The Tour de France was quite a spectacle. A kind of strange, cycling-entertainment interlude in our week off the bikes to wait for Haydn’s arm to feel better.
The bright hot high street of Chatillion-sur-Seine came alive with people who seemed hungry for free amusement.
Young people who seemed to have taken a large dose of cocaine were strapped onto strange vehicles that had been made into huge three-dimensional advertising campaigns. The vans looked like they were straight out of a cartoon.
A leg of ham car, a giant size box of McCain’s chips gliding down the road, a chicken van, a car that was just an enormous tyre, Vittel water bottle cars. They all drove past and threw tiny, customised plastic bits of tat to the eager crowd. The crowd was colourful. It looked like everyone had made an effort for today. It was a day people had waited for. I picked up a little key-ring from the balcony of the hotel where I was watching from. One of the enthusiastic distributors had managed to get one up here with a dramatic arm gesture. It had a small, puffy plastic logo of an estate agents on it. Why did anyone want this stuff? Grown men and women were grabbing, squabbling over the freebies on the streets. Children clawing at each other. Mothers clutching large shopping bags in which they would stash their hoardings. What would people do with it all when they got home? I couldn’t get my head around it. . I could see Haydn down on the street photographing the crowd. Wanting to record this bizarre event in pictures.
A meat advertising van drove past and a woman in fully branded outfit and cap threw miniature wrapped pepperonis to the crowd. They screamed and cheered wildly. Wow. I really didn’t expect it to be like this. Some of the vans drove really fast and the distributors didn’t look enthused at all unloading their tat in handfuls to the crowd, looking board while their bodies swayed with the movement of the vehicle around the curve of the round about. A sea of hands reaching up to the sky, to the distributors, pleading for something to be thrown their way. It was all very surreal.
Then the advertising vans became less and less frequent in their parade down the street. Everyone grew quiet and began to get out sandwiches and snacks. They knew the routine. They had enough time for lunch now before the leading group of cyclists would be in sight. I sipped my drink and watched the crowds. In twenty minutes the first whoops and shouts were heard. People flooded back onto the balcony of the hotel and the crowds in the street below were jumping and buzzing again. I could feel myself getting excited now too. It was infectious. The first three cyclist rounded the curve of the high street and the crowds flanking the road went wild. Children, old men and women, teenagers and parents all shouting encouragement and jumping up and down with excitement. The three cyclists were pumping up and down over their slick bicycles. Stood up on their pedals – meaty thighs glistening – faces serious. Male athletes with coloured lycra bodies. They seemed oblivious to the screaming crowds. Just powering forwards and cycling on. They passed by in seconds, within a steady head movement left to right. The crowd still cheering when they’d passed. We all waited for the peloton to arrive. Waited. Another strange clam descended in between three storms of excitement. A single child screamed, probably overwhelmed by the tension and madness of the strange event. Then it came – the big group was visible sweeping up the road. Lots of bodies tightly packed, moving like a herd of gracefully linked animals. Moving as one. The crowed bellowed louder. They swept past and then fanned out into two sections to loop the roundabout at the top of the road.
And just like that, they were gone. It was over. Everyone packed up their things and left. The high street was empty again, with just a few scattered freebies on the pavement to show for what had been.
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