Day 9 - Stage 21 - Versailles to Paris - Paris
;The last day of 2013 Tour de France, and it ends at night, with laps around the Arch de Triomphe!
A much more leisurely pace for the day today, though my main stress point was making sure to get a Velib bike for the Redondenee.
Morning breakfast was lightly populated, compared to the rest of the week. Only a couple people when I finally got downstairs. I met up with Greg who wanted to walk down and take a picture for Gary under the Eifel Tower, so I went on a bit of an early walk with him.
The closest Velib (just down the block) had no bikes in it when we first walked by, so that set off my paranoia, but I refused to let that get me down. We were in Paris, and it was a wonderful day.
They had already closed off the Place Charles de Gaulle, so we were unable to walk directly to where we wanted to go, so it was around the circle we went.
Being that this was 11am, I thought it was late that they were going to be setting up the route, especially since the redondenee was just a scant 3.5 hours away.
We did spy the entrance to the Redondenee, so we knew where to come later in the day. Greg was waffling on whether or not he was going to ride it, but he wanted to get the Tshirt.
Around the Place, over to Ave d'Ilena, and then down to the river was our plan. We didn't expect to cross the Place des Etats-Unis, with a World War 1 memorial to those Americans that volunteered to join the Foreign Legion and fight for Fance.
After the typical tourist stop, we kept walking... Crossed through the Place d'Ilena, which crossed the Ave du President Wilson, which had a statue dedicated to George Washington:
Pausing infront of a well fortified building, I took a picture of the South Korean embassy:
Next door, we wondered what else was in store, until we eventually noticed the plaque... It was the Iranian embassy. We quickly hustled away as we all know what happens to Americans on the borders of Iran.
After fleeing Iran, we caught sight of the Eifel Tower:
We did have to weave and bob to dodge all the folks selling tin models of the Eifel Tower, as well as the large tour groups, and then eventually the extremely long line to ride the elevator up, though the stairs were line-free.
I resisted the urge to do anything more touristy than just taking pictures, as I really didn't want to experience Paris without Becky and Charlotte, and Greg just wanted a picture from underneath, so we then went to walk back. I found a big Velib site, with a ton of parked bikes, but because I did not know my reservation information (which I had left back in my hotel room), we walked back to the hotel. I left the area knowing that if there weren't any bikes near the hotel, I knew where I could find one in a pinch. Stress level dropped to minimum!
On the way back we walked up the Avenue de New York, and marveled at the Palais de Tokyo
After a walk up Avenue Marceau, and around the Place Charles de Gaulle, and to the Avenue of No Cars (Carnot), I got a surpise by there being 4 bikes in the Velib stand. I ran up to the room and grabbed my reservation, and went to check a bike out. There were now 3, bikes left, with one person checking one out. I started the process, and was warned not to take the bike in stall 1, as it had a flat, and that she was taking the bike in stall 2, so the one in stall 4 was the last one left. Lucky Lucky!
Right after I checked out the bike, 3 more showed up to be checked in. No need to be so worried I guess.
The Velib bikes are of the "Boris Bike" build, with three speeds, and quite heavy. Though I saw more bikes show up, I was still paranoid about keeping it, and it was a good hour until they started letting you get in line for the redondenee. Greg "volunteered" to go for a bike ride while I waited for the Redondenee, so he took off for a nice spin around town, and I went up to my room to clean up.
Changing and putting on sunscreen, plus charging batteries, and getting a quick snack, and back out at 1 to swap out with Greg.
It was about a half mile over to the entrance to the Radondenee. There were a lot of people on Velibs, but most people were on their own bikes. I sat behind a large group from Trek Tours, and saw some other people obviously associated with other tour outfits, but I got my shirt, and sat there.
And sat there. Seems that we weren't going to go off until 2:30pm, so I was waaaaay early.
There was some music, and entertainment, but mostly summer sun beating down.
And at about 2:28pm, they let us loose. Of course the first 300 meters were a bit of walking the bike, but eventually it spread out so you could ride.
For the most part, I coasted. I made no attempt to pedal at all. I rode around with the goofiest grin on my face, for here I was, in Paris, riding a bike on the Champs Elysees.
This was the last of the bucket list of things I set out to do.
1) I rode up Mont Ventoux (i.e. Rode up a Col of the Tour de France.) One of the signature climbs, and one of the hardest climbs that the Tour de France climbs.
2) I rode up Alpe d'Huez on Race Day. Well I rode the day before, and it was just as good I think. I got to visit Dutch Corner and have beers, so I count that as awesome.
3) I got to ride across the finish line of a stage. Well, technically I did that on Ventoux, and Alpe d'Huez, but I really got to do that on Semnoz.
4) And now, I'm riding on the Champs Elysees. And around the Arc de Triomphe.
I never thought that I would have been able to 1 and 2 a year ago. When I told Becky I wanted to ride a Col or Cote of the Tour, I was thinking the Col d'Aspin, or just a Cat 3 or 4 hill, not the hardest climb they do regularly.
The other 2, I figured would be easier, since there are a good deal of "flat" stages, and it would just take getting to one of those early enough before they closed the finish line. But with this being the 100th running, they went and did the full Arc de Trimomphe for the Radondenee, so that made me goofy happy.
Goofy.. Yes, Goofy.
Lots of people were boggled with the sight of a guy with a goofy smile, videoing them, turning the tables so to speak:
These were the stands I though we were going to be sitting in:
Approaching the finish line from the downhill side:
The fountain they always show in sweeping shots during each lap around the Champs Elysee... Was empty:
And the road, is all pave. So every lap is not Paris-Roubaix bad, but it's not like being out on the nice asphault roads elsewhere in France:
Until you turn down the Palais des Tuileries does the road become asphalt:
Then the tunnel ride, up to the Rue de Rivoli:
The statue of Joan of Arc:
The Ferris Wheel:
The Flamme Rouge!
One more time around the Place de la Concorde, with a view of the Eifel Tower:
There was only one other person with a goofier smile than me on the entire route:
Back onto the Champs Elysees:
And then the bunch sprint for the Finish Line!
Here are the grandstands, and where they park the podium:
There were more people behind me at the starting line than before me:
It's a little difficult to see in the first picture, and in the second picture they had stopped, but this couple reminded me that though this was incredible and such a wonderful experience, the only thing that detracted from it was that I didn't have anyone to share it with. I missed my wife for most of the trip; I find you don't miss anyone but your own sanity when you're suffering on a climb up a hill. But all the great views and vistas, the experiences I wanted to share with her. The best that I can do is with these posts; I hope the suffice until we can go as a family.
The Arch de Triomphe loomed in the background; my ride was coming to a close:
I did notice the spot on the Champs Elysees where the first break away would occur:
The gutter. But not any gutter, this is the only bit of smooth pavement on the Champs Elysees until (as stated above) you get around to the Tuileries. So what happens is that the riders will duck into the gutter to gain speed on the peleton, since not all the peleton can fit, and they'll be stuck trying to overcome the drag of riding on the pave.
One Last Sprint Point:
A group of disabled cyclists, rolling by to cheers from the crowds:
And back to the Place Charles de Gaulle:
And then... I was done.
Never have I been so happy to ride so slowly for so long.
Back at the Finish/Start line, there were bottles of water, which I needed as standing out in the hot sun for an hour wasn't a pleasant situation on the hydration front, plus they had dried fruits and fruit granola bars.
I then wheeled back to the Velib stand by the hotel, though I found that expensive cars still flocked to me, even cutting me off:
Here's the bike stand, when I got back:
After getting back to the hotel, I realized I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast, so I went to find a cafe to find some lunch before meeting back at the hotel by 5pm.
Found a cafe, to have a ham sandwich with melted cheese, some pomme frites, and an Iced Coffee:
Stopped at a Tour de France souvenir shop one last time, and made it back to the hotel with 20 minutes to spare. Changed, freshened up, and made it down to the lobby for the last time I would see most of the people on the tour (much to my chagrin, I had thought we would have been more together in the grandstand).
We stopped at a local store to pick up some food and beverages for the grandstand, as we were told that there would be no vendors in the stands.
And so we walked down towards the grandstands, but we were on the opposite side of road that what I had thought. They didn't even have these up when I rode by earlier.
There were a lot of closed roads as we walked by:
Our invitations were checked 3 times as we got closer to the grandstand. No RFID on the invitation, but they were eventually taken from us to be replaced with a cloth bracelet.
When we got through to the grandstands, it was find your own seats, so unfortunately the large group of us did not get to sit together. This made me sad as it would have been really my last chance to thank each and every one of the Acadians for being so welcoming and making my trip so amazing. I wanted to thank them for welcoming me into the group, for all the encouragement and understanding, and for all the cool opportunities I wouldn't have had with any other group.
I did get to sit next to Greg, and I'm looking forward to talking with him and riding when he comes to ride the Police Unity Tour.
We settled into our seats and waited for the riders to get onto the Champs Elysees.
Froome with his champagne:
Eventually they made it for the ceremonial first loop, with the Sky Train leading them out:
I think this was pass 3, with the first breakaway trying to get off the front:
And on the way back, they were much more strung out by this time:
After 10 laps, the end was here, and the sprint was a good one:
Then sat and watched the closing ceremony, which much to everyone's dismay, did not include fireworks. Found Will one last time so give him my thanks, and then made it down onto the Champs Elysees:
A video thanks for my wife. I'd have been unable to do all this without her.
I then wistfully sauntered back to the hotel. As I walked I was happy. Happy to have lived a life that allowed me to do all the things I have been able to do in the last 9 days. Thankful to my Grandparents for putting me through school, even when I didn't seem to understand the benefits. Thankful to my grandmother for showing me the work ethic to work hard for what you want. Thankful for my mom for allowing me to dream big, even if I never made good on many of those dreams. Thankful for my Aunt Linda for keeping me grounded in reality. Thankful for my wife, whose support and her love have no end. Thankful for God for everything.
I was sad that it had to end. Sad that I would have to leave France. This week has been a rekindling of my love affair with France, one that started in high school, with Madame Lanou. Not sad that I was going home and that I would again be able to see my Charlotte and Becky, but sad that home was not somewhere in the French Alpes, kilometers from classic mountain climbs. Sad that the next week would not be spent in the company of my Acadian friends, and that it was probably the last time I would see them, Will, Gilles, Brackie and Jourdan.
I had such an amazing time, that the exact words fail me. These last 10 blog posts are my failed attempt to put those feelings and emotions into words. Everything I do on a bike will be different to me, now that I've been to France, and riden Mont Ventoux, loved all the suffering and beer on Alpe d'Huez, followed in Pantani's footsteps up Les Deux-Alpes, saw the splendor of Chambery and Aix-les-Baines from Mont Revard, and had my time cut short on Semnoz. Every little hill and roller I ride, though it might have a higher pitch than Ventoux, will not come close to the pain it inflicted on me. Every hill with a switchback will not have hundreds of crazy Dutch playing carnival music and partying Even the flats will not have the amazing scenery of the ride into Gap.
These thoughts rambled through my head as I wound my way into the mass of humanity along the Champs Elysees. Trash lined the road, as well as partying people, tired people, people waiting for somethine else. The restaraunts were packed, and people rode their bikes around, trying to get home.
I stopped to get an (american) ice cream, Hagen Daas, and spotted an F1 car in a window:
The Light Show was still on going on the Arch de Triomphe:
Then literally after I snapped those pics, it stopped. I walked up with just enough time to take them.
I wandered around back towards the hotel, made sure to stop and have one more cafe as I watched them roll up the Place Charles de Gaulle.
Exhausted, I made it to the hotel, and then spent an hour packing up. Time for sleep, 6am comes early.
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