It was the penultimate day of the Tour de France, the time trial in Marseille. I awoke early and wandered down to the marina near the centre of town. At the waterside, they already had barriers set up along the course. There were people already milling about, so I wandered along the route searching for the ideal place to watch the race from.
Firstly though, I needed some breakfast. I stopped at a café and bought a chicken and avocado bagel, followed by a small container of apple crumble. I then spied the perfect spot. The race rode around the edge of the marina and back again, before turning up the only climb of the day. I found a small flat topped bollard next to the barriers, where I could sit all day and watch the cyclists ride along the marina, before coming back around and heading up the hill. I would therefore see each rider twice, doubling the enjoyment of watching the race live.
There were other people who came by and went on throughout the race, but I stayed at the same bollard for largely the whole day. The first excitement came by in the form of the second stage of La Course, the women’s bike race run by the same organisers as the Tour de France. Instead of a regular time trial, the organisers had opted for a novelty event, whereby the top 20 riders from the summit of the Col d’Izoard would depart with the same time gaps that they had finished at the top of the climb. This gave a huge advantage to the winner of the previous stage, Annemiek van Vleuten, the Dutch rider on the Australian team Orica-Scott, who started nearly a minute up on the next rider. The second rider on the road joined forces with the third, but even combined they couldn’t chase Annemiek down, who went on to win the stage and the overall. While amusing as a novelty, in my opinion women’s cycling needs to be treated as an equal to the men’s races, not an added novelty.
For the fourth time, I watched the tour caravan roll by, handing out more and more freebies. I got even more than I had had on the previous mountain stages, so much that I didn’t know what to do with it all. At the same time, some of the professionals were out on course warming up and learning the course. Most of them just rode by once, but World Time Trial Champion Tony Martin would go by a couple of times to get the line around each corner perfect. A short pause followed, and then the riders began to come by racing full speed.
In professional cycling time trials, riders leave in the reverse order of the overall standing at one minute intervals. So the lowest ranked rider leaves first, and the race leader is the last on course. Towards the end of the race, the riders instead leave on two minute intervals to prevent any of the race favourites from catching each other. Early in the race, it is not uncommon for fast riders to catch slower ones, in which case, the slower rider should pull to the side and let the faster one past, and is not allowed to benefit from the faster rider’s slipstream.
From where I was, there were things happening almost all the time. To my left, I could see the riders coming along the straight road on the edge of the marina, preceded by a gendarmerie motorbike flashing their blue lights. I would see which rider came by, making a note of who they were and keeping a mental register of who was coming back. After a given rider had gone by once, it took about four and a half minutes for them to return. Both outwards and backwards, I could get a sense of where each rider was because they would loop around the marina and I could see the team bikes on the team cars going by. Then they would come and turn the corner in front of me and I could see them go up the hill slowly. Overall, I could follow each of the riders for about a minute and a half each.
I was in contact with Nana and then mum, who was watching the race late at night back in Australia. She was able to update me with who was starting, who was breaking the best times at the time checks and finish, and who was exciting that was coming by me in the near future. She says that she saw me on the television once through the night.
The main excitement of the race was towards the end, when the race favourites were coming through. French favourite Romain Bardet was the second last rider, followed by overall leader Chris Froome. I was counting the seconds between each of the riders, to get an idea of who was gaining time one who. Most of them were separated by the same time as their starting order, give or take a few seconds. But Chris Froome was blitzing the field. Bardet had hardly gone past when I could already see Chris Froome coming up behind. He wouldn’t win the stage, but he would win the race overall. As he was catching up to the local favourite by so much, he got a bit of an unfair negative reception from the local crowd.
The race having concluded, I wandered further up the road to see what else there was around. I eventually found a public beach, so I got changed into the bathers I had brought with me, and went and bathed in the warm Mediterranean Sea. The beach was very crowded; it had been a rather warm day, so I sat out in the water and watched all of the locals frolicking about. There were people sitting in the sun, people playing around in the water, people playing volleyball on the sands, people walking their dogs, kids playing around in the shallows. I enjoyed the cool water for nearly an hour, taking in everything that there was to see.
The day almost over, I headed back into town and found a restaurant for dinner on the edge of the marina, watching all of the workmen trying to take down the barricades and return the city to normal. I then retired up to my hotel room for my final night in the south of France.