Le Tour de France – Stage 9 – From Arras Citadelle to Roubaix
Week 2 – Day 7 – Sunday 15th of July 2018
Les Andelys to Paillencourt – 127 miles
Today we were in place to see our final Stage of the 2018 Tour de France and it was going to be the most interesting stage so far for us. Before I launch into a description of our day here, possibly the most challenging for the riders, I should mentioned a feature of this area from last evening’s drive. You can see from the following course map that we are in the Pas de Calais region close to the Belgian border.
The significance of this area obviously concerns the two World Wars, but especially the First World War as this whole area was the scene of much of the trench warfare and we passed by many of the cemeteries where British, Commonwealth and German soldiers are buried. You can see from the following picture taken from the dashcam that although the scenery is rural and agricultural today, this was the front line on the 20th of November 1916 and the scene of wholesale carnage on both sides.
Today’s stage was starting in Arras, a town we have been to a number of years ago due to a bit of a mix up. In the early days of investigating my family tree, I had asked the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to confirm the location of my Grandfather’s grave or memorial and they had replied by stating it was in Arras. Long story short it wasn’t there at all, but after the fruitless search for it we went on to have a great family holiday in Paris. Years later I would find out that my Grandfather’s twin, who would die three years after his brother, was stationed in Arras for a while and had sent back to his parents in Argyll some souvenir postcards of Arras, and this is one of them. This main square is still there today and would be the starting point for today’s stage.
The weather forecast indicated it could reach 90 degrees today, but oddly it also said there was a 10 percent chance of rain, although how you can have rain with hardly a cloud in the sky was a bit baffling. We sat outside after a breakfast of square sausage and scrambled eggs, yip, square sausage two weeks into a French holiday might defy belief, but the fridge and freezer are coping admirably in this heat.
Not long after sitting out we waved Steve and the others off in their Ravensthorpe Cycling Club (est 1891) Lycra gear on expensive looking road bikes. When they returned we were still sitting out under the awning and Steve came over to tell us about their cycle on the nearby narrow cobbled road that the tour would be racing on in the early afternoon. We had mentioned in conversation that The Navigator had a punctured front wheel and he kindly offered to sort it for her, as they had all the equipment to fix it, one of the four actually repairs bikes back in Yorkshire so we took them up on their offer. It turned out to be a double puncture which they patched, but in blowing the tyre back up the valve seemed to be damaged and leaking air so it will require a new tube.
By this time it was just after midday and the Caravan was due within the next half an hour so we packed everything away quickly and headed off walking into the village while the Yorkshire ‘lads’ cycled in, resplendent in their cycling gear. We made it into the village in time to see the Caravan come down the hill at a fair lick dispensing their goodies as they went and we were lucky enough to get a few decent items.
Stage 9 is the final one in the north of France before they decant down to the Alps and Pyrenees where the racing starts in earnest for the favourites, but before that they have to contend with this stage, by far the most difficult and feared for the riders. Why? Well there are more than 20km of narrow cobbled roads to contend with split up into different sections, but mostly in the countryside, or near villages and the village we were in had a cobbled section leading into it. Section fourteen for the record.
After the Caravan we started to walk up the hill out of the village and onto the cobbled section of road and immediately you could see why the riders were apprehensive about this Stage. It was a narrow single track with quite a pronounced crown in the middle with a camber to both sides and to cap it all, the cobbles were uneven, to say the least. This Stage is the nearest to the Channel Ports and we heard more English voices on this stage than any other as people from Kent or even London could come over for the weekend, watch the race and still be back home before midnight.
There was almost two hours to kill before the race and we tried to sit on the banking, but with great difficulty, as it was very steep and had no shade, in heat of almost ninety degrees.
We got talking to one of the aforementioned Londoners who was here to take photographs on the cobbles before hot footing it an hour further on to take more pictures nearer the end of the race. I doubt very much he managed the second part of his plan as the traffic congestion in the vicinity of the tour can be horrendous for half an hour or so after the race passes. Anyway he was pleasant to speak to and the conversation helped pass the time until we could hear the advancing helicopters in the distance.
I set my GoPro camera up on an attachment fixed to a road sign to keep it steady and left The Navigator in charge of it with firm instructions to switch it on in time, keep it level and steady.
I went a little bit further down the hill on the opposite side of the road to film them on my phone going away from me under the arch depicting the end of this cobbled section. This allowed me, for the first time, to pick out the numbers on the back of the rider’s jerseys.
This is the fifth stage we have seen and because of the nature of the road conditions we saw more of the riders this time as they were much slower than on the previous Stages, and more strung out.
There had been many accidents before they reached us, including Chris Froome and the Australian rider, Richie Porte, who fell and broke his collar bone only 8km after the start of the Stage. The French favourite, Romain Bardet had no fewer than four punctures in the race, all down to the uneven cobbled surface.
The race and the support vehicles cleared the narrow village streets and that was it for our involvement with this year’s Tour de France, apart from one final act. Back down in the village there was a sharp left turn and there were two signs tied with wire to a lamp post and I wanted them as a souvenir. I had learned my lesson yesterday and come prepared with something to snip the wires, however there was a problem, well, three to be precise.
As this had been a sharp bend for the cyclists, and a big crowd was there to hopefully see them get round without mishap, there were three gendarmes on duty only a few feet away. I approached what looked to the most senior one, certainly in age if not in rank, and asked in my most fluent French if I could cut them down. In reality I pointed to the signs and said “est-ce possible pour un souvenir?”, whereupon he pointed to his watch and replied “cinq minutes”, and with a “Merci Monsieur” I went back to the signs, being guarded by The Navigator to wait out the five minutes.
It was a long five minutes, or it would have been if I had waited five minutes, but I got bored waiting and was desperate to get back to the van for a cold drink, so after about three minutes the signs came down. Back at the van the ‘lads’ were stowing their bikes away in the garages of their vans and then departed to head south to try and get to the Alps in time for the next Stage on Tuesday.
I rolled the awning out for shade and we sat out trying to re-hydrate. It was incredibly hot and yet there were people walking, jogging, running and cycling on the far bank as well as a few people making use of the canal itself.
We had a lazy afternoon and The Navigator sat out in the sun reading while I tried to tune the TV in to any station showing the World Cup final, without much success.
I had missed the England v Belgium third place play off yesterday as I assumed it would be an eight pm kick off, only to tune in at eight to find out it was all over. Hey Ho as they say! I made sure of the kick off time, 5pm here, and got ready to watch what should be a good game.
The station showing tonight’s game was very pixelated and from time to time the picture would freeze altogether. Another station was better so I tuned in to that to see six pundits chatting away and making predictions, but on the stroke of 5pm, instead of switching over to the game in Moscow, they began to show pictures from the fan parks around the country. They obviously did not have the rights to broadcast the game but were going to show the fans reactions to any goals. It was back to the pixelated station.
I then had the brainwave of tuning into the STV App on my tablet and voila, it worked, well, it did for a bit then it too started to freeze, buffering the pictures before bursting into life again, but at least when it played it was a clear picture, however, I figured out I was now watching the game a good two minutes behind the live action when a loud cheer went up from a house further along the canal-side long before France scored their first goal on my tablet!
The pixeling got worse on the TV and the picture freezing got steadily worse on my tablet and I figured that by the end of the game I was about ten minutes behind as the French were going wild around us celebrating their deserved victory while Glen Hoddle was informing me that Croatia were exerting pressure and coming back into the game!
The nearby village went mad, with every vehicle that had a horn duly blasted it for hours on end, accompanied by the sound of intermittent fireworks going off. Two French vans drew in near us and they shouted and waved flags at every passing car who responded by tooting their horns. Good, but noisy fun.
We had a BBQ and sat out in the late evening warmth watching the blue dragonflies and midges at the waters edge and thankfully these midges were non-biting distant cousins of their fearsome Scottish relatives and we were not bitten once all night.
It was lovely sitting out relaxing on this hectic sporting day, the first time since Wednesday we have not have to pack up after seeing the race and get to the next day’s vantage point. For us the Tour was over, but for the riders it was moving into a new phase with the Alps and Pyrenees coming in to play.
The Tour de France has a worldwide television audience estimated to be in the billions, not every minute of every race you understand, but viewers who have watched part of it at some time over the three weeks. It is unquantifiable really, but the audience is huge, whatever the final figure is.
You would imagine that the final stage in Paris and the presentation of the yellow jersey to Geraint Thomas might have attracted the largest viewing figures, but, did it?
The host French broadcaster, nor ITV4 in the UK would comment on rumours that there was a massive spike in viewing figures when friends, family and followers of this blog tuned in to catch a glimpse of the two of us as we filmed this stage on the outskirts of Paillencourt. OK, it was a brief glimpse measured in nanoseconds, but a glimpse it was, and to prove it here are the screen grabs…
Fame at last…
Click on the following video to see the race pass us on Stage 9…
STAGE 9 – TOP 3
John Degenkolb – Germany – Trek-Segafredo
Greg Van Avermaet – Belgium – BMC Racing Team
Yves Lampaert – Belgium – Quick-Step Floors
OVERALL TOP 3 AFTER STAGE 9
Greg Van Avermaet – Belgium – BMC Racing Team
Geraint Thomas – Great Britain – Team Sky
Philippe Gilbert – Belgium – Quick-Step Floors
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To put this blog post into context here is the route we travelled today…
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