26 June 2011

A day at the Dauphiné

What is it like attending a pro race in Europe?

Really fun.

Recently my family attended a day at the Critérium du Dauphiné in France. They had flown to France to visit a few friends in Provence, then drove north to visit another friend at his Beaujolais vineyard. Next they played tourist in the Alsace region. Naturally they spontaneously thought, "isn't the Critérium du Dauphiné right around the mountain?" Why not skip on over.

They sent me an email late one evening from Lake Annecy where they were now staying, "Is the Dauphine close? We are thinking of going tomorrow." Back went the excited email from me with various options. They decided to visit the start village just 1 hour 30 minutes away in Pontcharra, France. After a visit to the local Tabac shop to purchased L'Equipe Newspaper with the race details for the day, they were off on their morning adventure.

Less than three weeks earlier we had been at the Tour of California watching some of the same riders that were now racing in France at the Dauphine. Phil and Paul were there as well! And when my brother and sister-in-law were fortunate enough that morning to chat with Jani Brajkovic, Dave Zabriskie and Matthew Busche (the new Amercian Road Champion), one of the riders commented, "what are you doing here?" - Having fun!

A story in pictures follows of what it is like to attend a day at a pro race in Europe.

road blocks - the first sign that an event is happening in France
mind the road furniture, and sneak in the back way, park and walk toward the action.
This is the biggest bestest tip I have to share as a fan, (but please don't abuse or overuse) - upon arrival look for the signs marked teams (Equipes) and walk to the area, this will be where the team buses will be parked when they arrive for the race. They pile the team buses and support cars into a designated area. This is your best opportunity for photographs of the riders and autographs if the area is not fenced off. If the area is fenced off, many of the riders are still good about visiting the fans to sign autographs or chat with friends. The second best area is the sign-in area, but the prime space is quite limited.

The morning begins quietly. Fans at the start area begin to trickle in as the experienced event staff set-up for the stage start. Next get your bearings, find the start line, and the sign-in stage, watch the staff set-up and get ready for the race to begin. Another fan tip - find your access routes; the easiest way to get from the team buses to the sign-in stage to the start area. I like having the freedom to move around to experience as much as possible at a stage start.

my sister-in-law, she's a pro at being a fan
Gendarmarie (police)
the sign-in stage
Portable (expand up & out) building/trailer/trucks are used for TV crew, press, VIPs, and vendors
no portable toilets though!
a typical scene with Gendarme and officials hanging around pre race

There is always some sort of local entertainment before the stage start, which might be the local French junior racing team or a local cultural presentation.

The next generation of pros
local parade
big happening in town today, fun for the locals
Now that you have checked out the start village, it is time for a break before the riders arrive and the real event begins. Take the time for a morning coffee and a pastry (or a baked good as Ted King calls them).
This is also the time to roam around, learn something new, and meet someone new. Like this very nice local man, who had learned his English as a young boy in the war. He was happy to practice his English again remembering, "GI can I have a cigarrete?", and "Mademoiselle can I have a kiss?"

Next you might have some time to catch up on the race results by reading L'Equipe newspaper from the neighborhood Tabac store where you may learn the time schedule for the day, the route, roster, time splits, who dropped out, and who is in which jersey for the day.
0.95 euros for all the race details

Finally the roar of engines means the team buses have arrived and out pops the some of the most talented cyclists in the world. Riders you recognize from seeing on TV, or online, or in magazines. It takes a moment to recognize some of them, others are instantaneously recognizable and you feel as if you have come to town to visit your cousin Vinny. Only this town happens to be in France. There are moments of hesitation; wait I know him, wait, I forget he doesn't know me. Wait, we are in France, he speaks my language, hey, I can actually speak to him. Wait, I have seen this rider 12 times at races around the world, isn't it common courtesy to simply say Hi?

Is this a bus or a recreational vehicle for HTC-highroad?
The crowd swells and it is finally time to search for your favorites riders among the team buses.
Pro rider sitings, first you might see the bikes appear, then look for the riders stepping out of the buses.
Ivan Basso's bike
Tony Martin
Thomas Voeckler
Christian Knees
Bradley Wiggins
Bradley Wiggins in the 2011 leaders jersey
Mathew Busche
Matthew Busche - new US National Road Champion
watch out DZ is driving the bus
Leonardo Fabio Duque, wearing the white on red polka dot jersey
Pello Bilbao
Vladimir Karpets
Vinokourov had some fans
Geoffroy Lequatre
Sean Yates
Geraint Thomas and (I think) Edvald Boasson Hagen with the fans
Geraint Thomas GBR National Champion
Ivan Basso
They stood by as Ivan Basso was merrily "yucking it up" with the Sky Team staff and riders, apparently he had everyone laughing and was extremely talkative and social that morning in Pontcharra.

We had just seen many of these riders in California, and now in a small town in France, there they were again. The fun is having your photo taken with your favorite rider, or asking for an autograph, or capturing that one great photo. We now have a number of pictures to create a soon to be release Adventures of The Tour Hag - Part II post following in the tradition of the Tour Hag.

Now let's see some racing. The riders sign-in and line-up and off they go on Stage 7 of the 2011 Critérium du Dauphiné
Fans at the Start line
Team Sky to the start line please
Bradley Wiggins to the start line please
Green jersey
and they are off

Stage 7 Results 1 RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, Joaquin (KATUSHA) 3h 24' 30" 2 PINOT, Thibaut (FDJ) + 00' 07" 3 GESINK, Robert (RABOBANK)

You then go on your tourist way, knowing that those riders are out there for hours racing their bikes over some huge mountains. A few hours later you walk into a bar and watch the finish on TV sitting comfortably at a cafe table drinking a beer. What a rewarding and fun-filled day that was. And totally spontaneous!

General Classification after Stage 7 (Final)
1 WIGGINS, Bradley (SKY) 26h 40' 51"
2 EVANS, Cadel (BMC RACING) + 01' 26"
3 VINOKOUROV, Alexandre (ASTANA) + 01' 49"
5 RODRIGUEZ OLIVER, Joaquin (KATUSHA) + 02' 51"
6 KERN, Christophe (EUROPCAR) + 03' 05"
7 PERAUD, Jean-Christophe (AG2R LA MONDIALE) + 03' 30"
8 SIVTSOV, Kanstantsin (HTC-HIGHROAD) + 04' 14"
9 BRAJKOVIC, Janez (RADIOSHACK) + 04' 22"
10 VOECKLER, Thomas (EUROPCAR) + 04' 31

Until next year ..