The cyclists riding through Paris along the rue de Rivoli.
Maps courtesy of www.letour.fr.
The French are not known for their patience. They have a casual, challenging attitude towards lines, they push onto the Métro while passengers are struggling to exit, they squeeze into impossibly small spaces at the market to place their orders first. So, each year on a Sunday in late July, it is surprising to see the crowds of people collected along the streets of central Paris, prepared to wait hours for the arrival & finish of the Tour de France.
Fourteen years ago this coming weekend, my family made up a small part of that waiting mob. My mother and I somehow convinced my dad that watching the Tour de France come through the city would be a great way to spend several hours of our limited time in Paris. So, after an early picnic lunch in the Tuileries, we made our way toward the Place de la Concorde and an empty spot along a stone wall on the rue de Rivoli. Where we waited. And waited. And kept waiting. Finally, just after 4:30pm and following a caravan of Fiats advertising everything from Bonduelle canned vegetables to Compaq computers, the riders came flying past.
What makes the wait seem so crazy is how fast the cyclists go by – around 30mph (48kph). It’s over in 30 seconds at most, as my mom so pointedly noted in the journal we kept during the trip. However, we were pleasantly surprised to hear our neighbors along the stone wall say something about “huit fois” (eight times). So, we decided to sit and wait some more, and were rewarded with 7 victory laps. We were able to pick out a young American we’d heard about – Lance Armstrong. We could also find Spaniard Miguel Indurain, wearing the leader’s maillot jaune and about to win his record breaking 5th consecutive Tour.
This coming Sunday, July 26, the 96th Tour de France will come through Paris once again. The cyclists will leave from Montereau-Fault-Yonne and ride 164 km (102 m) before crossing the finish line on Paris’ famed Champs Elysées. It will be the last of 21 stages, for a total distance of 3500 km (2175 m) ridden over 23 days. The race will enter Paris from the East, going along the Quai François Mittérrand to the Quai des Grands Augustins & Quai de Conti, and then across the Seine to the Place de la Concorde before ascending the Champs Elysées to the finish. The riders will, as they did when we watched in 1995, do 8 laps before the Tour comes to a close. As of Stage 17, current leader Alberto Contador of Spain is expected to hold on for the title this Sunday.
It is a long day of waiting, and is definitely not for everyone. But to see the Tour de France cyclists reach the finish is memorable. A few tips for those who do decide to give it a try.
- Pick a spot and stick with it. Make friends with your neighbors! The Champs-Elysées is where you will find the most action, and is where they crown the victor; that said, we had a great view from where we stood along the rue de Rivoli and got to see all 8 victory laps.
- To get to the race route, you can take the Métro to any of the following stops: Concorde (Line 1, 8, 12); Champs-Elysées–Clemenceau (Line 1, 13); Franklin D. Roosevelt (Line 1, 9); George V (Line 1).
- Scout out a place where you know you will have access to a restroom! It was the case when we went that you could use the facilities at the Orangerie without having to pay entrance.
- Bring provisions & something to drink. I don’t recall there being many vendors around. We were fortunate enough to have brought fruit to munch on, a refreshing snack.
- If you like, take a walk past the winner’s embassy in the evening. They are often celebrating well into the night. Bars will also be quite lively.
For us it was, as cliché as it sounds, well worth the wait.
View toward the Place de la Concorde from our perch on a wall along the rue de Rivoli
A few links with relevant information…
Link to HiP’s Paris apartments, many of which are located near the Tour de France route through Paris: http://haveninparis.com/apartments/paris/.