Sunday, March 1, 2009


It was not the Tour de France, but it brought excitement to the village. The “it” was 3 jours de Vaucluse, a professional bicycle race. As a special treat, we were the final destination for stage one. Not only did that mean we could see the finish and the award ceremony, but, because of the way the course was designed, we got to see the racers twice. That’s a good thing because they sort of go by in a blur. In 1992 at the Albertville Olympics, the only tickets we could get were for the biathlon. Spectator-friendly, biathlon is not: stand in snow with the temperature below freezing and , every now and then, a skier with a rifle strapped to his/her back goes by. Cycling is not quite as bad, but, let’s face it, these guys are all about speed. So, it was good that we got to see them skirt the village once, then, 40 or so minutes later, could see them again as they headed for the finish line.

Having picked a good spot to see the racers, we had to wait through various preliminaries. Police officers and race marshals are posted at various intersections. Car after car with official markings go by. They come in no apparent order and interspersed with lots of regular traffic. Then come a slew of motorcycles: more marshals, police officers, press. Once again, they blend with regular passenger cars. One of these, probably wondering what was going on, moved forward at a snail’s pace, sort of taking it all in. This caused great panic for one of the marshals who ran out into the street motioning frantically for an increase of speed to move this car and the string behind it, out of the way. Finally came two motorcycles, blue lights flashing, followed by the first two racers. They were followed, not by other cyclists, but, this was surprising for a novice cycling watcher, by a bunch of official team cars loaded with bicycles on their roof racks. Only then, about a minute and a half later, came the peloton, the pack of other racers.

Because of their speed, it’s hard to get a good picture of the leaders. Stage one of our race was 164.7 km (about 102 miles) long. The winner finished in 4 hours, 18 minutes, and 7 seconds. His average speed was thus about 39 km (24 miles) an hour. This includes time in the more mountainous stretches (one of which, la col des abeilles, reached an altitude of 996 meters, 3,268 ft.). What this means was that he was speeding by us at well more than the average.

Of the 144 racers in the event, the most well-known was Nicolas Vogondy, the 2008 French champion. The first-second place combination for our stage went to two young riders, Maxime Bouet and David Lelay. At the awards ceremony, the various jerseys given out for different accomplishments turned out to be somewhat monotonous. This being stage one, the overall leader and the day’s fastest racer, were, of necessity, the same person. Maxime Bouet also turned out to have been the best climber, and the best young rider. The sprint jersey, breaking the monotony, went to his teammate and friend Lelay.

Official political representatives were on the podium to greet the riders. Our village’s mayor showed up in a workshirt and blue jeans. It looked as if he had been puttering around in his garden when someone called, reminding him of his duty. That’s how it seemed to a foreigner, at least. Probably, for the locals, he was simply a man of the people. The end of the awards ceremony brought one great relief, the silencing of an announcer who had been jabbering away nonstop, and annoyingly, for a good two hours.

Now that we have witnessed our first race, our interest will be heightened as we watch the Tour de France in July. It will be on television, alas, since we will be back in the U.S. The locals,

however, are in for a major treat; the Tour itself will be coming through the village on July 25. The riders, on the other hand, are in for one tough, heavy on the climbing, day, ending at 1912 meters, over 6,000 feet.

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