It took me a while to find the energy to write this article. Not because I didn’t want to, but I use that word “energy” for a reason: I’ve been a bit busy at the Tour de France for the last three weeks.
I wanted to write, I swear, but the best ideas came to me every time I was on the massage table and once back in my room, I forgot everything because “oh hell, it’s already 10pm, I have to go to dinner.”
The Tour de France is three weeks of the year where you live in a bubble. You forget about everything else. Not because you’re a bad person, you simply don’t have time to do something else. It’s so hard, both on and off the bike, that you cannot think of anything else (well, me at least).
But this too is a bubble destined, fortunately, to burst: today is Saturday, I’m in my hotel room after finishing the penultimate stage TT and tomorrow, everything will change.
Yes, because if during the last three weeks things are repeated with a stable routine – wake up, eat a lot, one/two hours bus transfer, pedal hard*, make the time cut**, recovery, one/two hours bus transfer, massage, eat a lot, sleep – the last day of the Tour de France has a completely different trend.
For example, in the morning, instead of the classic bus transfer, everyone flies, all together, to Paris. Everybody is happy and smiling. We have gone through 20 stages hating each other, everyone has a black list that includes anything from five to 140 names. But that 21st and final stage, no: you smile at everyone, even those at the top of the list. (Okay, that’s not totally true, one or two don’t get that treatment).
Then you arrive on the Champs Elysées, with a tidal wave of people waiting for you, the nerves surge inside and you stop smiling. For those like me whose goal is to win – or rather, help your leader to win – you get serious pretty quickly on the last day.
What happens at the finish, well, that’s really special (or at least different). It’s a melting pot: imagine putting together the joy and the fatigue of finishing the most important race in the world, rejoining your family (if they came to see you), the terrible takeaway pizzas waiting for you on the team bus – but after all that pasta, omelette and porridge, god yes! Some people have particularly suffered the “diet” of the race and just want a McDonald’s.
Personally? I want a whole meal based on cheese and wine! And I want to dive into a frozen pool after 21 days without even a drop of rain. It feels like the end of the school, everyone heading off on vacation.
Beers, kisses, hugs: it’s a mess, but a beautiful mess. It’s a bit like diving back into reality and you realise how much you missed it.
I do not want to compare this last day on Tour to a return home from war but… to hear some of the talk at the dinner table the days leading up to the Paris stage is like seeing those movies where soldiers discuss what they will do when they return home.
On these occasions, the sentimental situation of each racer is revealed: you can clearly see who is married, maybe with children, and who is single. Can you guess which one will go to bed early and which one will be chasing podium girls?
There are also some borderline situations: in 2016, I had my bachelor party in Paris, the very evening of the Champs-Elysées finale. Two gruelling stages on the same day!
If you come by in Paris, I can already tell you that I will not be able to shake your hand: I will have Pino’s pizza in my right hand, a beer in the left one, my daughter on my shoulders and a big tired smile on my face.
*At the moment, even if the beginning of the Tour didn’t go like we wanted at Groupama-FDJ, it turned out pretty good in the end with a victory [for Arnaud Démare]. Will we have another one on the Champs? Cheer for us!
**If in the last few years it was hard to make the time cut, well, this year was extremely hard. Definitely one of the hardest Grand Tours ever I did – and that’s why i was too tired to do a blog until now…