When I first went to see the final stage of the Tour de France in 2010 it was to witness the end of an eventful Tour. Team Sky brought with them more hype than baskets, only to find their solitary one contained scrambled eggs by the final stage; Alberto Contador took the Yellow Jersey on Stage 15 after controversially attacking Andy Schleck when his chain had dropped, eventually standing on the top step of the podium; and, albeit a few months after the Tour, the Spanish meat industry was sold down the river by Contador who insisted that contaminated food was the reason for him testing positive for Clenbuterol. As it was, any beef that Schleck may have had with Contador fell by the wayside as he was later awarded the overall title in February 2012.
Mark Cavendish won on the day and, although I didn’t see him cross the line, from my position at the end of the Rue de Rivoli, I could make out the excited tones of the commentator shouting out his name over the tannoy. Fast forward to 2018, it was this same spot I was planning to watch this year’s race from because, as the random Canadian couple said in 2010, I would spend years watching the race from all around the course, only to realise I had found the perfect place in year one. As it turned out, this was almost right, having coughed up the cash for a VIP seat on the Champs Elysee in 2011, my one other visit in 2014 saw me gravitate back here.
Transport options become a little bit disrupted on race day. Stations you may have relied upon on the days leading up to the event, may now be closed; roads barricaded and pavements turned over to grandstands. So, best thing to do is get a local hotel so you can walk. Also, you want to get to you chosen vantage point as early as possible to avoid watching the back of somebody’s head all day. That said, now the final stage starts much later and goes in to the evening, there is still the possibility of waking up slowly and catching a civilised spot of breakfast before slowly meandering to your ‘seat’ for the race.
The Tour is preceded by two things: The Caravan of strange vehicles advertising everything from oranges to oral hygiene; and helicopters signalling the peloton’s imminent arrival. Elsewhere the Caravan is the source of pointless souvenirs distributed at random to a waiting and hungry crowd. It is perhaps understandable why they don’t do this on the streets of Paris as it would probably be the cause of riots the city has never seen before, just for a free piece of salami and a cap with Skoda written on it. Still, the hour long procession of advertising floats, police vehicles, VIP containing people who think they are know to us, team coaches, course cars, you name it.
The buzz really starts with the distant humming of the helicopters. You know at this point the leaders have finished their champagne procession through the Parisian suburbs and the sprinters team are gearing up for the eight laps up and down the Champs Elysee and around the Tuileries. The crowds cheering, banging on the advertising hoardings, only really being updated on the breakaways each time they come past. The drama at the opposite side of the course, a distant memory by the time they reach us.
For us, we watched until the penultimate lap, grabbed a beer and started wondering towards the Champs Elysee, passing the ridiculous Ford GT40 of Team Sky, and getting out on to the circuit to glimpse the podium presentation of the third Briton since 2012 and first ever Welshman to win the Tour de France. After that, it was irrelevant as to who won the race on the day.