As I mentioned, one of the main reasons for starting our year-long adventure in Tignes was the Tour de France stage due to finish there on Friday 26th July.
When we arrived the day before, the Tour had already started to take over the town.
As well as campervans parked along the roadside (no prizes for spotting us), people had pitched tents or pulled up in their cars to stay overnight.
Fans had already painted the names of riders along the final climb into the town.
Throughout that night huge trucks carrying equipment and TV crews as well as team coaches thundered past our van, blaring their horns.
On Friday morning Jim ran up to the race finish in Val Claret, where the atmosphere was already building with crowds of people, TV crews and the winners’ stage set up ready.
By lunchtime we heard that the stage had begun 126.5 kilometres away in St-Jean-de-Maurienne. The number of fans of all nationalities was growing. Hardcore Tour fans are pretty crazy.
It started to feel like a carnival and I guess this is what sets it aside from being ‘just a bike race’. Yet more team coaches roared up the hill and these were followed by the publicity caravan. This is a pre-race convoy of sponsors and advertisers who fire up the crowd even further by blaring out music and throwing out freebies.
It had also started to rain quite heavily, but that wasn’t going to stop anyone from enjoying themselves. Least of all Jim.
The kids took shelter with me in the van – why get wet when we had undercover front row seats?
Eden made an exception when the Haribo trucks went past.
Heavy rain soon turned into heavy hail. Jim had ITV4 streaming on his phone so we knew the riders were only about 20km away in Val d’Isère.
Then we heard the news something that no one could have predicted. The freak hailstorm had caused a landslide and the bikes couldn’t pass. I checked Twitter and it was confirmed – the race had been abandoned.
We were gutted. Perhaps not as gutted as the French fans, as the home favourite and current leader Julian Alaphilippe had lost the yellow jersey due to the race being cut short.
Jim was already googling the next day’s stage, and our options for driving to watch it. We couldn’t let all our efforts be in vain.
So we packed up the van and set off again – rolling back down the mountain amidst a procession of team coaches, TV crews, media teams and of course the Haribo trucks.
The traffic was awful leaving Tignes due to the weather and resulting chaos, so we decided call it a day and pull over.
The next day we woke up to more bad weather. We drove to Moûtiers, a town on the stage route about 60km away. Thankfully, the sun came out a couple of hours before the race was due to pass through. We made our way to a main road, where crowds were already gathering, on the last bend of the race before the final climb towards the ski resort of Val Thorens.
The publicity caravan had been cancelled due to the forecast, but the atmosphere was still pretty amazing. Not nearly as picturesque a setting as the previous day, but it didn’t matter, we were just happy to be there watching.
Watching on a flat section of road would be very different to the mountain climb of Tignes, but we hoped the approaching bend would slow the riders down a bit.
However, Tour de France cyclists don’t really do slow, even on a bend, so once the main peleton came through it was pretty much all over in a few seconds!
It might have taken us two days but we had watched a stage of possibly one of the most exciting Tour de France races in history. Bucket list ticked.