While almost every day is a great day living in Paris, there are a few days that really take the cake: Bastille Day (Fête nationale), and the finish of the Tour de France.
Over the last three years however, ASO/UCI has added to the Tour de France final day festivities by including a one-stage women’s race called La Course. It uses the same looped route in the city as the men (though doesn’t include the 60km getting to the city).
I headed out after riding the course a bit in the morning with Julio to watch both the women and the men race, and of course I filled in the gaps with a bit of a Parisian picnic. Here’s what that day entailed.
As noted above, the La Course route is simply loops of the Champs-Élysées/Rue de Rivoli/Quai des Tuileries TdF course. Each loop is 7km, which would take the women about 8-10 minutes per loop.
Unlike in the past though, things were much more locked down in terms of movement. In fact, it’d even change during the women’s race, cutting off access to the elevated portions of the Tuileries, further reducing the viewing areas seen in the below photos. So I was essentially stuck along one road to get photos. But I made the most of it.
For most of the laps I was there, there was a small breakaway, and then the main peloton. You can see the breakaway above/below:
Behind it, the roaring wheels of upwards of 121 women in the main peloton, though, due to crashes only 94 would finish.
After that, you’d find a few folks who fell off the peloton, mostly due to the crashes. While the weather was beautiful this year (unlike last year), there were still numerous crashes. Of course, like most cycling races – those on TV have a far better understanding/view of the action than those of us along the sidelines. We can only see a small portion of the race as it passes us.
There were a number of spectators out watching the event. While many of them seemed to be more wandering tourists than die-hard cycling fans, they were still largely staying put and watching the women’s race.
Like the men’s race there were plenty of team cars following the groups, along with numerous official vehicles. These included lead official cars, broadcast media, 3rd party media outlets, and then police escorts. Along with Mavic neutral support vehicles.
The whole race lasted roughly 2 hours, leaving about a 45-50 minute gap before the official TdF caravan came through on the route.
Now on one hand we’re told that we should praise ASO/UCI for putting on the race. As if it were a gift. And true, they definitely deserve credit for going in on it. I’m not looking to take away that credit.
Yet three years in they’re still failing to fulfill their plans for expanding it to a multi-day race. Additionally, they’re just failing to make it more appealing to spectators. You’ll remember two years ago (at the end of this post) that I noted you couldn’t buy a La Course t-shirt, poster, or anything. Guess what? You still can’t. If you click on the merchandise button on the La Course site, it merely redirects you to the regular TdF site, which has hundreds of items for sale. None of which are La Course.
Like TdF merchandise, very little of it goes bad. Most is not branded with a specific year – so it’s sold year round, year after year. If anyone can startup a CafePress site and sell merchandise, than certainly someone at La Course can make a t-shirt or poster, perhaps even one worth wearing.
Next, you can’t get near any of the women’s team staging areas. They’re located in the dearth that is Place de la Concorde. This is unlike the men’s team staging areas which are accessible pre-race and on every stage. Given there is far less infrastructure required for the women’s staging area (most are using mini-RV’s or team vans, not the multiple massive team busses the men use) – it would have been trivial to move them simply across the street along Cours la Reine and make them accessible to fans prior to race…just like the men.
Of course there will always be excuses why these things can’t be done, most are just smoke screens. Nobody is asking for perfection. After all, perfection is the enemy of progress. But none of these are hard to accomplish, nor do they cost money. Well, except that 3-4 day stage race they planned. But again, that too could easily have been run just ahead of the TdF caravan over the last 3-4 days in the mountains, minimizing costs. It could have started with the same 17KM TT race on the Thursday prior to the men (minor timing adjustment is all that would have been required). And then gone through the mountains for plenty of excitement, even if the course was slightly shortened in the mountains.
While live TV for all those stages would be ideal, it’s certainly more than possible to do recorded TV as a starting point. After all, Ironman can and has done it for numerous full-distance races that last 8-10 hours, and they have but a fraction of the budget of ASO.
Here’s to hoping, there’s always next year…
A Picnic in Between:
After the women finished up I headed home to pickup The Girl and the little one. We’d then head back to the Louvre area to watch the caravan, and then eventually the Tuileries to watch the men’s race. With large portions of the Tuileries closed this year to spectators for the races, it really limited some of the best spots to watch the race (and picnic). Really a shame. So upon arrival we hung out closer to the Louvre under the trees in areas still open to the public.
We had a bit of a picnic with friends, lounging around the day.
We’re lucky in that we’ve got a good group of friends that have also had babies in the past few months, and more coming over the next few months.
Oh, and yes, our little one was decked out with TdF gear, which said in French – Mon premier Tour de France – ‘My first Tour de France’:
In between, Julio and I were jumping over to take photos of the caravan a short ways away. Which, is a good segue to that segment.
Like all other stages of the Tour de France, the caravan still makes an appearance in Paris following the same route as the riders. However unlike other stages, the caravan doesn’t give out any goods (trinkets/souvenirs/etc…) in Paris. Perhaps they do so outside city limits, but certainly not within city limits.
At this point, it’s basically just a big celebration/party for all the staff on it. Interestingly, some of the sponsor floats (like Carrefour) actually had their supply trucks driving in the caravan in Paris, where they don’t normally do so otherwise. That’s cool though. They worked just as hard over the last three weeks, so it’s neat that they’d get the same privilege.
I try and get different shots each year I’m at the TdF finish in Paris, merely since many of the floats are the same (and at a distance, so are the rider shots). So this year I got caravan shots at the Louvre. Last year I did so at the Eiffel Tower.
Like with the mountain stages a few days ago – everyone was quite happy that Vittel was still using their giant sprayers to mist water out over the crowds on this hot day.
The whole caravan took about 30-40 minutes to pass through, occasionally having to stop in front of us as there would be a back-up exiting the tight spaces of the Louvre roadway gates/buildings. Interestingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly), the GoPro Truck within the caravan did appear to have one camera that didn’t look like the other released cameras on it. But I was unable to get a picture quick enough. No surprise, they’ve been clear within investor conferences Hero5 is coming this fall.
With the caravan completed we were back in the shade to wait the hour or so until the men came through. As it seems is often the case on the final stage, they were behind the published schedules, this time by about 30 minutes. But when they did come through, it was well worth the wait.
Team Sky had a lead-out on the peloton for the mostly celebratory first lap, with Froome following behind it:
Julio captured the below photo as they came through the roundabout, which is totally epic in awesomeness. Plus, he caught the upcoming photo of me on the trash can, which is epic in its own right.
Here’s me, from my trash can view, which is how I got above the crowds:
After the men came by the Louvre, there was a flyover from the French military. I totally forgot about that tradition, so I only got a last second photo:
From there it was into the Tuileries to find some spots to take photos of the men’s race. Now as many of you know, this is my go-to spot for taking TdF final stage photos. I can wander all over the place and take tons of different shots/angles. But not this year. They closed all the elevated portions alongside the roadways, making it very difficult to get any shots from within there.
I was able to get a few shots from the park edges far back, like these once heavily cropped:
But not quite what I’m used to, or was looking for.
But then I looked up and saw my solution:
When in doubt…go up!
A ride or two on the Ferris wheel was all I needed. Plus, it turns out it has quite a nice view of the rest of Paris (I’ve never been up this one before):
Ok, back to the race.
This ended up being the perfect spot to get some really unique shots. Here’s the breakaway:
And then one of the peloton as they start to stretch out along Rue de Rivoli like a giant snake.
The timing is always tricky, because the Ferris wheel is constantly moving (just like the riders). So sometimes you end up with shots like this in between the bars:
Oh, it’s also an amusement park:
But the elevated view provides prospective of just how tough it is to catch up to the peloton when they fall off.
On the final stage the main goal is ensuring you don’t get lapped if you do fall off the peloton. As at that point you get DQ’d from the race if they lap you. Which means you went all that way, only to fall short by a few minutes. However it’s pretty rare to happen unless there’s a serious incident. Team cars will help to shelter riders from the wind, as above.
On the final lap it gets pretty relaxed (with the exception of the handful of riders at the very tip of the front competing for the stage win). You can see below the 1KM flag open below the banner, indicating just 1,000m left in the race. You can also see numerous riders mixed in with the cars, just enjoying the last few seconds of the race.
And with that…The Tour is over for 2016!
Next up…the Olympics! Perfect, lots more sports enjoyment for the summer. Though, no trip to Rio for me this time.
Thanks for reading!