It must be strange that after living so closely with eight other riders, and a nucleated support staff for the three weeks, the riders will leave this environment and return to some semblance of reality, whatever that may actually entail for a professional rider. I see happy faces, a Cofidis rider beams at me proudly on a backstreet as he rides to his hotel. I spy Mick Rogers, as he congratulates several riders ahead of the processional laps. He looks across and I offer him my broadest smile, as if telepathically thanking him and the peloton for their feats that fed my passion as a cycling fan this summer. I don’t doubt I just looked like a grinning loon, but my respect for these gents is fortified every time I see their suffering in real and tangible sphere. They are but humans, with emotions, pain, a willingness to push their own boundaries of suffering.
A day before in Chartres, I find myself mingling with fans as Alexandr Vinokourov rolls through. A loud cheer erupts in recognition for what will certainly be his last tour. A chequered past foreshadows him, sure, but the respect shown from the fans is palpable and deafening. Every story needs hero’s and villains, and the tour is a theatre not exempt from this.
I see faces that display the realisation dawning on them of their endeavours. I see pride, relief and I sense determination. I think I see faces that are already thinking to the next goal. The next hit of this circus.
The finish line is always such a melancholy place for me, tinged with sadness that its over for the next year. Sure enough, there’s the Vuelta, and a slurry of late season races (Lombardia in particular is a fave) but it just seems like nothing can quite capture the magic of pro cycling like the Tour can. I remember 5 years ago being laughed out of the office for asking to watch the tour at my workplace, this year I walked in to pretty much every flatscreen dialled onto the live coverage daily. Oh how times change! Here’s to the 100th Tour de France in 2013… I know I will be ensconced in your bubble yet again