They Were the Best of Tour Times
When days are measured in the 21 stages of the Tour de France, the morning after Stage 21 is disorienting. The proper order of things, numerically speaking, is 21 then 22. But in the Tour, there is no Stage 22.
Having woken up on Monday morning without a race stage to dictate my day, I was left to the next best thing: reminiscing about the last four weeks in France as part of the BrakeThrough Media team. Before I left, I thought that I would make frequent comparisons between the last time that I was in France and this time. But I haven’t. The experiences are just too different. I knew before I left for the Tour that I had no way to truly prepare myself for what was ahead, only that I had to be open-minded, flexible, and resilient.
The work is intense in a different way. The race dictates your day, rather than the weather, or if you have to stop to fix a bike, something often done in bike touring. I’m part of a smaller team, and though there are plenty of moments where leadership is needed, I wasn’t leading anyone; most days, I had to try like hell just to keep up. The days and nights are a blur, and in looking back, I found myself struggling to differentiate one from the other.
So in my attempt to pull out our best moments from the 100th Anniversary Tour de France, I had to move about it methodically. The memories are a puzzle; the timeline isn’t always chronological, but rather grouped by topics of experience. There are landmarks and scenic wonders, the friends and colleagues, the teams, and the camaraderie that develops over three weeks among people who were total strangers at the start.
There are the best micro-moments; daily triumphs of finding a good sandwich before heading to the start or a quick dinner at an Autogrill during a long hotel transfer, or the laundromat that appears magically when there are no more clean clothes to wear. There were days Iri and Jim shot too many fantastic photographs to count. We had nights with great hotels and views that easily washed away tough moments. Getting to the start with enough time, being in the right place with the right scenery with the right exit route on the parcours, getting to the finish in time for a spot on the finish line.
There are the landscapes. Driving into Nice, seeing the Mediterranean Sea and the unforgettable blue of the water. How we were so excited to board the ferry and see what awaited us in Corsica, an island unknown to us. Driving into the Alps, exclaiming at our first sighting of the peaks looming ahead. The first lavender fields in Provence, and how excited Iri was after two previous Tours without any. Seeing Mont St. Michel, all of us wishing so badly that we could have one rest day there. Going to shoot with BMC Racing Team at La Coquillade, and being at a loss for words other than, ‘Whaaaat?!’ and ‘Can you imagine?’
There are the sunsets. Our first night in Corsica we walked to the sea, stood on the rocky coast, and watched the sunset, all trying to capture its beauty. Our collective excitement for the start of the Tour, palpable. Watching the best sunset of the Tour in Marseille; we saw it developing from our seats in the Salle de Presse, and couldn’t help but get up every few minutes to snap more photos. Soon, we were outside taking pictures, our walk back to the car delayed as we stopped over and over as it turned into something truly spectacular.
There are the moments with teams. So many good days at the start of stages, during time trials and on rest days, taking photos, carving out moments to catch up with those who Iri and Jim have gotten to know over the last several years. The crown moment might have been getting onto the Team Sky bus; I’ve never seen them so giddy. Iri going in the Saxo-Tinkoff car with the soigneurs and my opportunity to be in an Astana team car for a stage. Having Davide Bramati invite us go to swimming, and watching a tennis match between the Omega Pharma-Quick-Step doctor, two soigneurs, and a bus driver. Seeing how many staff members and riders acknowledge our BrakeThrough team with kindness and respect.
There are moments we’d rather forget. Like when we were pulled over for speeding, Jim was given a breathalyzer and a Gendarmerie summons resulting in a jury with the ASO and the Captain (nicknamed Napoleon). Our punishment: two days “hors cours,” meaning that we couldn’t drive on the race course, the Tour media equivalent of a toddler being put in the corner for a time-out.
There are the long days in the car. Our conversations often our only entertainment. We made up fantasy bike racing teams with our ideal sponsors; the winner of which was Iri’s team, Fanta-Puma out of love for that certain orange beverage and appreciation for good footwear. We listened to the same songs over and over on the radio, calling it the French Top 5. As the finish of the stages approached each day we anticipated where I would (and wouldn’t) be allowed that day, something that was dictated by a guy in a green shirt, unicorns, Narnia, and the barometric pressure. There was Iri’s spontaneous lecture on biological improvements for being on the road, asking why the human body hasn’t figured out how to bank extra sleep for use later, in time of deficit, rather than the unfair reverse effect of cumulative sleep deprivation and fatigue.
There are the friends and colleagues. The Tour is full of amazing people. Meals with friends on rest days; particularly the second one, in a brick courtyard with lights strung in the trees, next to a 19th century stone buillding. So much laughter that all of our faces hurt on the way to the hotel even though it was late and we still had so much work to do. The daily interactions with familiar faces, the wordless bond that’s formed in seeing the same people for three weeks and having an unspoken understanding of just how tough the job can be. The superfans who make any long day feel shorter, entertaining, and providing endless photo opps. Walking with Iri down from the finish line to the 6K-to-go mark on Alpe-d’Huez, past different national corners: the Norwegians, the Germans, the famed Dutch corner.
There are the tough days, off-set by good moments. It was a hot Tour this year. Standing in the sun without cover, Iri and Jim lugging around multiple cameras and heavy lenses, waiting for the shot. Their prayers of rainy days and clouds were only answered once, in the Alps. Steadfast to make the photos happen, we were bolstered by the challenge and thankful for something other than harsh sun and shadows. I stood in the rain and watched Iri talk to fans and shoot photos of the riders rounding an uphill hairpin turn right across from a chicken and a cow cheering them on, and exuberant locals singing, swinging humungous cowbells huddled under a makeshift, tiny biergarten.
Being on the road in such an intense environment for so long, you have to let go of the bad, and let the good propel you. The days can be too tough to focus on anything else. And it feels so great to know that I was in such good company; a team that created so many incredible moments together, whether standing on a mountain in the rain, getting lost on tiny French country roads while trying to find the course before the race, deciphering menus through a haze of exhaustion, tracking down the elusive Corsican pizza, or letting out collective gasps at some of the obscene super fan costumes we saw (and will never forget).
And as the 2013 Tour de France moves into the past and 2014 moves into the future, it’s good to know that we have so many incredible moments and experiences to satiate us until next July arrives, and we do it all over again.