I wait aside the finish line in Paris. The 2012 tour is a mere twenty minutes away from completion, its 99th incarnation capturing the hearts of many a hardened fan, and also enticing those with merely a scrap of interest. Bradley Wiggins sealed a historic first in British cycling folklore, sealing the tour in exemplary fashion. Never looking in trouble throughout the three weeks, Sky's air of control never wavered.
A thunderous roar erupts around the finish line of the Champs-Elysees stage as Mark Cavendish holds aloft four fingers as he seals yet another dynamite win on the famed central parisienne cobbles. And with that ultimate display of power, the tour over for another year, and thus our lives bereft of daily antics on 'les routes françaises'. Riders roll across the final white line to close the curtains on our french adventures.
How odd a feeling it must be for these riders, for the race to be over. I think about the spectrum of emotions they must be experiencing today, and I can read each and every one on the various faces of the peloton as they meander around the technical zone.It must be strange that after living so closely with eight other riders, and a nucleated support staff for the three weeks, the riders will leave this environment and return to some semblance of reality, whatever that may actually entail for a professional rider. I see happy faces, a Cofidis rider beams at me proudly on a backstreet as he rides to his hotel. I spy Mick Rogers, as he congratulates several riders ahead of the processional laps. He looks across and I offer him my broadest smile, as if telepathically thanking him and the peloton for their feats that fed my passion as a cycling fan this summer. I don't doubt I just looked like a grinning loon, but my respect for these gents is fortified every time I see their suffering in real and tangible sphere. They are but humans, with emotions, pain, a willingness to push their own boundaries of suffering.
A day before in Chartres, I find myself mingling with fans as Alexandr Vinokourov rolls through. A loud cheer erupts in recognition for what will certainly be his last tour. A chequered past foreshadows him, sure, but the respect shown from the fans is palpable and deafening. Every story needs hero's and villains, and the tour is a theatre not exempt from this.
I see faces that display the realisation dawning on them of their endeavours. I see pride, relief and I sense determination. I think I see faces that are already thinking to the next goal. The next hit of this circus.
The finish line is always such a melancholy place for me, tinged with sadness that its over for the next year. Sure enough, there's the Vuelta, and a slurry of late season races (Lombardia in particular is a fave) but it just seems like nothing can quite capture the magic of pro cycling like the Tour can. I remember 5 years ago being laughed out of the office for asking to watch the tour at my workplace, this year I walked in to pretty much every flatscreen dialled onto the live coverage daily. Oh how times change! Here's to the 100th Tour de France in 2013... I know I will be ensconced in your bubble yet again