Wow! Today was the kickoff to this year’s Tour de France and we had a beyond-full, exciting day. After breakfast at the hotel, we rode our bikes through the city of Antwerp to where our tour bus was parked. We are traveling in a group of 16 people with four guides. Today, eleven of us chose to ride a portion of the Tour de France course, which will be covered by the peloton tomorrow. We drove about half of the way to Rotterdam and then biked about 39 miles of the course. The ride was on bike paths which are parallel to the roads where the race will be run.
Everybody successfully completed the ride today and I won the prize for the most injuries. After two separate falls (damn those clip-in pedals), I had raspberries on both knees and on one elbow.
At least my legs are a matched set! Besides my pride, nothing else was really damaged. And, the ride was spectacular! We rode up the western coast of Holland, across massive dams and bridges that control the water flow from the North Sea. It is often very windy and cold, but we had great weather during the entire ride.
After we met our customized tour bus, which holds our group and our bikes, we drove the rest of the route into Rotterdam for the Tour prologue. With VIP access, we were able to park the bike right up next to the action. Today’s stage, the start of the 21 day race, was a time trial. That means that each of the 197 riders rode an 8.9km course around the city. They took off one minute apart and arrived at the finish roughly one minute apart. The entire area of downtown Rotterdam was a huge party and we took it all in.
Below you’ll see pictures of us exploring the area, including the media area and the festival area. We found something called the “vertical bike” in the festival area where they strap you in a climbing harness and put you on top of a bike. The faster you pedal the faster you rise up a tall pole. The goal is to reach the top as fast as you can. The record so far today, we were told, was 25 seconds. I did it in 56.5 seconds, but enjoyed the view as I was “climbing.”
The race itself was exciting with the crowd (and my) favorite, Fabian Cancellara finishing 10 seconds ahead of Tony Martin. Lance Armstrong finished a respectable fourth place and his American teammate, Levi Leipheimer, also finished in the top ten. The boys made us proud.
You can read all you want about the actual race on the Internet. Tomorrow we get to ride on the closed course, ahead of the peloton, and cross the finish line in Brussels. Then we will get our photos taken on the podium and gain access to the media area.