Dimanche, Juillet 1, 2012
Bonjour tout le monde.
My schoolgirl French gets a workout as nous arrivons en la belle France.
I soon discover that if I start every encounter with “parlez vous Anglaise?” then most French residents will reply “un petit peu” and they’ll attempt as much English as possible. I attempt as much French as possible and we meet somewhere in the middle. It seems true that the French respond better if you at least try to speak their language, and I respect that.
Graham is in a world and a whirl of jibberish, however, and favours charades, which works to a point. It makes me appreciate how much French I have retained from all those years ago at school. Merci, Madame Glasson. I’m sure if we were here for a few weeks I’d be speaking like a native.
Lille, the main city in this northern border region, is a transport hub and not particularly attractive. For the first time on our trip we see someone begging and get the feeling that we don’t want to be out on the streets too late.
We’re staying in what appears to be a residential suburb, Villeneuve d’Ascq, in a pretty two-storey bnb. Our room is on the top floor, of course.
We work out we can catch a tram to Lille and then a train to Tournai, where Le Tour is arriving tomorrow afternoon. Public transport again! This is a fun holiday indeed!
We arrive in the world heritage-listed Tournai (massive grey church in cobbled central market) in plenty of time to snag a roadside Le Tour berth. We settle on our spot just before the 500m mark, as the road takes a slight turn. We have no idea how crowded it might get but any closer to the finish line is already a crush.
And it’s still four hours before the Caravan is due to arrive. Another hour or so after that until the racing cyclists will appear.
We keep ourselves occupied wondering how Phil Leggett would be describing Tournai in the SBS coverage and keeping our eyes peeled for a Gabriel Gate sighting. And wondering about this Caravan thing that precedes the cyclists.
Caravan hardly describes it; it’s a non-stop grabfest of goodies as Le Tour sponsors drive past in decorated floats handing out (throwing out) giveaways.
In between there are groups of amateur cyclists on tour, school groups that are part of the parade and a water truck that drives up and down with pretty girls showering the crowd with giant spray guns.
Then come the team cars, the media cars, the technical support cars, police on motorbikes. It’s an absolute carnival, of movement, of sound, of colour.
You can sense the arrival of the leading riders. A wave of excitement ripples through the crowd. Then you hear them, then they rush past and then they’re gone. I don’t remember much except the blur of jerseys and the sound of the peloton. Certainly couldn’t pick out any individuals. But what a day.
The next morning we’re off for more Le Tour action, this time to watch the start in Orchies. This is the time, we discover, to see the riders up close while they’re presented to the crowd and do their media interviews.
We give Cadel a cheer and marvel at the lean, muscular builds of the cyclists. Such impressive athletes and still in the early stages of the race. I would love to see them again this close towards the end of the tour. There’s Frank Schleck. It’s easy to pick him out. Wish Andy was here.
We have only just realised how close we are to the Flanders fields WWI battlegrounds. Big red poppies are growing wild and in gardens. Surely Fromelles must be somewhere close by. And it is. So we pay our respects at the new war cemetery. It is very moving. Incredible to think 5000 young Australian and British – mostly Australian – soldiers died here in one battle. There are 180 individual graves for those bodies recently discovered in the archaeological dig, including two brothers, Eric and Sam, 30 and 20, and now resting in peace side by side. So sad.