Thursday, July 8, 2010

In Epernay for the beginning of Stage 5

We set the alarm for 6 am and had just enough time to eat a light picnic breakfast before walking to the train station for our 7:30 am train ride to Epernay this morning. We had plenty of seats when we left but as the train stopped at each small town along the way they were soon standing in the aisles. The bike racks on the train were full.

Walked into town and found that the start of the race was only a few blocks from the train station...we’re living right today! Walked around to the booths, took up close photos of the stage and all sorts of venue tents that are used for the selling of most anything you can think of. We didn’t see many “RadioShack” shirts, etc; but later learned that most of the jersey’s sell for about 40 Euros and if you ask about the RadioShack jersey they pull them out from the supply cabinet and they cost about 150 Euros. So glad that Jim brought his yellow Tour de France shirt from 2004 so we’re not tempted to buy another one.

We did spring for the yellow “livestrong” bracelets that they sell for $1.00/1 euro as they are also raising funds for cancer research. From there we looked at our watches and saw that we had another two plus hours before the Caravan starts their day so we went back to a bench we found near the railings and took possession of it. It also had a public toilet nearby that made it very popular. The crowds began to grow and soon we were joined by a couple from Brisbane, Australia. She was given a gift of a trip to Italy for her 40th birthday…her relatives came from Italy….and they decided to extend it for another month and see the Tour de France…yes…her husband is a bike rider and his bike “sleeps” in their bedroom much like Jim’s did when he was in his 40’s. We had a fun time exchanging stories with them before they headed elsewhere.

The vendors were beginning to pass out things…coffee…lots of hats, etc. I decided to chase after one group for a hat and they wouldn’t stop and in the process I got clipped in the heel by a large barrel they were pushing. I happened to have a Band-Aid in my wallet but the bleeding wouldn’t stop. Soon the ladies came back and I pursued them again and was successful in obtaining a tall yellow foam hat. Crazy looking but made a great seat later in the day. I finally went over to the first aid station. They were very excited to see me as they were very bored! I had to give them all my personal information and then they cleaned the cut and put a new Band-Aid on for me. Back to Jim and new white sailor hats. We also received a package of soap and the plastic blowup tubes that you bang together for the riders.

Soon we were joined by another Aussie couple who have been coming to Europe for 30 years but have never been to the USA. We stood on the bench together to watch the caravan. They also picnic for meals after shopping in the grocery store and also have camping equipment and actually camp part of the time. They have a son who lives in Brussels so they are able to leave their gear with him when they go home to Australia. We got lots of good photos and then crossed over to the other side so that we’d be able to get to the train station immediately after the bicycles left in another hour.

The race does a loop in town before heading out along the Boulevard of Champagne into the countryside southwest of here. We found a marble step into a bar/restaurant that was a perfect seat. They had blocked the doorway with a chair and a television for their patrons. We got out the poncho and then put my scarf on one side and the yellow hat on the other for softer seats. Ate our snack that we’d brought with us and before we knew it the bicycle riders were cruising down in front of us on their way out of town.

It was about 1 pm by the time we walked back to the train station and our train for Reims left at 1:30….a nice easy way to see the beginning of a stage on the Tour de France. Our afternoon will be on the Internet and watching the race on television in the comfort of our warm but nice room. Yes…I plan to walk to the Cathedral tonight for evening photos…and tomorrow we pick up a car at 2 pm and head west towards Colmar for some days away from the race.

We saw Lance leaving town but well after the Peleton….later learned that he (and several others) had been fined for not signing in before yesterday’s race??? He must have been busy paying his fine….but must admit he was easy to spot since he was alone….but I wasn’t prepared and didn’t get a snapshot for you!

When we arrived back at the hotel we found an email from our son-in-law, one of four that went to Rome last week; telling us the story about how he and our daughter walked the streets of Paris from 11 pm to 5 am, pulling their luggage, for one last Paris experience before catching the plane home. No way could I have done that. They left early in the morning from Sorrento, Italy by train to Rome where they flew to Paris finally arriving at 11 pm for their plane that left the next morning. Rather than sleep the night away they revisited the left bank, walked down the Champs-Elysees; and ate an early morning breakfast before catching the RER to the Charles de Gaulle Airport. What a story he told.

I do hope that you’re watching the race today; lots of beautiful sunflowers as they head south. We call them “our girls” when we travel. We will also be seeing them in a few days along with the lavender that we so enjoy in the summer months of traveling in France. We saw field after field of vineyards this morning from the train; many people out in the field checking the vines and grapes. Soon it will be harvest time but we’ll miss that this trip as we head home early in August.

The race today ended in a sprint with Mark Cavendish of the American Team HTC Columbia taking first place. The yellow jersey has again been retained by Fabian Cancellara and Lance remained two and a half minutes behind in 18th place overall.

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