Tour de France: A view from the roadside

On race day the route of the Tour de France is blocked off and impassable without a number on your back or a suitable sticker in or on the windscreen.

Lacking either but wanting to see the race at least once during stage eight, I looked at the map and noted the tiny D635, which joined the stage route shortly after the top of the Col de la Croix St-Robert and, picking a route across the northern edge of the Massif Central, duly found it.

At the far end, the road was full of parked cars for the last mile; travelling by moto, I rode straight to the cross roads and parked up with a couple of other bikes, dismounted and joined the throng.

Lined three-deep? Er, no. Here, we were in the middle of nowhere and, given that today was the start of the ‘Grand Depart’, the French national holiday getaway, the number of spectators, who were lining the road a mere one deep – and not always that – was proof of the enduring appeal of the race.

The usual quiet murmuring of the crowd gave way to gentle applause at the passing of each race vehicle until, with the distant sound of helicopters heralding the imminent arrival of the riders, the airĀ  became more expectant.

And, as ever, the race passed in a frenzy of blaring horns, hissing tyres, muttered oaths from riders and spectators alike and the roar of the chopper overhead.

Even before the arrival of the last man on the road and the voiture balai, the crowd began to dissipate and, within 15 minutes, the crossroads was almost as deserted as it is on any other day of the year.

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