Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Tour de France from the side of the road

So, after putting off this post for a while, I am finally getting around to posting some photos, and recapping my trip to the first 3 stages, and prologue of the 2010 Tour of France.

(Note: Click on the pictures if you want a better look)

It all started on Thursday evening July 1 when I took a 1:00 am flight out of Israel to land in Brusells at something like 5:30. When I landed I took a train into Brussels, then changed to another bound for Rotterdam.

(En route to Rotterdam)

After arriving in Rotterdam at around 10am, I started wandering around the city on my way to the hostel to meet up with travel-buddy Joe. And I kept seeing these signs, so I followed them:

And thankfully, the sings took me straight to the parcours, where I stumbled upon the official course reconnaissance. So I took out the camera and began a 2-3 hour walk around the north half of the course snapping photos of allstars on their warmups.

(Riders warming up)
(Big George Hincapie rocking the Stars and Stripes)
(A certain Australian World Champion)
After walking around for a while, I went to the hostel, caught up with Joe, grabbed a bite and then hung out until the Holland-Brazil world cup game, which we watched with a bunch of dutch people, making it super fun. Also, Joe and I met another American, Riley who was also there to watch the race, and joined us for the next day

The next morning, we (Joe, Riley and I) woke up early, and went over to the start of the course, at 10am, knowing the race began at around 5 in the afternoon. But we needed to get some good seats, and boy we did. And being clever boys we managed to stop at a market and pick up food and water for the day. So, around 11am we found a spot not far from the start gate, but then found a better one by walking on to the island between the two lanes in the road, and set up camp.
(The "I was there shot" before moving to the median)

(Phil and Paul! They gave us a wave after we shouted at them.)
(The crowd just before the first rider went off)

At this point I should mention, that we waited in first extreme heat, then rain for 6 hours before the publicity caravan came around, then another hour before the first rider. But it was worth it, because the next 3 hours were a blast as we watched all the riders roll out. I should also note that I went BONKERS for anyone from America, causing all of the Dutch to look at me like I was a crazy man. This began about 6 riders in with Brett Bookwalter, who even gave me the wave of acknowledgement when he heard me screaming like crazy before he rolled out the gate. Anyhow, the rest of the time we were pretty quiet.


After the end of the stage, we scooted back up to the hostel, grabbed our gear, headed to the train station, said goodbye to Riley and then hopped on the last train to Brussels, arriving at midnite, then got a little lost in the Brussels' metro, finally arriving at the hostel at 1am.

In the morning at breakfast in the hostel we met a 22 year Aussie girl, and two other women and Aussie and an American living in the UK, who were all in town for the tour and we all formed a group to last the next few days. We all headed out the finish line, grabbed some snacks and were on the fence with a mint spot by 11:30am. Why was the spot so good? 325m from the finish line, on the fence, and with a view of a big TV broadcasting the race. Over the next 4 hours, the crowd filled in, we got lots of free hats, bottles of water, snacks and other goodies while we watied. But we also made a game of defending our spot like it was the Battle of the Bulge, as people tried to sneak into our spots on the railing. But fortunately, we had some Brits on the left and 2 flemish guys on the right, who also had been waiting for hours and knew that we were not to be infiltrated. Anyhow, as the race got closer the whole crowd was focused on the TV and chatting about what would happen in the finish. There were some crashes, people went "ooh" and "aah," it was sweet.
(Stage 1 camp, view of the TV)
(Stage 1 camp)

(This guy cut up sample salami for people on the fence, he was AWESOME)
(Joe enjoying some give aways)
(The crowd filling in)
(I look cool)
(Standing around for hours in the sun gets tiring)

After the stage came to an end, the crew wandered around the finish for a while trying to make our way to the podiums with no success, hopped on a crowded metro and went back to the hostel. That evening we all went to the old square in Brussels and enjoued the cool temps, delicious beer and some good ol' conversation.

Day 3 was pretty plain, we all woke up, left the hostel around 9:30 and made our way to central Brussels to catch the roll out at the start, a relatively short 2 hour wait on the barriers included meeting some locals and practicing my French with the guys to my left. After the publicity caravan whizzed by, we waited for the race to leave and snapped a few photos. After that, we made our way through the fanfare, tried to get on French TV and then went down to a bar for lunch, beer and a TV to watch the race.
(The crowd before the race rolls out)
(Omega-Pharma leaves first)
(The rest of the field rolls out, see Cancellara in the middle)
(Lance totally looked at ME! Probably because of my American flag)

So that was day 3, TV, beer, and a little in person stuff. Day 4 was far more interesting, seeing as I was leaving for Tel Aviv that evening, the group, now down to 4 (one had to go to Amsterdam), decided to head out of Brussels at 8:30am to head to Huy, to see the ever famous Wall of Huy, but while we were on the train, I noticed some barriers from the window and a lot of police and suggested we get off early to just see the race there, as we had no idea where the race was in relation to the train station in Huy.

So, off the train we get, and RIGHT OUT FRONT OF THE BUILDING was the race course, we looked at race guide we got for free and low and behold, we were in Namur, and near a Sprint! I asked a policeman where the sprint was, and off we went 5 KM down the road in Namur to catch the first sprint of the day. We set up camp and met some locals, got free stuff from the publicity caravan and watched the race go by. The highlight for me was Chris Horner giving me the nod of approval with my American flag, as we were clearly the ONLY Americans in town to watch the race.

(These little old ladies knew they needed to get out early to watch the race)
(The view we had for the sprint)
(The crowd fills in as the race gets closer)
(The day's break, look there's Ryder Hesjedal!)

After the race went by, we walked back to the Namur train station, hopped on the train to Brussels and then I was off to the races, back to the hostel to get my gear, then a return to Brussels central station and then on a commuter train back to the Airport. At which point I arrived with enough time to watch the last 60km of the race on the cobbles before hopping on my flight to Tel Aviv.

It was only after I returned to Israel did I take tally of all the free stuff:

Great, fun, and tiring trip.


  1. What an adventure!!! Didn't know prequel of Tour de France is in Belgium. Great pics.

    Unca Howie

  2. A really great adventure, and well-written. Good photos too. Congratulations on conveying the excitement of it all. -- Dad