Le Tour de France

Zut alors!

We’ve all gone French-mad here, Mr Blackadder. To celebrate the arrival of our local Tour de France, we made sure that we had plenty of Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf, Claude Nougarro and sundry French cafe music on the iPod, croissants from Boulangerie Jade (thank you, M&J) and gallons of coffee on the go all morning.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that Greenwich was really ready for the event – we went down the road to secure a nice place at the front of the vast crowds and there was really just us and a rather uninspired-looking policeman. We wandered up and down Trafalgar/Woolwich Roads, and found a nice vantage point at Blackwall lane for the Caravane Publicitaire.

This is a really strange thing – basically, all the sponsors create mad floats and go ahead of the riders, whipping up support by shouting over loudspeakers. Hundreds of French people on nutty mobile adverts shouting and screaming at what was, to start with at least, a handful of somewhat puzzled South-Londoners. The honking, Europop and general mayhem from the haut-parleurs certainly did its job as the road did eventually fill up with bleary-eyed Brits, waving a bit half-heartedly and dodging freebies being chucked at them by cheery women in jazzy T-shirts.

I’m sure it’s quite something in a sleepy French village, and it was mildly diverting, but frankly since I hadn’t heard of most of the brands it was more a anthropological experience rather than one that will make me rush out and buy a load of saucissons…

Instead, I spent my time trying to decide which vehicle I would least like to have to drive round the racecourse over 20-odd days, every eye in France upon me. Could it be the cyclist with the enormous Gherkin?

The go-kart disguised as a Lion?

Or even the extremely peculiar “dining table” I spotted outside the Old Friends?

Answers later, folks…

The race itself was supposed to start from the Meridian line. But did they mean those rather dull-looking flats on Woolwich Road? I don’t think so. Instead they fudged it so that the flag finally got waved sort of around the National Martime Museum. I guess only a handfull of locals would ever know…

By this time we’d wandered on to outside East Greenwich Library – the crowds had finally decided to turn out and it was every-so-slightly less crowded there.

I did enjoy that the British and French police were clearly trying to out-cool each other, (a contest easily won by the British because even though les gendarmes had better outfits and looked fitter, they just couldn’t conceal their excitement about being part of it all and were rubbish at looking really bored, something at which the British excel…)

By this time I was actually quite excited myself, and though there wasn’t quite the atmosphere you get on Marathon Day, it was still quite a thing to behold. The crowds, I discovered later, were right up by the “start.”

But all that buildup for not even a minute’s worth of viewing! Pah!

No sooner had the leader whizzed past

…and the peleton followed…

…that we just got all the tedious support vehicles, laden down with puncture repair kits, bicycle pumps and an extra woolly for later. And then it was all over. Ten minutes at most – and that’s counting the winner of the vehicle I’d least like to drive round France. I can just hear the conversation in the PMU bar later…

Oh yes. I did that Tour de France once. I was the one in the giant wheelie bin…

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