Spectator’s view of the Tour de France: England vs France

Compressed by the huge crowd, with a child in each hand, I can see people’s chests, armpits, and the top of my children’s heads; but very little of stage 3 of the Tour De France I have come to watch.  My children are moaning –  understandably – that they are hot, but they can’t escape the heat of the crowd; they want to sit down, but there’s no space on the pavement and they can’t see a thing except for people’s groins! In stark contrast, two years before in the Midi-Pyrénées, we positioned ourselves wherever we liked on the sparsely-populated street.  Picnic in hand, residents offered us their chairs to sit in and we had an enviable view of the publicity caravan, the pick of the flying gizmos, as well as an up close and personal view of the peloton; with amazing photographs to boot!

2012 TDF, Midi-Pyrénées

2012 TDF, Midi-Pyrénées

Same event, different country!  My experiences of watching the Tour de France, cycling’s biggest and most prestigious stage race in the world,  in Britain and in France are vastly different! In 2012, we watched the Tour de France in the Midi-Pyrénées. Strategically-positioned towards the top of a hilly road so that we would get a longer view of the peloton, we were there early enough to soak in the sights: witnessing local French residents gradually appearing from their houses; coffee mugs, wine glasses and deckchairs in tow, this was clearly an annual and leisurely event!  With relatively few spectators lining the road, when the publicity caravan arrived, my children were inundated with gizmos flying through the air: mini packs of sweets, mini pens, mini baguettes, mini sausages; our picnic quickly lost its allure (for the children) to more exciting treats!  And such was the relaxed vibe that many gizmos falling near local residents’ feet, were brought over to our children with a welcoming smile.

Fast-forward two years and we were delighted that the Tour De France was coming to Britain.  We saw on television how the UK embraced the Tour’s Grand Départ in Yorkshire, with two million people turning up to watch the most-northerly stage in history!   Eagerly, we took the children along to Cambridge for stage 3 and fighting our way through the crowds, it immediately became apparent that we could not expect the same carefree French experience.    The crowd, in its thousands, was heaving, noisy and vibrant.  The unprecedented excitement was palpable in the air, but with constant jostling from the crowd, shouting reverberating through my ears and having my nose pressed into armpits (a drawback to being short!) whichever direction I turned, it was a completely different experience to France.  Impossible to not get caught up in the frantic excitement, yet with such a poor view of the actual event!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Whipping the crowd into even more of a frenzy, the publicity caravan made its debut; with its blaring music and many elaborately-crafted vehicles and dancing occupiers throwing gizmos into the crowd.   Watching  people – mostly adults – scrambling for the sparingly-issued (for a crowd of this size) freebies flying through the air, you would think the small packets contained French Champagne, or some exquisite French chocolate samples, rather than Bic biros or Haribo sweets!

Two weeks later, whilst holidaying in France, we decided we couldn’t miss the opportunity to watch stage 15 which was passing nearby.  Although not as quiet as our experience in the Midi-Pyrénées in 2012, this was still a more dignified, less frantic experience than in Cambridge.  Residents and holiday-makers watched the peloton, coffee in hand, from their café chairs or street-side, but pretty much everyone got a front row view if they wanted to!  The only erratic behaviour I witnessed in this laid-back environment was a man irresponsibly leaning into the peloton with his camera.   Seriously what was he thinking…!

Stage 15 TDF, 2014

Stage 15 TDF, 2014

6 thoughts on “Spectator’s view of the Tour de France: England vs France

  1. Cool photos and interesting accounts of the differences – we should all learn from our French friends to relax x

    In Cambridge , Daniel and I missed the crowds by driving rather than cycling with the crowds to the event ; hopped on the bus at the Parc n’ride and within half an hour from leaving home were placing our seats in front row positions at 8.30am in front if Kings College – great view and pictures , with coffee house behind – was great experience x

    • Thank you Stephen! The energy of the event was catching in the UK (and exciting) but certainly not as pleasurable as the more-used-to-it scenes in France!!

  2. Oh Louise! I’ve found a soulmate! I laughed at your kids scurrying after the Caravan “gizmos”… Some of the folks in my group almost got into fights with people over the “gizmos”! Like me – I almost decked a 12 year old for a hat. It’s amazing how primal we become… My favorite was the condom “gizmo”. Gotta love the French! Great post! Remind me never to go to a Grand Depart – sounded miserable! And, if I ever am lucky enough to go back, hang out in the mountains! With French people drinking wine 🙂

    • Well those hats are very precious…at my youngest’s summer performance at school a couple of weeks ago, they had to dress up in summer clothes to sing summer songs like ‘oh I do like to be beside the seaside’. It was only halfway through when I realised the sunhat I had given him was from the TDF – he was on the front row advertising Skoda 😄. Should point out most of the other children were dressed in smart sun hats or traditional straw hats and there was mine in his freebie!!!

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