“Mum mum mum! Australia won four gold medals today!”
“Noooo,” said the Mothership, “Australia won one gold medal.”
It was 1984 and Australia had won the 4,000 metres team pursuit at the Los Angeles Olympics.
“But there were four men on the podium! And they each had a medal!” I yelled with as much indignation as a six-year-old could muster.
“Yes,” the Mothership said patiently, “Everyone on the team gets their own medal. But it only counts as one for the tally.”
“But! What? Oh.”
Twenty years later in Scotland, the cycling ignorance continued when Gareth and I first tuned in to the Tour de France. Pelotons, yellow jerseys, sprints, domestiques, breakaways… what the bloody hell was going ON? And how was that guy winning if he didn’t cross the line first?
But after intense Googling and Tour de France for Dummies I was thoroughly addicted. Sport is all about stories, and I reckon the Tour is the most compelling tale – there’s speed, suffering, strategy, scandals, gigantic mountains, spectacular crashes, all-round Frenchyness and blokes in lycra with impossibly skinny arms. And it goes on for three weeks… pure epic!
Every year we’d watch the final stage on the Champs-Élysées from the couch and say idly, “We should go over to Paris and watch it for real!”. Yeah, yeah. It took a few happy tears at Aussie Cadel Evans’ victory last year to finally decide, Righto, no more messing about! I pounced as soon as easyjet released the July 2012 flights.
We totally lucked out with the most unfathomably bonkers brilliant year for the Brits at the Tour, which resulted in the best bloody weekend ever.
On Saturday we took a train to Chartres to see the time trial. I would have been content to merely enjoy the long-forgotten sensation of SUN on my skin, but there was also:
… The caravane publicitaire, the parade of sponsor vehicles that comes through just before the race to make a lot of noise and chuck random free stuff at the crowds…
(More experienced and physically coordinated spectators scored sweeties, hats, bags, wristbands and little cakes but we managed only a bottle of Vittel water. Gareth also got donked on the head by a Carrefour keyring, but the lady behind him caught it on the bounce.)
… stacks of British and Australian fans cheering like mad…
… and of course the time trial itself, with all the dudes I’ve been cheering on the telly for so long! They’re real! To actually hear the sound of their bikes whooshing past was incredible.
Then next day we rocked up to the Champs-Élysées and lucked out with a spot on the turn in front of the Arc de Triomphe, surrounded by British fans.
First up the publicity caravan…
… then finally the peloton arrived! Race time!
I was about ready to spew from excitement. Or maybe it was just all the long hours stood under the baking sun. But it was the Tour of bloody France!
After eight tense laps finally Mark Cavendish crossed the line for yet another stage win. The crowd rejoiced.
After all the podium stuff, one by one the teams came up to the top of Champs-Elysees to pose in front of the Arc de Triomphe. Many of them took their own pictures with their phones. I can only imagine the joy and relief at finishing almost 3,000 kilometres of racing. Party time. Excellent. Unless you’ve got the Olympics in a few days.
Highlight of the day: Wiggo kindly came over to us spectators and was dead smiley as we bellowed our congratulations!
Just to cap it off, on our way back to the little apartment we were walking down a quiet street and Wes Anderson strolled by us, looking dapper in a seersucker suit!
I resisted the urge to say, “I enjoyed Moonrise Kingdom!” and/or, “BEST DAY EVER!”.