A friend of mine is a keen soccer fan . Every Saturday afternoon he heads off down the pub with a few more of his mates to watch United . A couple of times per year he sets off on a major foreign expedition to the faraway destination of Old Trafford in Manchester to stand 50 yards from his heros as the match takes place . He once got close enough to get Wayne Rooneys autograph by waiting for over an hour after the game had finished outside the dressing rooms . The tickets for the 90 minute match usually cost in the region of €75 and sometimes more .
Whilst a cycling fan and a soccer fan may have much in common there are some substantial differences . Last Sunday I went to the prologue of Paris Nice and spent from 10.30 am to 5.30 pm enjoying all the FREE entertainment that surrounds a bike race . A prologue or any Time Trial can be a great way to get the most out of a race visit , especially if you are interested in the technical side of the equipment used by pro teams today . This was how my day went ;
9.30 am – Picked up a hire car in Paris , turned on the Garmin Sat Nav and headed off for Monfort-L’Amaury . Arrived about an hour later just behind the Katusha bus .
10.30 am – Parked up 2 mins from start ramp but headed over to where the team busses were beginning to get set up .
11.30 am – First few riders start to appear . A few of the early satrters came on the team busses but most arrived in the team cars , usually about 2 hours before their start time .
12.00 PM – Just as I am admiring the Red and White Specialized SWORKS Transition TT bikes that Astana are riding , along come two UCI inspectors and the controversial ‘Shiv’ TT bike is removed from inside the team bus . 15 minutes of measuring and remeasuring ensues with every dimension being examined . The mechanic makes a few very minor adjustments and Heads begin to nod . The hoped for words ‘Oui, C’est bon ‘ are uttered by the inspectors and there are smiles all round .
12.30 PM – More and more riders begin to appear . Oscar Pereiro who is technically a Tour de France winner after Floyd Landis was disqualified is very friendly towards the fans and even does an impromptu interview with a school kid for his class project . He also signs my worldwidecycles jersey for me and admires the colours .
1.00 pm – Time for a spot of lunch so I head over to a stall to get some Frites avec Mayo and some baguette . There are sausages too , but they dont look like Dennys’ or Galtees’ so I decide stay clear .
1.30 pm – As I stroll back down along through the team bus area which has now become very busy with both teams and fans alike , who do I meet walking up against me but Sean Kelly and David Harmon . We stop for a bit of a chat and Sean introduces me to David who is a very friendly and amiable kind of guy . He too has the lean look of a bike rider and they both have the appearance of two guys who enjoy their job and are glad to be back amongst the pro racing fraternity , commentating again for Eurosport as the season kicks off fully .
2.00 pm – Some of the riders are now warming up on the turbo trainers underneath the huge awnings of their team busses and are really giving it everything to be well warmed up for the short 8k effort ahead .
2.30 pm – I head down to the start ramp just in time to see Danielo Nepolitano of Katusha who had missed his start time , squeeze by Stephane Auge of Cofidis who was just about to begin his 10 second countdown .
I then headed off up to see the climb which began on a cobbled section just around the corner from the start line . The riders were really flying at this point but all were in search of some smooth piece of concrete at the side of the road .
Some of the corners were pretty hairy especially at the speed these guys were travelling at .
For the next 2k the climb went on and kicked up in two places so that riders were really fighting to stay on top of the gear as they neared the top .
Although Lars Boom did look strong .
3.00 pm Dan Martin comes flying up the hill followed just 60 seconds later by his cousin Nicholas Roche . I spoke to Dan earlier and he was in good spirits looking forward to the race and even signed my worldwidecycles jersey for me . Yet another down to earth cycling pro who makes time for fans and supporters alike . Speaking of Fans and Supporters , there were more than a few riders supporters clubs there on the day . Some even had hired their very own supporter busses which were every bit as big as the team busses , but with just seats .
3.30 pm Headed on a bit further to where the course intersects with the finish line . A good place to watch the riders on the way out and then see them again after they cross the finish line .
4.00 pm Most of the big names are out on the course or are getting ready to so I move over to the finish area and get to see up close and personal just how hard some have pushed themselves .
4.30 pm Alberto Contador crosses the line in the midst of an Armstrongesque raising of the noise level by the crowd . He truly is a huge superstar and knows immediately that he has not won the stage so just keeps on going towards the team car as a wave of crowd surge follows on behind .
5.00 pm Lars Boom has won the stage and also takes the Yellow,Green,Polka dot and white jerseys . He is the only man to grace the podium .
Bernard Hinault is tempted to make off with a Lion but decides not to in the end .
5.30 pm Back in the hire car and rejoin the motorway to Paris within 10 minutes .
Top class cycling races have never been so accessable . With the availability of cheap flights and car hire any cycling fan has a huge range of options to choose from . Paris Nice gets the ball rolling , then come all the spring Classics , many of which start and finish within an hours drive of an airport and offer the opportunity to see them on a number of occasions by zig zagging the countryside . Then there’s the likes of the Dauphine and the Giro . The Tour de France is always popular , especially the mountain stages . The Tour of Spain follows on which can be more accessable and then there are the Autumn Classics and finally The World Championships to close out the season . And let us not forget our very own Tour of Ireland on our doorsteps .
The sights , sounds and atmosphere of each race are truly unique , but continental fans are so passionate about the sport that it is impossible not to become infected with their enthusiasm . Why not pop over to truly have an experience of a lifetime for any cycling fan !