Week 2 – Day 1 – Monday 9th of July 2018
Saint Andre des Eaux – 0 miles
We were so lucky to find this fantastic free Aire that we changed our plans and stayed another day here. I finished last weeks blog in the morning and The Navigator carried out some domestic chores and then read outside until lunchtime, after which she read even more, sitting in the shade of the van, and I watched the end of Stage 3 of Le Tour which was a team time trial, so not the most exciting day. We could not cycle round the lake today because of the puncture to The Navigator’s front tyre so had a walk instead and I managed to snap some blue dragonflies on some reeds at the water’s edge. The midges were still not biting which was a bonus.
The weather continues to be incredibly warm and it was noticeable watching Le Tour how massive the crowds are in the towns and villages en route and how many motorhomes there are parked on the roadside verges. We will be one of those motorhomes in only two days time and hopefully we can get parked at one of the places I have chosen.
We had our customary BBQ in the evening, which, as ever, was delicious. It is mostly chicken, turkey and pork we have had up to now and Lidl are to be congratulated on the quality of their meat and the wines we have been having to accompany our evening meal.
My favourite just now is a South African white Chardonnay Colombard, a real bargain at €1.99. In the evening The Navigator used ‘Hangouts’ to chat to the girls and we saw granddaughter Eilidh, who behaved impeccably and we noticed a difference in her in the few weeks since we were in Belfast.
Week 2 – Day 2 – Tuesday 10th of July 2018
Saint Andre des Eaux to near Saint Goazec – 96 miles
We were up sharpish today as we are heading a couple of hours west to head into the Brittany countryside to find a spot to park up for the night to see Stage 5 of Le Tour whizz past us. Apart from the drive, we are not doing much today so I will explain how we came to be here.
In the early part of the year the organisers publish the outline route of the coming year’s Tour and the following map appeared on the official Tour WEBSITE and this is the first indication anyone has of where and when it will be happening.
It is a given that there will be lots of mountain stages in the Alps and Pyrenees, and the finish will be in Paris, but the route varies every year, including famously coming to Yorkshire in 2014 where the ‘Grand Depart’ got underway on Saturday July 5th in front of Leeds Town Hall before travelling 190 kilometres towards Harrogate, obviously not in a straight line!
When I saw this map back in February we were still meandering around Spain but it planted the notion that it would be a great opportunity to see the Tour live, without driving miles into central or southern France, or, face the crowds in Paris for the finish, which is always a damp squib as the winner is known before the final stage.
So the seed was sown, but the next stage of detailed planning can’t happen until the detailed route is published and goes live on the official website. You can zoom right into this map and it then helps you see the towns, villages and countryside the race will go through. My thoughts on seeing this detailed map was to park up somewhere along the route, maybe three quarters of the way into the stage, so that there may be a breakaway group as well as the main Peleton. Once I had the rough location of where I thought might be best it was then on to Google Maps satellite view to look for a lay-by, or anywhere that looked like a possibility to park up the previous evening and then watch the race the next day.
Having read that there could be many thousands of motorhomes following the race and planning to do the same as us, I located five likely places for each of the five stages we hoped to see then noted their map co-ordinates. On the following screenshot you can see my first hoped for spot marked by the red pin. This one looks good as the helicopter may linger here to film the Chateau and grounds you can see on the other side of the road, but if there are no spaces in this lay by when we arrive then I have another four options nearby.
As it happened we had the place to ourselves when we arrived at about one o’clock. Some five miles or so before our destination we became aware that we were now driving on the actual route of tomorrow’s stage because of all the neon signs and direction arrows. As we approached the route there was a large sign warning that this road will be ‘baree’ between 11.15am and 3pm.
The little town of Saint Goazec was on our route and it was here we got a flavour of what was about to take place tomorrow as there were probably about 100 cyclists in their colourful Lycra cycling tops, milling about and cycling slowly around with support cars, vans and a motorhome. These were amateur riders out to get a feel for the course as an organised group. They must have stopped for a break as it was another hour or so before they passed us as we were having lunch in our parking place beside the road a few miles on from Saint Goazec.
When you see the layout on the Google satellite view above it looks flat, chosen initially to give us more time to see the race coming and take some pictures, but in reality we are parked on a very steep hill and they will approach us at a fast pace unless they take heed of a road sign just past us warning of bends ahead, although I somehow think they will be racing flat out.
All afternoon groups of cyclists and individuals passed by as well as quite a few motorhomes searching for their chosen parking place. Late in the evening a French van parked effectively 2 spaces away in front of us then proceeded to take about half an hour to reverse on to levelling chocks under its back wheels, but at least this couple gave us some free entertainment watching them.
‘Les Blues’ had beaten Belgium tonight in what looked more like a Premier League cup tie than a World Cup semi-final with all the familiar names on the pitch, but it was a decent game and the French deserved to grace the final on Sunday night. However, the consequence for us was ever vehicle that passed us parked up in our countryside lay-by, tooted their horns right up to about midnight, an act of joyous celebration rather than one of malicious sleep deprivation!
Just as we were about to turn in for the night two other French vans turned up intent on joining us on the lay-by, well, not joining us, but joining their friend who had parked up two spaces away from us earlier, obviously to keep a space at either side of him for these late arriving friends. It was almost eleven o’clock and pitch black outside and the van coming in directly in front of us was shining his full beam headlights into our cab and he kept his engine running for about 20 minutes while he too took ages to reverse onto his levelling chocks. Once parked up the three couples chatted loudly and it took all of my renowned restraint not go out and ask for ‘silence, monsieur dames!’, but they had obviously come from today’s Stage 4 and their football team had triumphed in St Petersburg so I cut them some slack, shut the blinds and fell into a deep sleep very quickly.
Week 2 – Day 3 – Wednesday 11th of July 2018
Near Saint Goazec to near Le Moustoir – 28 miles
Last night, it must be admitted, I almost kicked off at our late arriving noisy neighbours, but sense prevailed and I’m glad it did, as, on stepping out of the van into the bright sunshine of yet another lovely warm, later to be a very hot summer’s day, our new French neighbours were very friendly with waves and lots of ‘bonjours’.
The first task after breakfast was to ‘dress’ Bessie in a fairly sizeable Scottish Lion Rampant flag our neighbours back home had kindly loaned us before we set off. The reason for the flag was simply to have a point of difference to all the other white boxes parked along the race route and hopefully make it stand out for a brief few seconds on TV for watching friends and family back home. There are no Scots competing in this year’s Tour de France but there are some notable Brits competing, including Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas, Luke Rowe, Mark Cavendish and Adam Yates.
I’m not quite sure why, but the flag raising ceremony took a fair chunk of the morning it must be admitted. I wanted to put the flag on the back of the van as it would stand out against the white back wall but The Navigator was against taping it onto our gleaming new van, even though it would be seen for a good ten seconds by the cyclists and assorted entourage coming down the hill, so a compromise was reached, after much negotiation, to pin it onto the slightly extended awning on the roadside facing side of the van. Luckily we had brought a pair of lightweight aluminium ladders to fix the said awning last week and the flag was duly pinned to the awning with clothes pegs, although not perfectly as there was a slight breeze which lifted the lightweight flag up and this was compounded by passing traffic.
It was at this point our neighbour came over to admire the flag and ask (I think) of its significance and when I explained with the one word, but comprehensive reply ‘ecosse’ he seemed delighted we were not ‘anglais’, given the potential clash in the World Cup final. He and his friends were also dressing their vans, and eclipsing our humble efforts into the bargain by erecting their flags and bunting on proper flexible flag poles. Most of their display featured banners for the Vendee Region, where the race had started on Saturday, and where these three couples hailed from, and the cycling team based in that region, Direct Energie, pronounced in our finest Alo Alo French accent as ‘Deeerect Energeee’.
Now that the Auld Alliance had been re-established between the French and Scottish spectators, that bond of ancient friendship was reinforced when my new best French friend presented us with a ‘Deeerect Energeee’ flag for us to fly along with our madly flapping Lion Rampant.
This was a blessing in disguise as the ever resourceful Navigator produced some safety pins to attach the 2 flags together along with some string for me to attach the bottom flag to the underside of the van, solving the flapping problem as well as doubling our flag display.
Having achieved as much as we could on the display front with our meagre resources, it was time for the tables and chairs to come out and have a ‘tasse de thé’ and watch our neighbours add more and more flags and banners to their ever expanding display.
What you can’t see in the above picture is that they had even more flags erected on the other side of the road. Throughout the morning both local and Tour traffic passed by but once the road was officially closed just before twelve it was Tour traffic only from then on. Early on the vehicles were mostly official vehicles, like the race organisers and the Gendarmes checking all was OK with the route. Then came a complete mix of vehicles, mostly official sponsors and team support cars and vans before the big event, well, the first of the two big events. Obviously the race is the main event and why half of France comes to a standstill to either watch it go by, watch on TV, listen on the radio or get regular updates on their smartphones. Having said that, closely following the importance of the race itself is what is known as ‘the Caravan’. No, not some Frenchman towing a four berth caravan around the route, but a fairly spectacular half hour or so of a procession of sponsors vehicles in all shapes, sizes and configurations. Most of them would no doubt be banned from UK roads on ‘elf n safety’ grounds or failing to meet MOT regulations, but this being France…
Here are a few pictures of the better ones to give you a flavour of the occasion.
I had read that the trick is to wave to the vehicles as enthusiastically as possible and the people with throw all sorts of goodies in your direction, or, if their aim is off, actually at you. To say it was great fun is an understatement and we thoroughly enjoyed the procession and amassed a fairly decent haul of goodies for our first attempt. Being the first van in line as they approached greatly helped, but splitting up and standing on both sides of the road would have been better, lesson learned!
After the Caravan passed we had lunch and I tuned into ITV4 to watch the race live on the tablet. There was a single rider out in front, then a handul of riders in a breakaway group, who in turn were being chased by the main Peleton, about three minutes behind so we would get to see them strung out a bit rather than one solid mass going past.
The excitement was building, both for us and also for our French neighbours who were huddled in one of their vans watching the race on a TV. The combination of them exiting their van and the ever increasing pace of the support vehicles passing us along with the nearing sound of the helicopters meant the action was about to commence and a few minutes later a small group of riders came over the brow of the hill and got into the slipstream position by leaning down over their handlebars, some peddling, but most freewheeling, but still at a breakneck speed.
The race leader was freewheeling down the hill at great speed, and much to the joy of our neighbours, it was Sylvain Chavanel, a ‘Deeerect Energeee’ rider.
A few minutes later, the main event, the Peleton appeared, and they too flashed past us with no chance to pick out any individual riders, they were almost a blur going past.
I have some great close up video shots which I will put online in the next few weeks once I have time to edit the footage, but on watching it briefly I can say the main Peleton took a mere twelve seconds to go past, twelve seconds! The convoy of support cars took a few minutes to pass by and we had just witnessed a small part of one of the world’s great sporting events.
Was it worth it? Undoubtedly, and I would recommend it to anyone with a motorhome or campervan to come to France and experience this amazing spectacle, even if it is for only one Stage. The cyclists pass in seconds and the support vehicles within minutes, but the all day build up and seeing the ‘Caravan’ make the effort to get here so worthwhile.
The flags were taken down, chairs stowed in the garage, next destination plotted on the satnav and then it was off with much waving and horn tooting at our new, but never to be seen again French chums and a cry of “Allez les Blues”.
We were only travelling twenty seven miles and made it quite quickly. The beauty of being at a location with a hundred kilometres of the race still to go is that you can get on the move before the people who are on the roadside still to see the race. The next lay-by was found with no problem, and again, we were first there, getting the prime spot. It was about four o’clock when I got the chairs out and we were enjoying just sitting there taking in the countryside when I noticed something moving around one of those big circular hay bales in the field on the other side of the road. It was quite a big fox seemingly hunting for mice or other prey, but by the time I found my camera it had moved on.
Half an hour later the three French vans that were beside us earlier earlier passed by with more horn tooting and waving. A barbecue topped off a great day with another one in prospect tomorrow…
This is our video of the Tour de France passing us
STAGE 5 – TOP 3
Peter Sagan – Slovakia – Bora Hansgrohe
Sonny Colbrelli – Italy – Bahrain Merida
Philippe Gilbert – Belgium – Quick-Step Floors
OVERALL TOP 3 AFTER STAGE 5
Greg Van Avermaet – Belgium – BMC Racing Team
Tejay Van Garderen – United States – BMC Racing Team
Philippe Gilbert – Belgium – Quick-Step Floors
We are in position to see Stage 6, the Brest to Mur de Bretagne section and will see more of the riders as we are at the end of a long straight road, so they will be going (slightly) slower than the last stage we saw.
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To put this blog post into context here is the route we travelled…
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