On the morning of the prologue I was excited, but looking back the true excited didn’t hit me until we arrived in Liege and the atmosphere of the crowd penetrated my focus on finding a prime viewing spot. It was electric in Liege. It wasn’t just thousands of spectators, it was thousands of cycling enthusiasts.
Immediately I was swept up in the giddy excitement of the race and then Wiggins came flying past, his disc wheel sounding like a bullet train. Cancellara approached and his legs were so massive time seemed to slow down as I stared. I was clutching the spectator fence and, not only could I smell their sweat as they went past, but several times I had to lean back to avoid them. Tony Martin even punctured in front of me. This was the Tour. Up close and personal.
As a loyal spectator, you always feel like you know the riders on a personal level, especially if they are from your own country. When you see them in person the fact that you are strangers seems like an abstract notion. On Stage One I heard myself wishing Ryder “Happy Canada Day” as it was July 1st, and, having lived in South Africa, I loudly cheered for Daryl (Impey) during Stage Two as if we were neighbours. Although it’s a matter of seconds that you encounter the peloton, during each split second your eye catches the faces you “know” and you somehow manage to connect and create a bond.
The excitement of these mini-moments combined with the overwhelming experience of the caravan, the convoy, the spectators, the scenery, and even my journey towards that whooshing moment was more than worthwhile. Experiencing the Tour from barely a foot away makes it tangible in one sense, as you create personal memories, but even less tangible in another sense as you realize television doesn’t capture the sublime grandeur of the Tour. More than ever I realize I don’t fully grasp how great the Tour is, from the physical demand on the athletes to the countless man hours needed to organize the multi-stage international event. One thing is for sure, seeing the Tour in person is a pilgrimage that will reaffirm your faith in the sport of cycling. In fact, it will recharge your passion tenfold.
Vive le Tour.