Paris turned out to be lovely. We thoroughly enjoyed the architecture and history and could have spent much more time there. We visited mostly the touristy parts of the city, mainly on a bike tour that was amazing and relaxing. My favorite part of the tour was visiting the only church that was not affected by the French Revolution and was pretty much in the same condition it had been from its conception! Trés belle! Even the story of M.A. or A.M. in the stain glass windows of the church was incredible . . . okay, so the story goes that Ave Maria is consistent with the Catholic ideology of the church and is often found in most churches, either in carvings or in the glass, BUT in this church there is a difference. The main money supplier of having this church built and financed is the one and only Marie Antoinette . . . M.A. herself. Pretty cool touch, I thought.
Yes, we had officially hit the reset button on our vacation and were having a ball. We had a great Airbnb and even jumped back into the subway again. From Paris we boarded a small plane and hopped over to Lyon to pick up our rental car and scoot over to Brioude to join up with the Tour de France.
The French countryside is an extraordinary place. As we drove to Brioude, we constantly pointed to beautiful places along the way. It did not take us long to make it to our destination. Streets were already closed for the race, and signs detoured us around the backside of the town where we soon found our Airbnb . . . and wouldn’t you know it? Our apartment was basically overlooking the finish line of Stage 9! We met our hosts who were absolutely wonderful people and showed us that country people were country people no matter where you are, pleasant and generous and friendly. The next day the race would come into Brioude, and we would be there!
Up the next morning, our hosts gave us their bicycles to travel to a spot to see the race! I cannot explain how lovely these people are. Slathered up in sunscreen, bottles of water packed, snacks, and a blanket, we headed to a spot. I picked an area in a sharp turn that would cause the riders to slow a bit, and we settled in.
The crowd was electric, and everyone was having a good time. We watched the caravan come through and toss out souvenirs . . . we grabbed a couple of t-shirts and keychains! Before long, the breakaway of the race appeared and zoomed around the corner. In less than three minutes, the peloton was motoring toward us! There they were, all the big names of cycling: Sagan, the Yates brothers, Nibili, Thomas, Bernal, Woods, Oss, Alaphilippe, Bardet, Pinot, Quintana, Valverde, Fulgalsang, Ewan, Matthews, and the rest.
Everyone was cheering and clapping. As the last rider spun through the corner, we made our way back. Our trip to our apartment carried us by the team buses, as riders were coming back from the finish line, completing a climb up the Cote de Saint Just and around to Brioude. A few riders were tossing bottles to kids and signing some autographs. The stage winner and jersey placements were still at the podiums and conducting interviews. My wife snapped a few pictures of me with some of cycling’s legends: Charly Wegelus, Bob Roll and Jens Voigt. Everyone we met was very nice and took time to chat a bit. What a way to start following the Tour! It is still hard for me to believe what would happen the very next day.