Hi all, sorry this is a bit time late. I managed to catch the Stage 10 finish in Marseille while on my honeymoon and Chris asked me if I would write a bit. This was my first visit to Le Tour, so I'll look at it from that perspective. The pictures are posted separately at http://picasaweb.google.com/lcdrmike/TourDeFrance2007Stage10BrianconMarseilles
First, a bit on how I ended up at the Tour. (You can skip the first two paragraphs if you just want to get to the racing.) Last fall, after proposing to my girlfriend, she asked me where I wanted to get married -- I answered "on the side of the road in France as the Tour peloton rides by." She then gave me a look and said, "Seriously." So, ok, that wasn't a mutually agreeable choice. But she did tell me that we could plan a honeymoon that would allow me to catch a stage, which I quickly got to work on.
We planned a trip to Provence for the first week of our honeymoon. As bad luck would have it, Stage 11 would actually go right through Arles, about 50 feet from our hotel! That's right, bad luck -- the riders would not be arriving until late afternoon, when we needed to be heading back to Paris for the next leg of our trip. I perused the Tour schedule and figured Stage 10 in Marseille would be a better opportunity than standing on the side of the road with our suitcases in hand. Marseille was only an hour from Arles and we could catch the finish, not just a flyby in the middle of a transition stage.
One thing I noticed in my week in France was that other than on TV, the existence of the Tour was not readily apparent. As far as I could tell nobody seemed to be watching it in bars, and even in Arles there was no sign that the route would be going through until the day of the race when little fluorescent arrows went up with the TdF logo. I was expecting to see a little more interest from the French in the race, but maybe I just wasn't looking in the right places.
Once we got to Marseille, we spent the morning seeing a few sights. I had done lots of homework -- printed out tour schedules, maps of Marseille with Metro and the route finish at the Stade Velodrome, bought a TdF preview guide and L'Equipe several times (against my better judgement.) I still felt a little nervous that I might have miscalculated something and would somehow miss my chance, until I saw a Maillot Pois jersey in a church in Marseille. Coming out of the Metro, I almost immediately saw the finishing line from behind. I was pretty damn excited and my wife could tell right away.
We found a spot on the rails where we could see the big TV and the finish line, hearing the incessant French announcers going on and on. The crowd was pretty international, as we were surrounded by a few Dutch, near some Norway flags for Thor and a bunch of Soprano-looking guys with matching shirts/hats in Lampre colors from the Benna Fans Club. It was really hot, about 95 degrees. There were some Aquarelle trucks going up and down the lines handing out water, but it seemed as if every time they got to our location the girls in the truck were reloading. But the water was definitely in high demand. The rest of the caravan was mildly interesting, at least as compared to staring at hot pavement.
As a Jens fan, I was excited to see him in the break. I was really wishing that I had the "What Would Jens Do" t-shirt on that day. The group of 12 split in two after the last hill, and he was in the lead group of 5, so the sight of Jens on the podium seemed like a good possibility.
The tension in the crowd definitely started ratcheting up, especially since there were 3 Frenchies in the lead group. Lots of fans for Francaise des Jeux and AG2R. With about 5K left to go, another peloton showed up -- this one of little old ladies from Marseille who, my wife noted, were surprisingly nimble and free with the elbows. Up through that stage (and until the next day), the French press coverage was 70% Christophe Moreau, 20% Vino, and 10% guys who actually were in contention. So I had to chuckle when one of the Marseille grandmothers, way too short to see anything over the crowd but determined to get to the front, asked "C'est Moreau? C'est Moreau?"
Motorcycles and helicopters flew by, followed by a Cedric Vasseur/Sandy Casar photo finish. Jens fans were sad, but the French had saved some honor yet again. 10 minutes later, the peloton whizzed by -- what a sight, but over so fast! I recognized Schleck's hair as he mugged for the crowd.
We headed back with the throngs towards the Metro, and were able to see a little bit of the podium presentations through some trees. It was cool to hear the "da-da-dum" theme in person, but I was surprised how quickly the podium stuff was over and done with. Then I noticed that the gate to the bus area was open, so we squeezed in ... saw George pedaling away, followed by cries of "Eencapee!"; got up close to some wonderful bikes, and saw Johann who seemed pretty gracious to fans wanting pictures or reporters wanting quotes.
That was about it ... other than my aborted attempt to make off with a Euskaltel Orbea (see the pics.) Overall I have to say it was pretty much what I expected having watched so much of the Tour coverage on VS/OLN. Definitely worth it for a cycling fan, but next time I'll have to catch a mountain stage and see the real freaks come out.
Oh, and nobody on my VDS team, Valises de Courage, did jack that day.