Yay! My first tour de France. Two of our loveliest friends, Jonquil and Franck, live in the village of Ratanelle just outside Tournus and today the Tour de France was passing their front door. We were invited over to share in the excitement - what could be more French? We got there early as we'd been told that the roads would be closed and Franck had very kindly provided us with a circuitous route that would bring us into the village via farm tracks and hidden turnings thus avoiding having to park miles away.
Although we'd arrived some 4 hours before the cyclists were due to leave Tournus (some half an hour away if you pedal at the speed of light), the main drag of Ratanelle was already peppered with representative inhabitants, well wishers and the local gendarmes. I asked one of these young police folk, in my best French, what time the proceedings were due to start. He replied, in equally splendid English, '58'. Well, that told us.
The warm up acts were quite something. Sponsors, with imaginative and often bizarre, floats drove along distributing promotional material in such a way as to leave the casualty wards of Southern Burgundian hospital casualty units busy for weeks. Key rings were tossed death star like into the crowds. Haribo sweets were hurled at babies in prams. Mark, having been too slow to dodge a rolled up local newspaper that caught him just above his heart, sprung into action to ensure he wasn't knocked from his perch on a safety barrier as a second paper careered toward him.
Once our adrenalin levels had been pumped up to near explosive levels, the TV cameras and overhead security helicopters heralded the arrival of the stars of the day. Five cyclists had already broken away from the rest of the pack and came hurtling through the village. We were amazed at the whoosh of cool air their passing produced. I was also surprised at the casual way in which they seemed to be chatting and sharing a joke with each other along the way. mark assured me that the killer, competitive edge only kicked in for the final 100 metres or so.
Soon all that remained to remind us that the Tour de france had just passed was a handfull of dust whipped up in breeze. The street emptied and ratanelle returned once more to the sleepy village that it is. Mark climbed down from his barrier and we moved inside to watch the replay of what we'd witnessed live on the telly. Thankfully, as Jonquils Mum had been sporting a dashing cerise parasol and her Dad a pirates outfit (?), we were able to recognise our party from the blur that was the crowd.
We wound our way home cross-country, and stopped to admire the view. For no reason other than I love this photo, I thought you may enjoy seeing that, as well as vineyards and Charollais cattle, we also have fields of glorious sun flowers here. Happy days indeed.