One of the hundred beauties of the Tour de France is that it’s an adventure and that means you never know what’s up ahead on the road.
That sense of the unexpected around the next corner is true for the bike racers and it’s true for anyone driving the race route of Le Grand Shindig.
Each day the road serves up all manner of displays, Tour art works and fans of every kind and costume. However, I never expected the see a whole group of French cheerleaders. I didn’t even know that that this fabulous invention in France — the French being far too cool for that kind of blatant rah-rah.
Yet there they were like some mirage or calling yellow and red vision on the left side of the road. And having a large orange banner on the windshield top that reads Presse Tour de France, all fans wave at you with excitment because you’re the advance guard of the big show.
I felt a little like Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner must have felt at his Playboy club. I stopped the car, rolled down the window and watched them crowd around. I took a few photos, said merci and kept moving. There is so much to see at the Tour de France and there’s little time to linger.
Whenever I see that cheerleader photo, I can’t help but fantasize that I should have taken at least six of the darling French cheerleaders in the car and adopted them. We could have opened a small chocolate shop or perhaps a lingerie boutique — Monsieur Twisted et Filles — and I could have lived happily ever after.
It’s a passing revery and being a functioning 55 year old adult I quickly put that kind of Nabokov in its place. Tant pis pour moi.
But the point is that the Tour de France is a pageant, a beautiful rolling circus parade of funs and the show unfolds with each kilometer traveled down the road. It is one of the best experiences of covering the Tour and one that most media folks miss because they take the hors course freeways and race to the finish to watch the race on a flat screen in the press room.
That’s not to discount that approach and it’s almost mandatory if your job is to report the news of the race each day for immediate upload to the internet. Their routine is start town quotes, race to finish, watch race for last 2-3 hours, finish line quotes, press conference, write stories, head to hotel and hopefully, if it’s not too late, a good dinner.
However, if you have the luxury of writing for a magazine, then you have more freedom to drive the race route and discover the tour up close. It’s a sport and an event that is played out on the roads of France and that is the best place to connect with that experience.
I hope to find another gaggle of French cheerleaders on my drive across France. I must speak to them of my plans with have begun to take shape with feverish intensity. I’m thinking of opening a chocolate shop or perhaps a lingerie boutique.
Vive La France, vive les cheerleaders!