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In France to See Lance: Area Couple Watches Tour de France's Alpine Stages

Lance Armstrong, right, passes Italy's Ivan Basso during the 16th stage of the Tour de France on L'Alpe d'Huez. Photo Courtesy of Steve Moore.

America is a sports-crazy society.

Even so, it is hard to believe any sports event in this country in which a million people would line a 10-mile stretch of steep, winding mountain road just to catch a fleeting glance of the competition.

But as Steve Moore of Towanda will attest, that is what happens at the Tour de France.

Last month, Steve and his wife, Carrie traveled to France for a little sightseeing and to experience the Tour de France firsthand.

The Moores are avid sportspeople, having participated in a number of major athletic events themselves.

Carrie was the overall women's winner at last year's inaugural North Branch Triathlon.

So it is no surprise that they might want to witness the world's greatest bicycle race.

"Last year, when the Tour was on, we decided we wanted to go see it," Steve explained with a soft voice from his office chair at his car dealership in Wysox. "But we didn't want to go real hard core."

Explaining that many tours include bike trips of up to 100 miles, Steve said they wanted a more relaxing vacation.

"We'd never been to France so we wanted to go drink some wine, experience the countryside."

The couple hooked up with a tour group in Boston that offered just what they wanted, the opportunity to see rural France and take in at least part of the Tour de France.

They left for France on July 16 and returned on the 24th.

After three days viewing the magnificent French countryside of Provence, the Moores and their tour group—16 people in all—headed for the French Alps where they witnessed three days of competition.

Everyone Should See It Once

They saw the end of one stage in Nimes. On July 21, they witnessed the time trial up the daunting L'Alpe d'Huez. They saw the start of the next stage.

Steve's allegiance was obvious—he was wearing a yellow Lance Armstrong wristband—but he was impressed by the entire experience.

"We got to see how the tour works," he said.

The route for the Tour de France is announced the previous October with the organizers working closely with local provinces and towns.

Steve estimated that 80 percent of the roads used for the Tour are repaved from the time of the announcement until the race.

By race day, the newly paved roads are literally covered by graffiti—fans have painted the names of their favorite riders all over the road.

On race day, the fans begin pouring in along the route as much as three or four hours ahead of time.

Because the route is well-known and some of the longer stages go through some remote areas, the fans can turn the event into an all-day outing.

"The newspapers publish a minute-by-minute guide with the predicted time where the pack will be at any given time," Steve explained.

"So you can take back mountain roads to get in to see different spots along the way. People pack a picnic lunch, take the kids, go out along the countryside, have lunch, see the riders go by, raise their glass to them and continue with their picnic."

A caravan of sponsor floats comes through first, throwing all kinds of souvenirs to the crowds along the route.

"The sponsors throw out hats, key chains, candy, fabric softener, coffee. Just tons of stuff."

After the caravan passes, the team buses come through. Armstrong's team bus—U.S. Postal— drew a mixed reaction of boos and cheers, according to Steve.

After the buses, the team cars that support the riders came through.

"You hear the helicopters, then the team cars come through," Steve said. "Then the riders come. Depending on where they are whether there's been a breakaway or if the pack is all together, it can last 10 to 15 minutes or it can be by in 20 seconds. It doesn't take long for 200 bikes to ride by."

Steve was very impressed with the day at L'Alpe d'Huez.

The course for the time trial is 15.5 kilometers or approximately 10 miles long. However, the route is a vertical climb of over 1,000 meters that includes 21 switchbacks.

This was where a million fans found themselves clinging to the sides of the snaking road, waiting for the bikers to speed through.

The Moores arrived about mid-morning to pick out a good spot.

In a time trial, the riders start out at intervals with the last-place rider going first and the leader going last.

The trial started at 2 p.m. but Armstrong, who is especially strong in the mountains, was the leader and didn't start until nearly 5 p.m.

Ivan Basso, an Italian rider who is also strong in the mountains, started two minutes ahead of Armstrong.

The Moores, who had taken a NASCAR flag with them so folks back home could pick them out of the crowd if they made it on television, were in the right spot at the right time.

Armstrong made up those two minutes on Basso and made the pass right in front of the Moores with nearly three kilometers left in the stage.

Steve was especially amazed by the logistics necessary to hold the Tour.

"It must be incredible. They carry three or four specially built tractor-trailers just for the journalists that they fold out like a three-story high rise at the finish line each day.

"They put up a huge portable blowup outdoor finish line award stage."

Like race car drivers in America, the riders aren't terribly accessible.

According to Steve, you can see them at the awards ceremony and when they are doing their interviews with the press. Occasionally, the riders would step out of the team bus to talk to fans.

Also, like NASCAR drivers, the stars like Armstrong are more likely to stay secluded while the less famous riders are more accessible.

"The day we saw the race end in Nimes, we saw half a dozen riders just riding to their hotels. They still had their race numbers on. The streets were crowded, people were cheering for them, clapping for them."

He was surprised by how small many of the riders were.

"Armstrong is maybe five-eight, 160.

"There was one Norwegian rider who I think was around 220 pounds. But the rest of the guys were very, very small in the 130-pound range."

The Moores were glad they went.

"Everyone should see it once. It's great to see in person. You can't go to another major sporting event and get that close to the action. You don't need a ticket."

Enjoying France

When they weren't watching the Tour de France, the Moores enjoyed their time traveling through the country.

They were discouraged from bringing their own bicycles from home, but they went out three or four times on bikes provided by the tour group, totaling around 100 miles through the beautiful French farmland.

"We did some wine tasting and some olive oil tasting. The area of Provence is all wineries, olive orchards, fields of purple lavender and sunflower fields.

"We finally found a place where it was really summer. It was hot, dry and sunny all the time. It was great.

"They have olive everything. It's like Forrest Gump. They have olive paste, olive butter, olive spread, olive dip, olive soup, olive everything."

In Nimes, a very old city, they saw a coliseum built by the Romans.

"Now they have rock concerts there," Steve said.

He was very impressed with the bullet trains.

"You're going 185 miles an hour. You don't realize how fast you're going. It's just great transportation."

The Moores didn't notice the anti-Americanism that the media claims is rampant in France.

The only incident—and it was a minor one—came at one stop on their tour. It was near 5 p.m. when that day's stage of the Tour de France was about to end.

The tour group went into a bar and asked the girl working there if she would turn on the television so they could see the end of the race.

"She said it's just not possible," Steve said.

After much negotiating, she consented to turn on the television, but didn't turn up the sound. As the race neared its completion, she relented and had the sound up enough that the tourists could enjoy Armstrong's stage win.

"We were all going crazy," Steve described the moment. "She finally cracked a smile.

"That was the only real resistance we got from any of our hosts there. Everyone else was fine."

He was a little surprised that there was so little security during the Tour de France.

While he was waiting for the racers to come through on L'Alpe d'Huez, he spoke with a French policeman, who explained that "it was too small a venue" for terrorists to target.

In an age where everything is checked at major sports events in the U.S., it was surprising to Steve that an event with a million people in a 10-mile stretch in front of worldwide television would be considered too small a venue.

"He took a more laid back attitude toward anything happening," Steve said of the French policeman.

On their last day in France, the Moores spent the day in Paris, doing the usual tourist things—the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, the Arc d'Triumph.

He much preferred his time in the country and expressed the hope that he might get back to the French Alps in the winter.

"I'd like to go back in the wintertime and ski some of the places," he said. "The one place we stayed, the guy said if you took two lifts up, you could ski down for 11 miles. That would be pretty neat."

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