Dispatches from the Champs-Elysees

Another year, another Tour over. Isn’t it depressing? And to think it started just three weeks ago – already it feels like an age. But it’s over for another year, and whilst we’re lucky enough this year to have the Olympics to fill the awkward gap that’s usually left after the Tour between it and the Vuelta (with notable exceptions of San Sebastian, and usually the Tour of Poland), we’re still feeling those post Tour blues. Unless, of course, like myself, you’re British – in which case we’re mightily chuffed because for once we’ve won something! ‘Allez Wiggo’ and all that.

Obviously, Britain never wins anything these days, which is why we’re such awful losers as well as winners, seemingly fuelled by a sense of entitlement from the fact that we once won the football World Cup and now feel it should be handed to us on a silver platter, because we won it in ’66 you know, so we’re clearly the best, and if only all the other teams would stop being so cheeky and let us win. We do love to lose so that we can moan about it, and as this blog has probably showed, even when we’re winning, we’ll find some fault – either it’s too boring, the victory is belittled by people not being there, etc, etc. We can never be happy about anything!

So let’s take the opportunity to congratulate Bradley Wiggins for his amazing victory, which seems to have been somewhat understated – you do not win the Tour de France with any ease. Sure, the course was perfect for him, Contador wasn’t theres, Froome may have been better in the mountains, but he still had to beat what was put out in front of him, and this was after he had destroyed the field in Paris-Nice, Romandie and the Dauphine. It wasn’t exactly like he was an unknown who suprised everyone, he was the overwhelming favourite, and despite the pressure that gave and the fact it was clear from the start that everyone would effectively be trying to beat him, rather then win the Tour (if you catch my drift), its an incredible feat to have achieved. Chapeau.

Luckily, I was there first hand to see him not only take his second stage triumph, around 600m from the finishing post in an impressively pretty Chartres, but also on the Champs-Elysees the following day. This was the 4th time I’ve been to Paris to see the Tour finish, having seen Landis/Pereiro, Contador (2009) and Evans triumph in the past, and this was certainly the busiest it had ever been. I’ve changed where I’ve stood every time, and the fact that the Arc-de-Triomphe corner was pretty much packed even when I arrived at 8.30am was an indication of the traveling support that had come to witness history. Indeed, the jam-packed train from Chartres back to London, which showcased the worst side of the British, who just crushed everyone in the clamour to get a seat and happily separated young children trying to get off the train from their frightened parents, was an all-British affair. ‘God Save the Queen’ on the Champs-Elysees was a highlight to push the football-fan esque ‘Wiiiiggo, Wiiiiggo’ chanting to the back of the mind.

Yes, it seemed that many there were but glory hunters who thought that because they’d watched the Tour on TV for a week , knew what ‘peloton’ meant and hung their Union Flag upside down (before calling it the Union Jack – something it’s only called at sea), they knew everything about cycling, hence why they turned up at about 4 in the afternoon thinking they’d get a spot having been bemused that the riders wouldn’t be in Paris around midday (Although a sign you were ‘in the know’ was to pass around the ‘secret’ knowledge that the teams do a parade at the end of the race…), but who cares? It was jolly good fun as it always was, helped greatly by the fact the sun was out and had some heat in it, something we Brits have basically forgotten. The only minor disappointment was the extremely downbeat caravan, which had been wild in Chartres, albeit not as wild as the family next to me who literally fought grandmothers tooth and nail for the assorted tosh it throws out, who were giving away nothing, perhaps tired of the journey. This was a shame – usually the great clamour as everyone rushes back to pick up a keyring thrown over their heads before surging forward again when they realise they might lose their spot is mightily entertaining. Still, there’s always next year.

Oh, and here’s some super secret knowledge. Whilst wandering back past the Ritz (unfortunately I wasn’t booked in), we suddenly noticed one of Team Sky’s Jags, adorned with a yellow stripe. At first, I merely voiced how I was disappointed the the team hadn’t changed the blue of their jersey to yellow a la teams of the past (see US Postal), but then we noticed another couple of cars, and the behemoth ‘Death Star’ – the Team Sky bus. Of course, we were intrigued as to why it was there, until we noticed we had just walked past a man with a broken leg on crutches – you guessed it, Kanstantsin Siutsou. Whilst we admired his slender frame, another bloke, bespectacled, in jeans and a white T-shirt, came out of the bus to shake someones hand. It was only three time World Time Trial Champion Michael Rodgers. Before we knew it, Edvald Boassen Hagen had wondered out the hotel towards the bus, as had Richie Porte and Christian Knees.

Of course, by this point, we had realised that the ‘stars’ of the team, Wiggins, Froome, Cavendish and his minder Bernie Eisel probably weren’t there – there were about three other people watching this little show, and surely there would have been quite a crowd for the world champion and newly crowned Tour conqueror. Still, it’s weird seeing the riders in normal attire rather then their usual stealth black – it’s almost hard to recognise them when your brain is dialled in to seeing them in certain identifying styles on a bike. Still, after the bus drove off after Shane Sutton turned up, it was still a nice experience.

Oh yeah, that super secret knowledge. Well, as Porte got on the bus, a Team Sky henchman wished him, with a degree of sarcasm and a knowing smile, ‘good luck in the Vuelta.’ Porte gave a wide eyed smile, conveying and expression of ‘yeah, sure, like I’m doing that’ before replying ‘Hmm, yeah, I don’t think so!’ So there you go, Porte’s probably not doing the Vuelta. I’m sure you’re pleased you sat through that tortuous anecdote to discover that deep and meaningful information. But hey.

Sun. Paris. A British Winner. Life is good.

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