Unschooling Sports and Humanity: Le Tour De France for Our American Girls

26 07 2009

THIS is education, unschooled education. Anywhere, any time. Awesome. Real. Life. You should know, to fully appreciate this, what a Tour de France and huge Lance Armstrong fan this young woman is, and also that she is a star science student aspiring to a medical career. For her, the whole trip she’s been planning for a year, was built around being in Paris today on the Champs-Elysées, to see the finish of this year’s tour and to see Lance Armstrong in person.

Don’t you want to be there for Bastille Day July 14, I suggested when they finally deigned to show me a draft of their itinerary. She was polite and deferential but clearly thought I hadn’t a clue about what was really important in this world. 😉

en route

“Enfin, Le Tour de France”
Posted by kiki under France, Paris

Sometimes things don’t exactly happen how you expect them to. This is what I have been telling myself every time I started to think about the Tour de France. I had no idea what to expect when we exited the Métro this morning on Place de la Concorde. I hadn’t the slightest clue where we were allowed to be, much less where the best spot would be. And, on top of it all, I had attracted an entourage at our hostel in the previous two days, making my excursion group not two but five.

After walking around and literally having to go the long way because the best spots on the Champs were reserved for the VIPs in the grandstands, we finally found what we thought would be a good place, especially considering that there were already people staking out their spot and it was only 7 AM.
Mer and kiki tour de france paris 2009

We collapsed cardboard boxes we found discarded behind a Tour de France memorabilia booth and we waited.

I looked up and down the Champs-Elysées, finally seeing it. Seeing the Vittel advert above the Arrivée. Seeing the red and white barriers put up to divide the Champs into two distinct lanes. Seeing the Jumbotron which would show us the race when it wasn’t RIGHT IN FRONT OF US. Seeing all of these sites which I know so intimately yet from afar. It was like being in a fairy tale and expecting to wake up every moment. I knew all of it so well and yet it never seemed real, having so tangible within my grasp was nothing less than breath-taking.

We played Uno and read and spoke to the people who had gathered behind us while we waited. At about 12 PM they began recapping the previous stages for us on the Jumbotron, and I stood, riveted, as I re-watched Contador attack Arcalis and Verbier, and then awed at the facility of his ascent on the fabled Ventoux.

Then, they showed the départ of the race, and I watched in ecstatic silence as Contador, Hushovdt, Pellizotti, and Andy Schleck started the final leg of this massive race. They exchanged pleasantries and later someone handed Contador a Spanish flag, which he proceeded to ride with on his back.

[Oooh, ooh, JJ — or Dr. J as I am to Kiki — saw this LIVE by the magic of television, the same moment the girls were seeing it! What a thrill of technology!]

I pointed and smiled until my face hurt. It was a dream come true.

Then at about 3 PM, the Caravane rolled through. For those of you who are not as intimately familiar with the Tour de France as I am, I will quickly explain how the stage, particularly the last day in Paris works. The publicity Caravane will leave the departure city two hours before the race, allowing them to arrive into Paris with more or less the same time gap. The Caravane is basically a big parade for the sponsors; the cars are all done up and veer along the road as they go, honking their horns and waving like royalty.

But if you wave at them, they wave back and blow you kisses.

The Caravane kept us busy for about and hour and a half. Leaving only thirty minutes until the race came screaming down the Champs, through the finish line across from us to begin the first of their eight circuits of the Champs-Elysées. Any time the wind blew hard, people would start saying that they heard the helicopter signaling that the arrival of the Tour was imminent, but then, in the distance I DID hear, and I saw the helicopter, and my eyes shot to the Jumbotron to catch the riders headed into Place de la Concorde.

My heart started beating like mad, and my smile grew even larger, and I was overflowing with a joy unlike any other I have ever experienced. And I saw it. And the tears overflowed from my brimming lids and I embraced them.

Even through my joyful tears I caught sight of the maillot jaune [JJ’s note: this must mean yellow jersey?] as he flew by on the opposite side of the Champs, and I saw Lance. His black helmet and custom-paint bike let him stand out a bit. I was dumbstruck, happy that the race had gone out of my sight because I was incapable of moving, or thinking or anything other than standing there and crying like a crazed cycling fan who has just seen a peloton packed with every cyclist she has ever wanted to see pass by her. Well, quite.

Each time the pack passed I yelled, ‘ALLEZ ALLEZ ALLEZ’ (GO GO GO). It never lost its incredulity. I was taken aback each time by its sheer beauty and the poetry it conveyed to me. I was even excited when Mark Cavendish won the stage, and we stayed to watch the presentation of the awards on the yellow and black podium which was set up literally RIGHT IN FRONT OF US.

Ok, So we were behind it, but we could still see what was going on up there, and most everyone turned around to acknowledge us.

Today was nothing like I thought it would be. Parts of it were not as good, and parts of it were infinitely better.

Though we couldn’t get the exactly perfect spot I wanted, we still got a great one. And even though I didn’t run into any cyclists (a long shot, I know) I still got to be closer to my idols than I’ve ever been before.

And, most importantly for me, is that I got to witness a part of Lance’s international cancer awareness drive, and I got to look around and see all of the people wearing LiveStrong memorabilia, and to watch the commercial in which Lance says that he came back to raise awareness for cancer and not for his critics, and I got to feel like I was truly a part of something bigger than me.

All of this on La Plus Belle Avenue du Monde.




3 responses

26 07 2009
Mrs. C

WOW!! ALLEZ, Kiki and FavD!!

27 07 2009
Patti McILroy

C’est formidable!
Comment merveilleux !
C’est juste magnicent et tellement heureux vous appréciez PARIS !
Un merveilleux continuent vacance !
Joyeux anniversaire à Evan trop !
Bonnes vacances!
Les McIlroys
John, Patti et Katie
PS. Terrible French but what a marvellous story!

27 07 2009
Patti McILroy

C’est simplement magnifique et tellement heureux que vous appréciez PARIS !
(This is better!)
Love your description of Le Tour De France!

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