My friend John and his family are obsessed with the Tour. For years, he’s been talking about following the race in person. This year, he and some of his family finally made it to France, rented a car, and made it happen. I went this weekend to tag along for a few days.
The cool thing about following the Tour de France* with John and co. is their absolute passion for the race. They know almost all the bikers and teams. They know all the logistics of the race. When I say follow the Tour de France, I don’t mean watch the race whoosh by and then go home. Follow means map out your route for the whole day so we can catch the bikers at as many possible points. And follow means taking the food drop very, very seriously.
The food drop occurs every day somewhere around the halfway point. The racers get fair warning when they bike through this, minus the dorky American standing in the middle.
They will then start looking for their team cars so they can pick up a bag full of water, energy bars, gels, and vials of mystery sporty fluids. Here are all the cars lined up, ready to hand the bikers their lunch.
The racers grab their bags and start rummaging for the good stuff. They jam what they want in their pockets, then toss the rest by the side of the road.
Here is where the serious Tour de France followers come in. These are the people who want the throwaways. Those bags and water bottles are prime souvenirs. Especially ones from major teams, such as Astana (Lance’s team). If you want to get your hands on any of this stuff, you have to move fast and be aggressive. You have to choose your spot and crowd anyone out who tries to get into your space. You have to take your eyes off the race and keep them on the ground.
John and co. coached me on important tactics, and soon I was ready for the food drop. We staked out our spot and waited. When the bikers came by, I was ready.
I saw a water bottle drop about 10 feet away from me in front of a group of people. It was right at their feet, but I decided it was mine. I instantly ran for it and intended to soccer kick it away. Instead I, as John described it, second base slid into it. Maybe I fell only inches from the bike race going on. Maybe I ripped some chunks of skin off my foot, thus limped around for the rest of the day. Maybe it was a bit too much aggressiveness for a water bottle. But hey, I got it. Actually I got two, after I dangerously dashed across the street for another.
After we regrouped, we had two bags, three water bottles, and lots of icky looking sportsy food between the four of us. I went home with all the sportsy food to help me out with marathon training. And one hard-earned official team water bottle to remember my few days following the Tour de France!
* I would just like to mention that 95% of the French people I told about this trip scoffed, yes scoffed at the idea of following the Tour de France. “Have fun” they said with a giant eye roll and a tone of voice that meant ‘you certainly can not have fun doing that.' I don’t get how none of them could not get excited about the biggest most awesomenest bike race in the entire world taking place on their own home soil. Maybe I don’t talk to the right French people.