When the Tour de France route is announced, as well as keenly looking to see which mountain passes are going to be included, I also like to see what the last stage will be. This year the route into the Champs Elysées was from Créteil, in Eastern Paris and I went along there with Higg.
It was pretty easy to see the different cycle racers and in fact spectators had just as much chance of seeing their cycling heroes as those with media passes. Whether you were in the private area or on the other side of the fence you had just as much of a scrum to see the stars if you had not made a special arrangement to meet the riders. There was also the dilemma as to which team bus to crowd around.
It was easy to spend a couple of hours watching the pre-race activity. As this was the last day of the tour most of the riders were quite relaxed and there was a last day of school atmosphere. Riders were amenable and happy to greet fans, even if it was just to say a quick hello or pose for a photo.
There was a very friendly atmosphere among spectators, and even when it got a little crowded when taking photos people were happy to take their photo and politely stand back to let others have a turn to take a few snaps.
Next stop was Maisons Alfort. We had to walk between there and Charenton during our tube journey back into Paris, so we stopped at the side of the road where by now the crowds had thickened, and we waited for the peloton to come by. We waited, and waited and waited. The race had started at 2.30pm and they were due to hit Maisons Alfort at 3.10pm according to the schedule sheet. But there was no sign of the riders at all. The peloton eventually came through at around 3.50pm, riding along slower than me on a bad day!
The real action would begin when they reached Paris proper. It was great that the riders travelled along so slowly as this lent itself to taking half decent pictures - at least for Higg, that was. My photos still came out blurred!
I was really enjoying the atmosphere in the July sunshine and it was really uplifting everytime the pack of riders steamed along at a phenomenal pace all to the cheers and claps of the crowds, as well as to the excitement of the commentators.
Suddenly we realised we were cutting it fine to get our train back to London. Sadly, we had to abruptly leave behind all this excitement to hotfoot it through Place Vendôme and pick up the Métro to Gare du Nord. So it wasn't until I reached London and turned on the TV that I was able to see Mark Cavendish clinch victory on the Champs Elysées! How ironic!
Not seeing the heartstopping finish of the race was a bit of an anticlimax, but it had still been a really fun day out. I would definitely recommend going to the departure town for the last stage of the Tour de France. Some departure towns are easier to reach than others. This year was an extremely good vintage in that regard and I am glad to have been there for almost all of the Tour de France proceedings of the day!
The final stage of the 2012 Tour will start from Rambouillet, a western suburb of Paris. When I lived in France's capital city I remember Rambouillet being this deep in the forest, out in the styx place. Who needed to go all the way over there when we had Versailles?! I therefore don't really know the area, but what I do know is that it will be in a leafy suburb that has a big forest and a castle; I will need to catch a suburban train rather than the Métro; and I should book a late Eurostar when returning to London!
bottom 3 photos by Higg