The Fan Zone

Look no further than the sport of cycling and events such as the Tour de France for true sporting fan dedication. Where else in the world of sports are fans taking their places up to a week before the action?

Often in extreme conditions on a mountain top, in the blazing sun, in the cold, wind and rain, to catch a glimpse of the action. But you won’t find cycling fans leaving before the end. This is not football. Besides, all the roads are closed for hours, so you can’t leave even if you want to.

Strategy

On average, Tour de France fans spend six and a half hours at the roadside.
So not only will you need a strategy to get to where you want to be, but you will also need a strategy for what you will do while you wait for the Tour to arrive.
For French cycling fans, the strategy almost always involves food and wine. You might have to walk for kilometres in intense heat up the side of a mountain, but that's no reason not to have lunch.
You may have to wedge yourself into the smallest of vantage points. Cling to the steppest of inclines, but that's still no reason not to have lunch.

In Position

Pain, discomfort, and pleasure are yours to enjoy. A midday sun to fry your eyeballs, a view to die for. It's an experience, a happening, a festival, a ritual.
Some kind of almost forgotten ancient voice is calling you to the mountain.

You may have gotten wet, cold, thirsty, dehydrated, or burnt by the sun.
Your feet will ache, your legs will ache, muscles you didn't even know you had will ache. The strange thing is, after everything is all said and done, it will seem like it's all been worth it.

No pain, no gain.

Stealthy Cloaked

You might start with a picnic blanket, an umbrella and a few bottles of wine, but if you’re serious about being a cycling fan, you’ll need more than that, a lot more than that.
What starts as a fun day out quickly turns into a hobby, a calling, and finally, a lifestyle. Tour de France fans are professionals, full-time, dedicated, and have the gear to prove it.

Motorhome numbers increase significantly the closer to a Tour de France stage high point. As if drawn by some strange power. Small groups of them seem to appear out of nowhere, from every direction, moving into position at the mountain tops, stealthy like invaders from outer space.

Noticed, but not registering consciously, as if cloaked in some way.

Home to the Cycling Gods

Suddenly there are people everywhere, on every rock and vantage point lining the route as far as the eye can see. There are cafes and restaurants, drink vendors, and souvenir sellers with teeshirts, bottles and more who just wern't there yesterday, who seemed to have appeared out of thin air.

Eventually, the cavalcade of sponsors arrives on the scene with its almost unique combination of the crass and the very funny. To be greeted with overwhelming enthusiasm.

Glue Anyone?

For a long time, I didn’t understand how the French, especially, could get so excited about a truck made to look like a tyre or someone dressed as a packet of chips. Or glue sticks?

But there I go again, thinking glue is for sticking things together, others obviously have different uses - but it really didn’t look like that kind of crowd. The Vittel water float sprayed everyone with high-pressure water hoses regardless of whether you wanted it. It was welcome in the heat, the free bottles were a godsend, and nobody seemed to mind.

Waiting Game

There are approximately 50 minutes to an hour between the passing of the sponsor's cavalcade and the arrival of the race. It's a long time passing.

Emotionally we are a mixture of mounting excitement, anticipation, and just get this over with.

We have been up on this mountainsde for days waiting for our two minutes of live action. We are desperate to see something, anything.

We know someone has attacked but we are not sure who would be crazy enough to take on the mountain this far out from the finish.

Any mobile signal is weak at best so we have no time gap, no rider identification, which adds to the tension.

Marginal Gains

Suddenly way down the climb, a dot appears, just behind the motorcycles, moving like a steam train. The crowd erupts. The waiting is over. The circus that is the Tour de France has arrived, complete with its ever-circling helicopters, motorcycle outriders, press corps, and team cars.

It seemed like no time at all.

We know the rider out in front attacked earlier on the lower slopes, and we also know that it will take a monumental effort to keep the chasing pack at bay over the top of the pass.

The helicopters are now low overhead, swooping down across the bends of the mountain road. The rider is holding his own and climbing this mountain like it isn't there. The crowd roar, you roar, everyone roars him upwards. His ride is your ride. His success is your success. We recognise his commitment, his belief, and raise it.
We understand what we need to do.
He is now riding a wave of fan-induced euphoria that will give him wings, take him over the top of this mountain and down the other side to victory.

We are the marginal gain. We are the 1%.

Outside is Free

Today is a good day. Today is a day that counts.

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