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Le Tour 2001

89th Tour de France - Grand Tour

France, July 6-28, 2002

Apres le Tour

Hitching a ride in the back seat of directeur-sportif Vittorio Algeri's car

By Gabriella Ekström, Cyclingnews.com correspondent in Paris

The Tour circus is over, and the party begins!
Photo: © Jeff Tse
Click for larger image

Le Tour is over and the last rider has passed the line. Depressing, boring, back to normal again. Everyone will be going home, and the barriers will be hauled onto trucks, and soon again the traffic will be jamming the Champs Elysees as if the world's greatest bike race had never taken place. There must be something we can do...

Eagle-eyed as always, I spotted an empty seat behind Vittorio Algeri in the Tacconi Sport team car. Even though I haven't been pedalling through the countryside's of France for three weeks, or having been fed pasta for three consecutive weeks, I still felt a need to parade!

I felt a need to travel up and down Champs-Elysées in front of the masses, listening to them praising the riders. So I walk up. "Hello Vittorio. Terribly hot weather, isn't it? Can I sit there?" He shrugs his shoulders, "Yes, come in." Quickly I jump into the back seat of the car just before it turns out from the crowded parking area where the riders try to relax while waiting for their turn to parade. He drives slowly, so as to not crush anyone's foot or to push an autograph-seeking grandma. In a tunnel of flags and hats we drive out onto Champs-Elysées behind Dario Frigo, Eddy Mazzoleni, Gianluca Bortolami, Massimo Appollonio and Mauro Radaelli.

Jaja put on a great show
Photo: © Jeff Tse
Click for larger image

I don't wave flags, and I did not behave noisily, but the 500,000 spectators made it hard to forget, even for a moment where I was. The city was baking hot, and people did what they could to protect themselves, but wet handkerchiefs and sun screen can only do so much. What really protects you from the sun is a good old cycling cap. From responsible journalist to mad tifosi in a second.

The crowds are also eager to get their fair share of the free stuff that is given out. Everyone loves free stuff, so does cycling fans, and especially when the free stuff says "Tour de France". The green PDM hands are a household improvement when you want to applaud your favourite rider, and when sacks of TdF caps are brought to the scene, nothing but a true riot can be expected. People fought over the caps and held onto them with white knuckles long after the poor guy with the empty bag had left.

The riders put on a show while slowly riding up towards l'Arc de Triomphe. They are relieved that the race is over, arms and legs in place, and they do their best to keep the colourful, multinational crowd pleased. Jean-Marie Leblanc has stopped his car just after the green group of PDM enthusiasts. He cheers the riders and talks to the directeur sportifs.

The boulevard steepens as the riders moves closer to the big roundabout at the end of the road. From here we can look down over the street and really take it all in. The heat makes the vision blurred. The flags, the barriers, groups of riders everywhere, and the spectators, oh yes, the spectators. Vittorio turns to me, "Quite the spectacle, eh?," he says with a grin - I can do nothing but agree.

LA's team gave him an armchair ride to Paris.
Photo: © Jeff Tse
Click for larger image

Mauro knows a trick. He can sit on the frame, turned to the audience, and still pedal. Everyone is delighted. A bottle is requested from the car. Oh, the poor riders, still dehydrated from the long and hot day! Someone else knows a trick too, and needless to say, all the water ends up over Mauro.

We pass the party tent littered with Americans, and then the Basque fans clad in orange. Following next is the Rabobank podium, coloured with hats, in orange mais alors. Drums and whistles alarm from behind the barriers and the cars on the street are quick to respond with their horns. We are now back at the foot of Champs-Elysées, close to the big sculpture on Place de la Concorde. In the other lane of the road, a happy American team is just about to start their "Tour de Elysees" to the tune of "We are the champions".

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