Action packed day. We packed up and left Ile D'Oleron first thing in the morning and headed north up the coast to La Rochelle (to which Jacqui is pretty sure she has ancestral links!). Along the way past through miles and miles of sunflowers in full bloom. Also saw storks nesting on the side spans of power pylons – they are very big birds and make huge nests.
In La Rochelle the local information office rents out bikes with the first 2 hours free of charge, so we grabbed a couple of bikes and had a quick sprint around the port area, stopping along the way for food and drinks.
Then it was off to hunt down a good spot to watch the Tour de France cyclists whizz past on the first day of the race. We stumbled upon a small village with a couple of tight corners which turned out to be ideal. So we grabbed a spot on the curb, ate a baggette and had a drink while we waited.
About 2 hours before the cyclists arrive the 'caravane' passes through. 160 vehicles many of which are throwing free stuff into the crowd. There is a mad tussle to grab things as they get tossed, we came away with a fridge magnet, some notepaper, a hat and a packet of cakes! The hat was great as Jacqui hadn't yet got around to buying one and the sun was scorching! That many vehicles take quite a while to pass through so keeps everyone entertained. Lots of loud music and the spectators really got into the spirit of it – cheering and clapping when their favourite sponsors came through.
By that stage the village was filling with spectators and as we'd got ourselves a good spot on a corner behind the railings with our flag draped over we decided it was best to stay put. We ended up standing next to an English couple and Dave chatted away to them happily. The silver fern flag certainly gets some attention with a few photos taken of it by various folks!
A couple of hours later the race proper finally arrived, happened so fast that you barely get a chance to see who's who before they're gone! They certainly go at a different pace than we cycle at!
We were so excited about it all that we decided to try to catch it again close to the end of the race. So set our little GPS going and headed off to Les Herbiers, the town just before the end of the race. Again more by good luck than good management we ended up finding a park really close to the point marking the last 3 km of the race. Found a good spot and again waited for the cyclists.
While we were waiting news trickled through the crowd that there had been quite a big crash with about half of the peleton ending up on the ground. So this time the riders were split into three different groups and there were a few tail enders looking very sorry for themselves. One rider's clothes were all ripped up and there were bandages all over his legs – ouch! Dave ended up chatting to a guy from Te Anau who spotted the flag and wandered over – good grief!
Our bed and breakfast was around 100km north-west of the race finish so we didn't hang around to look at the town. The GPS took us through some gorgeous little villages though with tiny little one way roads, houses right on the road edge, roman ruins, giant cathedrals and flowers in full bloom. Lovely!