Day off: VIP-ing it up at the Tour de France
As words go, ‘cool’ is undervalued. Sure, it doesn’t hold the descriptive qualities of other eloquent adjectives but sometimes it’s all you need to say.
Today was a cool day.
It was excitement from the get go. And not the kind we were expecting, if I’m honest. It turns out we were pointed to the diesel pump instead of petrol for the stove the other day. Needless to say, the stove going up in a huge puff of black soot and smoke the first time we lit it to cook our breakfast was a bit concerning. We made the most of a shitty situation though and piled a load of sugar into our lukewarm porridge. It really just masked the taste of the smoke more than actually enhancing the flavour. Ah, we were bound to get one or two bad meals. It’s just a pity it was the first breakfast we cooked.
Leaving for Livarot on empty bikes was, well, it was pretty damn good. You can’t fully appreciate the amount of weight that you’re carrying on a touring bike until you take it all off. I nearly punched myself in the face lifting the bike up.
We made short work of the ten kilometres to Livarot. So much so, that we were a half hour early for the VIP village. Even at this early hour though, the town was thronged. There were as many bicycles as there were people. Traipsing through all those people until the village opened was the last thing we wanted to do so we stayed at the entrance. We were like two excited school girls waiting with our bikes by the gate. It was some of the finest people watching we’ve ever done.
My favourite pastime of being a nosey crowd watcher was interrupted when the gates opened. There were no bikes allowed inside the village. Ironic, really. Fortunately, our charm was on top form today and we managed to blag a spot to lock our bikes up inside the barrier.
The whole experience was so surreal. We felt a little bit out of place in our ‘Rake of Cakes’ cycling jerseys amongst the sea of collared shirts and designer dresses. Not that we really gave a shit. We were there for two things, free food and the chance to see professional cyclists. As there were no cyclists to be found, there was only one thing else to do - gorge on all the free local produce.
As the chino-clad elite nibbled the local cheese, enquiring as to whether it came from a free range farm using organic approved staff, I stuffed my face with every morsel within reach. Nutella waffles, cronuts, pizza sandwiches, cider, cheese, chorizo, bread. There was even cheese soup. I was in heaven. Ruth on the other hand had to watch as I made a pig of myself. The downfall of being coeliac I’m afraid – no freebies. She did have cider though, lots of cider. So it wasn’t all bad.
My feasting was interrupted when the television helicopters began to land just outside the barrier walls. The whole spectacle was all a bit James Bond. I had no idea that helicopters were so elegant. Watching them follow an invisible curved road in the sky was almost beautiful enough to make me stop shoving more pizza into my mouth. Almost. Alas I was eventually summoned away from the food when we were spotted by the guys who gave us the free passes and ushered onto a spoof winner’s podium for a photo opportunity.
The pro-cyclists didn’t turn up until just before the race started. It seemed like they were there just to show face for the sponsors’ benefit and to collect some merchandise. It was funny to see riders flying in and pulling skids in the grass. It made them seem more ordinary and not just the abnormally fit freaks of nature they appear to be. They didn’t hang around for very long though. Once they had their sponsorship duties done, they were off again.
It wasn’t possible for us to see the start of the race due to the crowd. It didn’t really bother us though. There was always another chance we could to see the start of a stage but when were we ever going to get to go to the VIP village again. As the crowd dispersed, we made the most it and hoovered up the last of the freebies. Once the majority people had left the village we shuffled our way through the hordes of spectators and out of the town. The old bicycle air horn on the handlebars came in handy. I felt like Moses parting the sea every time I squeezed it and frightened the life out of everyone in front of me.
With nothing else on the cards for the day, we sauntered into Vimoutier to collect some maps for the next few days of cycling. It was so nice to just relax for the evening under the large tree in the town square reading our books. It was just how I imagined we’d spend our evenings.
ar an rothar
endurance cyclist, adventurer and usually hungry