Sunday was the last stage of the Tour de France and, well, since we’re in France, we figured we should watch. The fun part about watching in Paris is that the cyclists ride eight laps around the same circuit, so if you blink and miss them the first time around you still have seven more chances. I joked about that logic beforehand, but it turned out to be prescient because somehow – I don’t know how! – I managed to miss seeing Yellow Jersey (Geraint Thomas of Britain) on the first lap. I expected him to be closer to the front, but no, he was riding calmly in the middle of the pack —or at least he was on Lap Two, when I finally saw him buzz past.
Before we set out, I tried to figure out the best spot to watch. Lots of people recommended the Tuileries, either Seine-side or Louvre-side, since they’d be less crowded than the Arc de Triomphe. On the Seine side, the riders pass right in front of you, inches from your toes. On the Louvre side, you’re watching from across one traffic lane, but you’re elevated so you have a great view. We ended up on the Louvre side, mostly because we didn’t feel like walking farther to get past the road closures and to a point where we could cross to the Seine.
Surprisingly, our spot – which was fantastic, right in the middle of one of the longest straightaways of the course so we could watch the peloton approaching – never got crowded. There was a solid row of people, but the crowd was never more than one or two deep. From what I had read, I expected it to be like the parade on Bastille Day, when we had to stand with our elbows out to maintain a little breathing room. Other areas nearby looked a little more crowded, but nothing like what I expected, so I have no idea what’s “normal.” Did we just get lucky? Was it too hot for most people? Did no one care about the race this year? Who knows.
Anyway, anticipating the crowds that never emerged, we showed up about 2.5 hours before the race, which meant we were there to see the entire pre-race parade of corporate sponsors, team buses, and support staff.
And then the race started! On Lap One, the cyclists stuck pretty close together. By Lap Two, a small pack (not including Yellow Jersey) had pulled ahead. On Laps Three through Six, that pack continued to pull away, to the point that I thought for sure Yellow Jersey wouldn’t catch them. But then, lo and behold, on Lap Seven Yellow Jersey had nearly closed the gap. By the time the final lap came around, they were in a full-out sprint for the finish.
Pro tip: try to stand next to someone live-streaming the race on their phone. Then you get to watch the riders racing around the Arc de Triomphe and across the finish line, so you get all the high-stakes drama without the crowds. 🙂
Here are a few of my favorite photos from the day: