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Watching the Tour de France finish in Paris

While we moved to Paris last year just before the Tour began, I unfortunately had to go on a work trip the day the Tour finished in Paris – thus missing the famous finale. Given this year was the 100th anniversary of the Tour, I certainly couldn’t let that occur again! Thus Sunday would mark the first time I got to see the finale in Paris, and would be the 4th stage I’d seen this year. I previously saw the individual time trial stage two weeks ago, the individual time trial stage last Wednesday, and then Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.

Interestingly, there were a number of little differences we saw when comparing this stage to every other stage I’ve watched thus far. Here’s the low-down on the day.

The Caravan:

And when I say ‘day’, I really mean ‘evening’. Unlike previous years where the Tour would finish in Paris mid-afternoon, this year it would finish at about 9:30PM. While that may seem late, in Paris, that’s both still quite light out as well as quite early. Most eateries will stay open till 12AM-2AM on a weekend. And it doesn’t get legit-dark right now until about 10:30-10:45PM. A month ago that was about 11PM.

With the riders finishing up at about 9:30PM, that meant the Caravan started coming through around 5:45PM. Usually it takes about an hour, and then there’s roughly an hour gap. As I’ve talked about in other posts, the caravan is essentially a parade of sponsor companies giving out lots of free stuff. For example, the red and white ‘King of the Mountain’ hats you see are given out during the caravan, with the floats just throwing all assortment of free things at the crowds.

First up – was the famous LCL rider float and the lion float not far behind. And yup, these would be the same guys we got stuck behind on Friday on small roads in the Alps for 50 miles…

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Being veterans to the caravan (aka, parade), we were ready to clean up on giveaways one final time in Paris. So once the lion went by, it was time to get down to business.

First up was Corsica Air. They certainly didn’t have great giveaways during the rest of the Tour, so it didn’t really strike us as odd that they weren’t throwing out much. We figured they just ran out or something.

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Then the Haribo trucks went by…and nothing was thrown.

You know what that means? No.gummy.bears.

Seriously, I walked 2+ miles away and not a SINGLE gummy bear. Someone needs a talkin’ to.

In fact, the situation would continue. Nobody was giving out anything – just dancing. Albeit, very excited and quite energetic dancing – but simply dancing nonetheless.

On the bright side for one float, this would fit right in. The folks with the ‘float’ for Yorkshire (that’s in the UK) will actually host the first two stages of the Tour next year. To date, they didn’t give out anything – just danced and waved.

Let’s be clear Yorkshire: You’re on notice. You need to step it up by next year. A caravan float without giving away anything is like Halloween without candy. Simply wrong.

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With the caravan a bit of a let-down from a giveaway standpoint, we started walking down the street trying to figure out how to get into the gardens near the Louvre, which is where we wanted to be for the race itself.

Along the way I found TdF kitchen aprons. Unfortunately, I was veto’d.

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As you walk amongst the crowds, you’ll find the vast majority of hats are really just from giveaways, so when you see one that’s different, it tends to catch your eye.

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We continued down, now alongside the back of the Louvre. Still watching the caravan as it went by.

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We finally made it into the Louvre area, but most definitely on the wrong side of the road. Being on the wrong side meant shooting photos into the sun, and not having access to see the course from multiple angles.

Turned out, in order to get onto the right side, we had to utilize the concourse below the Louvre in the pyramid.

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Oddly, despite living here a year now – I hadn’t gone into the Louvre yet. I’d been in there about 10 years ago, but it’s one of the few landmarks I haven’t re-visited (numerous) times since arriving.

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Once we popped out the other side we were in business – now on the correct side of the road! We caught the last of the parade and then the onslaught of team cars began.

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And team buses.

In fact, these buses would be all jammed up and stuck here for the better part of 20 minutes.

You’ll notice the yellow trimmings on the Team Sky bus, added overnight for Froome (yellow jersey holder, tour Winner).

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Finally, things cleared out. Good thing too, as it would have been a bit of a mess with the riders quickly approaching.

Initial Arrival of the Riders:

The yellow LCL motorcycle is your first clear indication that the peloton (or leaders) are seconds away. Perhaps a minute at most.

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Then there’s the Mavic neutral car, and small army of police motorcycles just ahead of the leaders (as well as often behind them). We wondered whether the police motorcycles that were ‘with’ the Tour each day stayed with the Tour the entire duration, or changed from town to town.

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Then, just as quickly as the motorcycles went by, the riders came in. It was led by Team Sky, which Froome, the leader/winner of the Tour is part of. You can just see the yellow splotch to the right in the photo below. That’s him (yellow jersey and all).

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Then came the full peloton. At this point, they were mostly in celebration mode, and not really yet racing.

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They’d zip across in front of the famous Louvre entrance pyramid, and then around the roundabout in front before heading through the Louvre building out to Rivoli street.

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As they continued on down Rivoli, and then up to the Champs-Élysées, we were treated to a flyover and colored smoke of the French flag.

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With the flyover complete, the race would began in earnest. Now of course, baring any DNF-style major accident, Froome with his 5 minute lead would stay the yellow jersey leader and overall winner. But up for contention would be the stage-win.

Getting down to business:

By the time the riders had reached Paris city limits they’d actually been riding a few hours. While they started at Versailles, only about 25 minutes away at Ray-riding speed, they went off and wandered in rural areas for a bit.

Once they got into city limits and past the Louvre, they’d then shift into a 10-loop route. This route actually wouldn’t include the Louvre section you saw above, but instead was slightly shorter. It’d still take then around all the major sights though on this side of the river.

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Each lap would take about 10 minutes to complete. Here’s the group coming up out of the tunnel under the Tuileries Gardens.

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After going under the gardens they’d hit the long straightaway of Rivoli avenue. This is one of the more famous shopping streets in Paris, and also where many expensive hotels are.

You can see below David Millar of Team Garmin at the lead of the (still together) peloton.

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There were a few riders that had fallen off the back for any number of reasons. Being on the ground watching the Tour you actually have very little context about ‘why’ something has occurred. From a holistic standpoint the Tour is much better watched on TV, as otherwise you really only know about the time slice of time right in front of you.

This rider here was catching back up to the main field via a bit of high speed drafting. We saw another rider getting his pedal fixed by a team car while holding on at speeds easily approaching 50MPH or higher trying to catch back up.

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Up above you can see one of those fancy hotels and a number of guests out on the balconies watching.

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Meanwhile a lap later Millar and a friend had broken free of the peloton, working on creating a bit of a lead.

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At this point, that lead was less than 10 seconds.

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In case you’re wondering what this entire spectacle looked like each time from the ground on video, here ya go, a quick snippet of what we saw 10 times over:

While it may have been evening, it certainly wasn’t cool out. The heat and humidity this weekend were pretty warm for Paris. I had completed a bike-run brick earlier in the morning (including sections of the course during my run), and it was hot quite early on.

Fear not, The Girl had a solution. She and our neighbor picked up these little misting things at the time-trial stage last week. They were pump driven, so no batteries involved. Pure awesome.

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Back on the course, the lead extended slowly, each lap adding a few seconds.

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A couple laps later, and Millar had lost his friend. Because we have no context on the rest of the course, we weren’t clear if he purposefully dropped him, or if the other rider just couldn’t hold on anymore.

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At its peak, the lead was close to 30 seconds or so.

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While I was at the Louvre earlier, The Girl had secured the awesome spot along the course fence-line for all the photos above. But after a number of laps I decided to wander a short distance and check out other vantage points.

In the case below, a bit higher up on the park fence structure. You can see how as the speed of the peloton has increased, it expands hundreds of meters down the avenue.

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Around 2 laps to go a small contingent from Colombia came proudly marching down the street. Come to think of it, the fans on our stretch were pretty tame last night, especially compared to Alpe d’Huez and other stages.

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If you look down the course, you can see how quickly the light is starting to fade. Now, the photos and TV do make it look darker than it was (even after increasing brightness).

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The Final Lap:

Counting to 10 is hard work. Especially when you’re not 100% clear if the first lap was part of the 10 laps, or if that was a ‘bonus lap’.

Thankfully, they had a system for that. In part, because we happened to be just at the 1K (as in 1 kilometer to go banner).

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Just after the peloton passed, the automatically controlled banner rolled down, exposing it’s 1K-ness to the world.

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The next group we’d see would be screaming fast. These were the sprinters all going for the stage win. Nabbing the stage win on what is arguably the biggest cycling day in the world is a pretty big deal.

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Following them, the main peloton went by, including Froome – who looked to be more or less soft-pedaling his way down the avenue.

And then finally 2-3 minutes later came the very last rider. Without question he got far bigger cheers than Froome or any other rider did.

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Post-Race

It’s rare that I can give credit to Parisian efficiency, but I’ve gotta say – the speed at which they deflated and took down the 1K to go banner was astounding.

We’re talking maybe 60-90 seconds after that last rider went through and the banner was on the ground across the road.

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From there the first order of business for us was finding food. It had been roughly lunch since we’d eaten last. And there was a lot of walking (and riding actually) in between then. It worked out perfectly that the summer Paris carnival was right behind us (where we were standing).

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Having walked through the area before, I was pretty jazzed to re-find the Granita stand. Nothing hits the spot better than a Slushie of sorts. This stand is actually one of the ones with the smallest selection. But at this point, I wasn’t going to be picky.

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Then we continued our way across the Tuileries Gardens, working our way to and through the Louvre back home. You can see the carnival in the background.

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Along the way we took a stroll past the beach. Yes, beach. The Paris beaches (Paris Plages) along the Seine are setup again, opening this past weekend and will then stay open about a month. All in it’s about a mile or so long of shutdown highway, complete with real sand. Here’s a post on it from last summer.

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And then finally…real food! While Indian food may not be the most French thing to eat on the finishing night of the Tour de France, it was the most quick and convenient thing to eat (aside from a hot dog). At 10:29PM – we’re looking for quick and convenient. Plus, it was good!

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With that it’s back to watching daily soap operas instead of the Tour each afternoon.

Thanks for reading!

Note: If you’re looking for more ways to procrastinate doing anything this Monday morning, here’s all my past Tour de France posts.

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21 Comments

  1. RV

    Nice reading. I had not payed attention to the late start of the final stage so was looking and waiting all day at home to figure out it started at 6 pm. I visited the Rotterdam stage few years ago, nice amount of people. Oja we always take a tiny Ikea plant spray with us. My Nordic wife is not that fond of heat and spraying water helps to cool. Thaks for the reading with great photos as usual.

    Reply
  2. RV

    Nice reading. I had not payed attention to the late start of the final stage so was looking and waiting all day at home to figure out it started at 6 pm. I visited the Rotterdam stage few years ago, nice amount of people. Oja we always take a tiny Ikea plant spray with us. My Nordic wife is not that fond of heat and spraying water helps to cool. Thanks for the reading with great photos as usual.

    Reply
  3. Happy Runner

    It’s OK for riders to hang on to a 50MPH car or get a bottle push? I gotta rethink strategy for my next tri.

    Reply
  4. BTW, it is Froome, not Froom.

    Reply
  5. Shadowmate

    Wow sooo jealous of you both. I proposed to Mrs Shadowmate on the top of the Eiffel Tower and your pics have brought it all back for us. Plus the Tour de France 100th extravaganza in Paris baby! Wooo.

    Reply
  6. Ken Ching

    Westra abandoned the Tour soon after reaching Paris. Can you imagine going all that way to have to quit at the very end? Wish I knew the cause…

    Reply
  7. Tom Strade

    Ray, I am starting to have trouble containing my envy – you truly lead a charmed life! We missed the finish of the race by one day, having flown home the day before through CDG. It was very nice to see you and The Girl and eating some of her yummy cupcakes!!!!! Keep living the dream and writing – I for one love to hear about your adventures.

    Reply
  8. Jitendra

    Ray,

    I hope you enjoyed your Indian meal…. it definately looked delicious :)

    Reply
  9. Jeremy

    Hey Ray,

    I just noticed after your “Getting down to business” headline, you write readers instead of riders, I believe (unless I’m mistaken). Other than that, great post. I love reading of your adventures in Paris, and I really like finding out what it feels like to be in the city during the finale. It must have been a great atmosphere.

    Reply
  10. Mike

    Westra abandoned the Tour de France 40k before the finish line because he had been sick all day. He had an infection in his airway/lungs.

    Here a link to the strava activity of Laurens ten Dam of the final laps on the Champs-Élysées:
    link to app.strava.com

    Thanks for the great blog Ray!!

    Reply
    • Ray Maker replied

      Indeed, it was fairly sad. We saw him do what appeared to be one jaunt up the road with the various ‘pickup’ vehicles behind him, but didn’t make it around for a full loop.

      Reply
  11. Dave Moor

    As a Yorkshireman I think I should prepare you for next year. It is safe to say, in the UK there is some debate about who is more frugal with their money, Yorkshiremen or the Scottish. I wouldn’t hold you breadth for freebies, if there are some you will have a fight on your hands to get them before my fellow countrymen do :)

    As an example 100 or so local school children won a competition and got invited to a press day in Leeds (coinciding with with the start of this years Tour). They were given yellow t-shirts to wear to ride en-mass into the centre. After they event, when they had cycled out of view of the press the t-shirts were taken away (to be reused on other events).

    Reply
    • As the man says, we Yorkshiremen have deep pockets and short arms. Expect few freebies, other than the odd clip round the ear.

      Reply
    • kab replied

      awww. poor kids!

      Reply
  12. Lisa

    I am so glad that you trudged all around France to be able to give us a report of time trials, mountains, and the final stage! I anxiously looked forward to your reports and am very grateful that you didn’t make me wait at all!
    :-)
    I loved watching the Tour this year. With no return of last year’s winner, it was great to see other people step up and perform. Some serious surprises along the way, and amazing feats of mental toughness. I love watching the strategy and the efficiency with which these men ride. Getting a report from the scene outside of “news” coverage made it even more special. Thank you so much for bringing the Tour to the people.

    Reply
  13. DUBTAP

    The cycling cap you liked was from London cycling cafe/workshop/venue “Look Mum No Hands”

    Reply
  14. Hubert

    Hello Ray

    Great pictures : the impression of speed is really here.
    Which of your cameras did you use for the event? DSLR I guess. What lens did you use?

    Reply
    • Ray Maker replied

      Thanks!

      I used the Canon 7D with the 10-22mm wide angle lens. Since I neglected a flash, that was the lens that gave me the most light and the best chance at success with what I had. Seemed to work out.

      Reply
  15. Ray Kropinski

    Hi Ray,
    Great read as always but I have to defend Yorkshire (even though I’m an Aussie!) but they were throwing out wrist bands on some of the stages. Also the caravan can’t throw anything out on the last stage as there is no one to clean up the road if it doesn’t go over the barriers, unlike the previous road stages

    Reply
  16. JellyBelly

    Hi, great blog! We are planning to visit Paris for the final stage this year but have never been to Paris, or seen the tour therefore would welcome your advice on where to watch it. Crucially we have a 5yro girl so number one priorities for us are simplicity, family friendly locations, ease of access, toilets and not having to queue for hours.

    Can you help?

    Thanks

    Matt

    Reply
    • Rainmaker replied

      Yup, for you I’d suggest anywhere within the Tulleries gardens (it makes a bit loop around it). No line-ups, just wander on it and the density there is at most 1-2 people thick. There are plenty of bathrooms in the gardens, and you can easily get in and out. Also food, and she can wander and play with other kids there (even float a little sailboat).

      Reply

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