A keen cyclist, I have enjoyed watching the Tour De France every year for the last maybe 7 tours from the comfort of my own lounge and even made it to Paris for the final stage in 2003, although that was by accident!
We had a morning in Gruissan, a wonderful seaside town in the South of France, and while we were there we saw signs for La Vuelta, I guess the Spanish equivalent of the Tour and there were teams setting up marquees and road blocks. I hadn’t ever really gotten into La Vuelta, but started to get quite excited at the prospect of seeing the teams cycle through and to feel the atmosphere of a live pro-cycling event.
After a bit of Googling, I was a bit gutted to find out the cyclists were passing through just at the same time I had to pick up our friend, Callum, from the airport.
As we made our way back to our holiday home I felt mixed emotions between excited and sad to see team buses drive past us in the opposite direction, imagining how much I would have enjoyed cheering on Chris Froome, who had just won his fourth Tour de France. All the way home we discussed ways I might be able to drop Millie off so she at least might be able to see the riders with the kids, but we couldn’t seem to make it work.
Back at the house, I had begun to get ready to meet Callum at the airport. Then, my phone pinged. It was Callum – his flight had been delayed by over an hour! This meant we had enough time to drive out and see the riders before meeting Callum! We told the children and loaded them into the car making our way for somewhere in the last 10km leading up to Gruissan.
As we drove out of our village of Vinassan, we were met with a bit of traffic and a diversion – they had already blocked the road for the cyclists! We followed the yellow diversion signs, knowing we only had about 40 minutes to catch the cyclists go past where we had planned to watch them. Five minutes went by. Then ten. I tried to find a place to turn around so we could maybe run/walk quickly to our planned viewpoint, but this road we had be diverted on to was mountainous and had no roads coming off it! After winding up and down the mountainside with stunning views we eventually ended up in the town of Narbonne-Plage and so followed signs to Gruissan, deciding we were going to try and catch something closer to the finish. Again we found ourselves in a traffic jam, again, a road closure.
But then, I had an idea! We had our Penny skateboards in the boot, so I suggested Millie skate while pushing our 2 year old daughter in the buggy, while I skate while carrying our 4 year old. We decided to go for it. A load of other people had abandoned their cars on the side of the road, so we did too, got out of the car and started to skate!
Gruissan and Narbonne-Plage have an awesome cycle path off the road and so we decided to take that, skating along, passing heaps of pedestrians who were power walking, so not to miss the race!
Nearly 5km later, we came to a roundabout where police were guarding the road. We didn’t think we were going to make it, so we asked the policemen stationed there, “combien des kilometres?” (How many kilometres?). “Trois cent metres!” came the answer – just 300m! So we went for it, going as quickly as we could. As we approached a junction, we went downhill to the roadside, found a place by a fence and asked a local if any bikes had gone by so far. “None” she replied, and we were so grateful we hadn’t missed it. There we were – 900m from the finish line, one of the most exciting spots in the whole race. Seconds later we could hear the cheers of people a bit further up from us as the leading peloton came round the corner!
They flew past us faster than I ever thought they really went, the smooth sound of their chains turning round. We shouted “allez, allez!” and encouraged the kids to clap as loud as they could. Moments later the 2nd group of riders, support cars, motorbikes and, of course, cheers as the excitement continued! Helicopters flew overhead as our 4 year old son was in his modes-of-transport paradise.
A third large group went by and we then waited around for a few stragglers. Wow. What an experience! It was over in just a few minutes but we were so grateful to have made it!
We took a slower paced skate back to our abandoned car, 5km away.
What a treat!
(I made it to the airport just 5 minutes after Callum landed!)