Day 11 – Champs-Élysées

Arriving in Paris late at night on the train from Grenoble, we took a taxi to our hotel.  Next morning we were up early because today was the Rabobank day… the prize day.

BreakfastBreakfast

First we joined some other Rabobank guests for croissants and coffee at the hotel. 

There were two other Kiwi couples there, including one couple who had won a similar prize. 

The prize winnersThe prize winnersChamps-ÉlyséesChamps-ÉlyséesChamps-Élysées finishing lineChamps-Élysées finishing line

Then we walked to the Champs-Élysées, which was now closed to traffic and spectators while the course preparations were completed.  Very strange to see the streets with no traffic!

CocktailsCocktailsLedoyenLedoyen

Rabobank had reserved the entire Pavilion Ledoyen restaurant for their 250 guests.  First were Champaign and cocktails, followed by speeches from some Rabobank senior executives, some retired Dutch cyclists, TV personalities and the Teams Directeur Sportif. 

Directeur SportifDirecteur Sportif

Actually it was very interesting to hear the reasons why Rabobank sponsor cycling, and although the Directeur Sportif was apologetic about the teams performance, they can actually be very proud, with one stage win and a second place on a hilltop finish for Bauke Mollema.  Luckily with a diverse audience (including one Aussie), English was the language for the proceedings.

Fantastic foodFantastic foodDesert!Desert!

Then the lunch… did I mention that Ledoyen is a 3 Michelin star restaurant.  Wow! Four courses.  Saying it was Lobster, raw marinated fish, veal and cheesecake does insufficient credit to an amazing meal. The dessert was the highlight for me… I think the best dessert I’ve ever eaten!

After lunch we were shown to our seats in the grandstands, which were about 80m from the finishing line. 

GrandstandGrandstand

We watched the riders on the big TV screen approaching and soon they entered the Champs-Élysées for the first of (I think) 7 laps.

BMC arrive firstBMC arrive first

BMC took honours riding at the front for the first lap.

Yellow JerseyYellow Jersey

Then the racing began with a breakaway and a chase.

Cav - too early for a sprintCav - too early for a sprint

Then the final sprint for the prestige of winning the final stage, and of course Mark Cavendish carried the green jersey over the line in first place.

What a way to watch it happen!  In the stands, with the sprinters in full flight right in front of us!  Some of the Rabobank riders families were in the stands with us so several came straight over for hugs and a chat.

Then we returned to the restaurant for wine and cheese, and after some time the entire team emerged, Champaign in hand…

GesinkGesink Laurens Ten DamLaurens Ten Dam    Champaign timeChampaign time

The teamThe team

Gessink makes a nice speechGessink makes a nice speech

Robert Gesink made a nice speech and talked about the crashes in the first week that ruined his chances of a podium finish.

Louis Leon SanchezLouis Leon SanchezRobert GesinkRobert Gesink

Bauke MollemaBauke MollemaBauke MollemaBauke Mollema

And finally we were invited to mingle with the riders.  They were all so unassuming!  No prima donnas, just nice people who are very good at what the do.  Chatting with them about the tour was easy and an experience I won’t ever forget.

What else can you say…  It was an exceptional day that Rabobank gave us and it neatly capped off 2 weeks of holiday in France intertwined with le Tour.

The highlights for me were standing on the slopes of Alp d’huez and meeting the Rabobank team (and the cheesecake).

The Tour itself was much better than I imagined it to be.  It was short bursts of intense excitement and the rest of the time…hey you are on holiday in France!!  I definitely recommend it as a way to make a holiday in Europe more interesting, especially for keen followers of cycling.

Finally Thanks to Rabodirect in NZ whose sponsorship of cycling in NZ is both highly valued by BikeNZ and also provided a fantastic prize for my family.   Thank You!