View from the side
20th July 2009 | Krystyna Chauncey, Verbier.
I’m not the slightest bit interested in cycling but as I’m in Verbier I thought I might as well see what all the fuss is about. Would it be worth it?
The Tour de France. Is it something I would go out of my way to see? Well, the simple answer is a categorical no.
I must say I resisted with all my might but my 10 year old son was adamant he wanted to see the race up the mountain and he dragged me along as we were on holiday in the resort.
The day before we saw thunder and torrential rain. There was a buzz of anticipation in town and, in true Brit tradition, the only topic of conversation was the weather. Would it be fine?
The day itself came and with it brilliant sunshine.The town was well and truly spruced up for the event with pretty flowerbeds lining the streets, window boxes and hanging baskets decorating many windowsills and doorways. There were so many people and so many different languages.
The town centre was abuzz with activity.
We saw the Swiss equivalent of morris dancers prancing around and banging their sticks together, fast food stalls selling deliciously smelling raclette, and not a greasy burger or fatty chip in sight.
The Farinet, notorious for its winter apres ski, had all its doors open letting in the brilliant sunshine whilst booming out a cacophany of rock music.
Then, further down the hill, we came across a 20 man troupe of horn players, entertaining us with the most unexpectedly beautiful music from their enormous horns.
There are some pictures of them here.We saw Brits cycling around Place Central waving the Union flag, and many others racing round town on their expensive looking bikes.
I must say that whilst I was trying hard not to get swept up with the excitement that gripped most people, I was beginning to enjoy the colour and spectacle and anticipation of the event.
I was told The Tour was expected to arrive in Verbier by 5.05 precisely. I found it quite amusing they could time it so carefully.
By 3.30 we had found a suitable spot on a hairpin bend in the old town of Verbier so we could see the cyclists faces as they slogged up the steep slope towards us and then watch their backs as they turned the corner and trudged on further uphill.
Hundreds of folk of all nationalities lined the street in expectation.
Then there was the waiting game.What I hadn’t expected was the cavalcade of floats, cars and trucks with giant inflatables and other paraphenalia preceeding the cyclists and whipping up the crowd.
My son thought it was Christmas!
As the flottilas roared up the hill, blowing their claxons and playing music loudly, armfulls of Tour de France merchandise and sweets were being chucked at the waiting spectators including packets of Haribo sweets, red spotted caps, T-shirts, flags, plastic banging devices etc, etc.
It was beginning to get exciting.
And then the first cyclist appeared. I had no idea who he was but everyone around me gasped in amazement and cheered loudly. He was a Spaniard apparently. (See here for a more exact view of what happened in the race)
He came hurtling up the hill. Literally hurtling at possibly 30mph. It was unbelievable how fast he was racing UP the mountain. It was staggering, I thought they would be struggling at this point having already cycled 129 miles from Pontalier in France.
But they were still looking relatively fresh and still full of energy racing to get to the finish. I got swept along with the energy of my fellow spectators and cheered as madly as everyone else. And then a few minutes later the next one appeared, then another and then a gang of 3 or 4.
Several minutes later a pack with dozens and dozens swept by with some of them waving at us.
By the end of it I was hoarse and yet so pleased that I had been dragged out to see the spectacle. What really amazed me was seeing them all race up the mountain so fast, after such a long gruelling ride, and still looking fresh and so full of energy.
But they were late. The winner got to the top around 5.25 and not 5.05. It’s not often things don’t run on time in Switzerland.
Don’t forget to check out the latest blog from our content editor, James Cove, on his new found fascination with The Tour de France.