IT’S LATE JULY and the Champs Elysées, la plus belle avenue du monde, has only just recovered from staging La Fête Nationale and now La Grande Boucle is in town – the climax of the Tour de France 2013.
2013 marks the 100th edition of the Tour de France and the last stage in the Champs Elysées on Sunday was very special.
This 100th edition of Le Tour began in Corsica on 29th June. This was the Tour’s first ever visit to Corsica and 198 riders representing 22 teams set off from Porto-Vecchio to complete the first three stages on the island. For the next three weeks, from 29th June to 21st July, le Tour criss-crossed France covering some 3,404 kilometres (2,115 miles). It visited 37 French departments and crossed 537 French municipalities.
The 21 stages of this year’s Tour included eight flat stages, three hilly stages, seven mountain stages (with four summit finishes), two individual time trial stages and one team time trial stage.
Le Tour was followed by some 2,000 journalists and was broadcast to 190 countries on 50 radio stations and 100 TV channels, 60 of them broadcasting live to 3.5 billion viewers worldwide. The estimate is that some 12 million people watched the Tour from the roadside along the route.
Each year the final stage of the Tour de France ends in the Champs Elysées in Paris and I’ve watched every one of these finishes since 1999 – but this year’s final stage was a little different.
Instead of racing the final stage during the afternoon of the final day as is usual, this year, to mark the 100th edition of le Tour, the final stage began in the early evening at the magnificent Palace of Versailles. It then wound its way through the Parisian suburbs to arrive at the Champs Elysées as dusk was falling and, of course, I was there to watch and to record the events.
I arrived in the Champs Elysées at the same time as the publicity caravan, the 12 kilometre procession comprising 180 sponsor’s vehicles manned by 600 people advertising 37 brands. This caravan processes along the route of every stage of the Tour and by the end of it they will have handed out some 14.5 million gifts to the watching public. It took the caravan about 35 minutes to negotiate the Champs Elysées and it was all very colourful and very loud.
After 35 minutes of lively show time the wait for the main show of the day began. Some people had bagged their ideal viewing spot by the side of the road early, very early in some cases.
Others had positioned themselves with a good view of one of the many big screen televisions that line the street so as to get the best view of the action.
For me, it was all about getting into the right position to record the best sound even if I had to sacrifice the best view to do it.
In another change to the final stage this year, the riders rode 10 times around the Champs Elysées instead of the usual 8 times and that included riding around the Arc de Triomphe, something they don’t usually do.
I decided to position myself at the top of the Champs Elysées close to the Arc de Triomphe behind a conclave of Brits, all enthusiastic Chris Froome supporters. This proved to be fortuitous.
We had been promised something spectacular for this final stage of the 100th edition of the Tour de France but I hadn’t expected the dramatic sight and sound of La Patrouille de France flying overhead trailing red, white and blue smoke as the riders began their first lap of the Champs Elysées. Neither had I expected the spectacular light show that bathed the Arc de Triomphe during the Ceremonie Protocolaire at the end of the race. It was simply breathtaking and I was well positioned to see both.
Le Tour de France 2013 in Les Champs Elysées:
Whether you are interested in cycling or not, or whether you speak French or not, I hope that these sounds will enable you to share in the atmosphere, the excitement and the emotion of the end of the 100th edition of Le Tour de France.
Chris Froome has had a spectacular season this year. Having finished in second place in the 2012 tour he won the Tour of Oman, the Critérium International, the Tour de Romandie and the Critérium du Dauphiné this year and now the 100th edition of the Tour de France. A brilliant performance from him and from Team Sky. One to remember.