09:00 on the Champs-Éelysée. The City of Paris is just waking after a hot summer Saturday night. I opted to stroll the 30 minutes from my hotel to the venue of the most famous ending to any bike race in the world. Along the way I saw the usual combination of summer sights. A few stragglers making their way home from what would appear to be a pretty good Saturday night. Dog walkers taking pooch a pied. Park runners covered in sweat. There is a dude meditating alone on the grass. And various other people like me searching for a non-French coffee and a bite to eat, to set me up for a monster day ahead.
I make my way on to the hallowed cobblestones of 'the Champs'. These are not exactly the massive horrible jaggedy pavé slabs of the Paris-Roubaix. Much more ornate and ordered, but still, I don't think I'd fancy them after 3 weeks and 3,000KM. And as many of you know very well, the long and immaculately straight road is far from flat, the run-in to the finish line heads steadily uphill in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe. Okay, Mont Blanc ot the Col de la Colombiére it is not, but it definitely ain't flat. As I step into the middle of the road I see a little bunch of riders heading towards me. As they get closer my honed UCI Pro-Tour team kit identification skills kick immediately into action. It's BMC I correctly deduce. And sat in the middle of this little gaggle of sponsors and VIPs is old bumchin himself - Cadel Evans.
Even at this early hour the place is buzzing. Seemingly hundreds of Chinese tourists, not necessarily cycling tourists, are congregating in front of the Arc de Triomphe - much to the annoyance of the Gendarmerie - who quickly flood the area with bodies and usher all tourists quickly and efficiently away. It's amazing how quickly the general public can move when a copper casual pats the sidearm on his belt with the palm of his hand. This road is now officially closed.
I nonchalantly take out my Official ASO media pass and wave it Dirty Henri - but he's not having any of it. I take the hint and do one back down the gentle slope in the direction of the finish line. On my way I encounter the technicians installing the intermediate sprint paraphernalia and the guys who are installing all the hundreds upon hundreds of metres of barrier branding at the side of the route. This, I know from bitter experience, is one bitch of a job. But I'm not sure Škoda paid millions for these brain-donars to put their logos behind a bus stop ...
Still, the atmosphere is building and the accents are predominantly English language - Brits, Americans and Aussies are dotted around everywhere. If anything the locals are perhaps conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps they are blasé, having seen it all before. Maybe they've skipped town to avoid the influx of clueless tourists clogging up their streets. Or maybe they are just totally streetwise and appreciate that despite the fact there are people sat in chairs claiming their spot by the barriers already, the race will not arrive on these streets for another 9 (yes NINE) whole earth hours.
I've taken refuge in a café to get this uploaded. Re-fuelled and ready to explore a bit more I'm heading back out there to see what I can find. Will try and upload a few more photos before the big boys arrive. A bientôt mon amis.
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