The Tour de France arrived in Nice at one of the least opportune moments in the history of competitive cycling. Lance Armstrong had rocked the sporting world by admitting to taking performance enhancing drugs and that bombshell was quickly followed by other famous top performers and past winners making similar confessions. Because of this, I was expecting the arrival in Nice of Le Tour to be something of a low-key affair. Not a bit of it. The arrival of the yellow jersey and all the accompanying trappings proved to be headline news and the city was abuzz for a four-day period.
The race came to Nice from Corsica where it had begun a few days before. With it came a huge cavalcade of sponsors, concession stands and hangers-on. For a two-week period, every souvenir stall added yellow t-shirts to their usual offerings of sea-side tat. The Promenade des Anglais was also taken up with huge marquees for sponsors and media outlets. There games for kids and free give-aways for passers-by. There was a stall with fixed racing bikes that you could try in order to see things from the perspective of Chris Froome and Co. There was nothing of great substance, but it was an interesting enough little area. It all certainly managed to raise interest levels.
There is no doubt that the tour was fantastically exciting and it caused great excitement in the South of France. But, I am not 100% sure the investment of time and energy coupled with the huge inconvenience it caused was totally worth it. Le Tour is not a spectacle you can enjoy in great detail like a football or rugby match. Rather like F1, because of the speeds involved it is only possiible to get a fleeting glimpse of each competitor. I was lucky enough for my office to be just 30m from the course. Therefore, I was able to watch several of the teams fly by in the sprint section of the race. However, I was less than enthused at this as it felt rather like standing on a platform at a small train station and watching an express train whizz past. I think I enjoyed it more for a visual than sporting spectacle. As I saw each rider for such a brief interval it was not really possible to create an emotional link to the competitors. However, the sheer speeds involved were exhilarating and the symmetry of seeing the riders in formation was stunning.
I managed to watch a few teams zip along Rue Buffa before I decided I could tick Le Tour off my list of major sporting events witnessed. It was only as I tried to go for lunch that I realised the upheaval the event had caused. I walked in all four directions - North, East, South and West - but found my route barred. Rather shockingly part of the city had been put on lock-down for a two-hour period. It stuck me as a huge breach of civil liberties as it stopped people moving freely to appointments and to their jobs. The school at which I work had to cancel several classes because the students simply could not puncture the blockade. I imagined that if Francois Hollande had done something similar there would have been outcry. Worst of all it stopped me from getting my lunch!
It was fun to see the Tour in Nice. I enjoyed the spectacle and the buzz it caused. However, I cannot say the sporting element was grand enough to really capture my imagination and the inconvenience caused was truly immense.