Leaving St. Emillion was tough. That place, the town, the whole atmosphere there was really something. We'll get back there someday.
Saturday was going to be another very busy day, and we weren't even riding. We left on the bus around 8am and headed towards Angoulame and the start village for Saturdays stage, the time trial. I was particularly excited about this since I love the time trials, and we had special access to the riders area before the start. The access we had was incredible. We were able to walk right up to all the team buses where the mechanics were setting up the riders bikes, and where the riders were warming up on turbotrainers. I had my picture taken with Thor Hushovd who is the big sprinter in the peloton. He looks quite big when watching the tour on TV, yet he came up to maybe my nose, and his shoulders were narrow. I was really amazed at how small all these guys are. George Hincapie, who they call Big George is tall at maybe 6'2" but is a stick. Levi Leipheimer is maybe 5'5" - maybe! Alberto Contador weighs probably about 125 lbs. Even Rasmussen who is incredibly skinny, yet looks tall on camera, is only about 5'10".
Being a bike tech geek, it was very cool seeing all the TT bikes up close. For all those triathletes out there that think that a slack seat tube angle gives you more power, The majority of the tour riders were set up steep. They have a UCI rule stating that if you drop a plumb line from the tip of the front of the saddle, the line must fall at least 5cm behind the center of the bottom bracket. How these guys get around this so that they can ride steeper is that many of them including probably the whole CSC team cut the nose of there saddles off! I have a picture on my camera that I'll try to post once I find the chord that allows me to download the pictures to my computer (it's MIA). I checked out Tom Boonen's new Specialized Transition. That bike, in my opinion, is very ugly aesthetically. It's a combo of a P3C and a Felt DA w/ a sloping top tube which I'm not a fan of. The new Orbea TT bike that the Euskatel Euskadi team was riding was a work of art however. I was excited to check out the new systemsix TT Cannondale that some of the Liquigas team were riding, and it didn't disappoint.
They had a section set up at the start center for sponsors where many of the tours past were wandering around like Bernard Hinault and Richard Virenque. They were serving coffee, mimosas, croissants and even making omelets.Once a few riders left, we made our way back to the bus to head over to a restaurant situated near the finish of the time trial. On the way to the bus, I ran over to a shed where there was a big yellow sign that read "Tour De France" with an arrow giving directions to the start village that is now hanging on Ryan's bedroom door. Hopefully, not too many got lost trying to find the start village! It would have been very difficult considering the noise and mass of people in site.
The restaurant where we were to view the TT riders coming through was situated in a perfect spot, at the bottom of a small hill with 4K left to go. It was right on the course and they served a nice buffet and also had a large flat screen inside showing the race. We'd watch the riders on TV, and then step outside to see them come flying by - how cool is that? The stage was an exciting one given the closeness of the first three riders in time. The contrasting styles of the riders was interesting. There were many, including Contador, who kept a very high cadence a la Lance. Then there were some like Levi, the stage winner, who were pushing a bigger gear at a lower cadence. It just shows that there is no one perfect technique. Right after the last rider (Contador) came through, we dashed across the street to the train station where we caught the Bullet train up to Paris, a 2.5 hr trip.
We arrived in Paris around 8pm where we hopped on the metro, there subway system, for a short stint to the street our hotel was situated on. As we ascended the metro stairs, the first thing that came into view was the Arch D'Triumph. Being our first time in Paris, this was quite impressive. It was much bigger than I expected, situated in the middle of a rotary. Our Paris hotel viewed the Arch. It was now 9pm and Lisa and I headed out to get some dinner. We ate at a cool open restaurant near the Champs D'Eleysees and were seated in the non smoking section which was indoors but right next to the open outdoor patio. Two feet away from us outdoors sat two women smoking one cigarette after another. We had a nice meal (We have fun deciphering the French menu's and guessing at what we haveordered), then made our way over to the Arch to see if we could take the elevator to the top of it. It was after 10:30pm now though and the elevator was closed. As we stood at the Arch, we could see the Eiffel tower lit up in the distance. It had a series of strobe lights on it that were flashing rapidly at the moment. Now, we have had a long, busy day up to this point and were quite tired but we decided to walk over to the tower. Lisa was excited about going and I said let's do it, we're in Paris. We can sleep anytime, and besides, it was a gorgeous night. The tower was much further than it appeared while standing at the Arch. It took us about 45 minutes to walk there. It gave us a chance to see some more of Paris. It's really a beautiful city. The architecture is amazing and Lisa and I loved the rounded edges of the buildings at the ends of streets and the detail on these old buildings. Everything sits quite low in Paris. There is one section of the city with some skyscrapers, but very few and I'd guess that most buildings don't go over six stories. The city is quite large, area wise.
The Eiffel Tower is a tourist thing to do, but a must do. Lisa and I arrived there sometime around midnight and the elevator and stairs up it were closed, but viewing it from the ground was quite impressive. It was crowded there with tourists and vendors trying to sell you crap. We hung out for a bit and took some pictures than made the walk back to our hotel.
The next morning, we had a quick breakfast and then made our way back down to the Tower. We didn't want to leave Paris without making it to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The Tower opened at 9am and we were there by 8:50am and there was already a long waiting line. The elevator ride up was like an international convention. There were maybe 20 people piled into our elevator and maybe 6 different languages going on. Lisa is scared of heights, so this was going to be interesting. Again, going to the top of the tower is a must do. You get an amazing view of the whole city and they have a map that circumnavigates the observation deck and notifies what you are viewing. We spotted Notre Dame and The Louvre, two other places we wanted to check out before we flew home the next day (Yes, we were hitting all the tourist spots on this first trip to Paris). It was incredibly windy at the top of the tour. In fact, we later learned that they closed down the top deck around 10am because of the wind! Lisa did great though.
In the afternoon, we were to view the final stage of the Tour on the Champs D'Elysees. The riders do eight 5K laps around the champs at the end of the days stage. The Champs is a beautiful, busy cobblestoned street and they had set up guard rails blocking all access to the street. The riders weren't due to come through on their first lap until around 3pm, yet by 10am, there were fans lining the road. By 2pm, the sidewalks were stacked probably 10 people deep from the guardrails. The Custom Getaways group arranged two side by side suites situated in the middle of the Champs, six floors up. This was where we viewed the final stage from. They served hor d'ouerves and champagne and wine and had the race showing on TV's inside the suites. The balconies of the suites hung out over the Champs. We watched as the riders approached on television, then headed out on the balcony to see them race by heading up towards the Arch then making a u turn and coming back down on the first of their eight laps. Again, how cool?! The thrill and exhiliration of being at the final stage of the tour was mixed in with the sadness that this was coming to an end. It's been quite an amazing ride thus far.
When the Tour stage ended, we fought our way through huge crowds trying to get back to the hotel. The amount of people pushing and moving on the sidewalks were scary. My main concern was that Lisa didn't get trampled. We made it back and had a short time to get ready for our last dinner.
Again, it was another beautiful evening, and we all walked down to the Seine river where we boarded a large boat with tables set up for our dinner cruise! We had yet another fantastic meal. Lisa and I sat with John and Erika, two Australians that we really enjoyed getting to know on this trip, and with my boy Eric. As we ate, we floated past the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, a smaller replica of the Statue of Liberty. It was a very memorable dinner.
The boat docked and we said our goodbyes to the staff and most of the new friends we met on this experience. We met some very interesting and fun people who contributed to our incredible experience.
Our flight out on Monday wasn't until 5pm, so our focus that morning was on getting to the Louvre. After breakfast, we took a short metro ride there and waited for it to open. The Louvre is massive and the buildings are incredibly impressive. Again, there were long lines waiting to get in and I would guesstimate that 70% of those waiting were Asian. As soon as everyone enters, they make a b-line for the Mona Lisa. We did as well, but checked out a few other famous sculptures along the way. I like viewing the sculptures, but I'm not a huge fan of the era of art displayed at the Louvre.
Our flight home was uneventful, and we were both looking forward to seeing the kids and sleeping in our own bed. It was the best trip that we have been on though, without a doubt. I will write a final summary soon of my thoughts on the whole thing if anyone still reading isn't bored to death, but again, I'm journaling this trip for my own memory so I don't forget it.