompanied by the tour and I was lucky enough to have the tour caravan pass my own caravan in Yorkshire two years ago. Co-incidentally, I have just returned from the Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop with four skeins of ‘Buttertubs’ – a sunny yellow which they added to the range for the Yorkshire Tour. Your photographs are wonderful and I often wonder how everyone gets up to the top of those famous mountain stages and how long they have been there, waiting, and now I have some idea.

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  14. Thank you so much for “taking us along”! I, too, watch France go by as I knit; in fact, it is being recorded by my DVR right now. I’ll be going in to knit as soon as I have allowed it to record enough to be able to skip commercials. I’ll think of you watching, too.

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  15. Looks brilliant! I followed the tour through Wallonia and Northern France last year, and was lucky enough to have the Giro d’Italia pass through my home town this may. Your account of the French fans along the roads is so recognizable! I remember having to assure an elderly French man what nationality we were (“You sound German, are you German?”) and what that meant for which riders we supported!

    Do you have any teams or riders that you cheer for specifically?

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  16. The Tour is a great show, I love it, I would like to go and watch it on the road to Morzine or at the arrival on Saturday, but it might be very crowdy, roads are already closed; And the Caravan is so funny. I couldn’t imagine a summer without watching the Tour !

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  17. Hi Kate, I really enjoyed your take on “Le Tour” and Tom’s picture’s are great. Has either of you read French Revolutions:Cycling the Tour de France by TIm Moore, it’s a really brilliant read and the follow up “Gironimo: Cycling the very terrible 1914 Tour of Italy” is possibly even better (the end made me tear me and sob with happiness)

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  18. I too enjoy revisiting the France of our past family holidays by watching Le Tour every year with our cycling son. We also experienced the real thing when they routed it through the south of England many years ago. Mad , noisy and fast with a free tour sun visor for free which might have been more useful in France!

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  19. Thoroughly enjoyed your words and beautiful photos, thank you for sharing. (I hope to see something of the tour in person too one day)

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  20. I often wondered what it would be like to be a spectator on this race, thanks for filling us in and making it seem real!

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  21. Brilliant photos and what an experience. Le Tour has always formed a back drop to my summer too as I’m also married to a keen cyclist and Tour fan, I also enjoy my little virtual journey around France in the first three weeks of July, especially those fields of sunflowers!!!
    How wonderful to be a part of it.

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  22. Tom must have been lying flat on the road! So glad you had a lovely time, and glad the four-mile round trip walk was worth it!

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