One of the best things about covering the Tour de France is the fans along the roadside. Schools empty out, rental campers line the route, families picnic, each and every little town along the way dresses themselves up.
With a press credential and a media sticker on the rental car, you get to just how important and beautiful the Tour is for France. A good number of my best memories are simply driving the race route, leaving the start towns a half hour before the caravan.
The experience is a little like making several thousand new friends each day as everyone from little kids to grandmothers ways as you drive past. With the windshield-wide media stick on, you become art of the show itself, and you function as the advance guard of the race. It’s one long rolling party clockwise or counterclockwise around France.
People shout, ring cowbells, blow horns, wave flags and after a while it’s impossible not to wave and honk back at everyone. You don’t want to appear to be a tour grump. By the time you reach the finish town or summit you are on a contact Tour high, giddy and feverish with excitment. The wine and cheese also are contributing factors.
I always kept my camera on the front passenger seat and often slowed down or stopped just quick enough to fire off a shot of the most colorful, humorous or flamboyant groups of fans. Driving up the Pyrenees, I saw three families dressed in nothing but caveman furs and holding wooden clubs. I missed that shot because there was a Quick Step car tailgating me and a short but immediate tunnel right after. I still wish I’d pulled over and doubled back.
The phrase is Vive le Tour but for me it’s just as much Vive La France.