2015 St Jean de M’ne

Today’s photo shows a banner at a roundabout in St. Jean de Maurienne welcoming the Tour de France to the town. Romain Bardet had won the stage which finished in St. Jean de Maurienne the day before and myself and Noel were looking forward to seeing the Tour leave from the same town the next morning.

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About 250 km traveled today from Grenoble to St Jean de Maurienne and back.We left Grenoble in the Peugeot 305 hire-car at about 9 and took the A41 and then the A43 autoroute to St Jean de Maurienne. I had hoped to get away earlier but it was about 30 degrees overnight and we had trouble sleeping with the heat, so it was after 7 before we got up. Noel also wanted to try the hotel breakfast, which didn’t start being served until 8 o’clock, so after he had a bite to eat, we set off.

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A43 autoroute near Junction 26. The traffic was quiet leaving Grenoble and we were soon on the motorway. Initially, we followed the signs for Chambery and then the signs for Turin. Unlike in Ireland, there are loads of service stations along the autoroute in France, roughly one every 10 km, but as we had a full tank of petrol, we didn’t need to stop for fuel. Most of the motorways in this part of France are tolled and it cost us €13 to travel about 100 km.

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A43 autoroute at Junction 27. We wanted to take Junction 27 for St Jean de Maurienne but it was closed off due to the Tour de France. So we had to drive to Junction 28 for St Michel de Maurienne and then drive back about 10 km to St Jean de Maurienne on a local road.

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Carrefour float parked up on approach road to St. Jean de Maurienne. It was about 11 when we arrived in the suburbs of St Jean de Maurienne but we had loads of time as the race was not due to start until 13.20. The traffic was mental so we parked up and walked about 2 km towards the town centre. On the way, we passed the cavalcade vehicles which were also parked along the road.

Tour de France cavalcade. We were still on the way into the town centre when the cavalcade started

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Haribo float in Tour de France cavalcade. The cavalcade went on for about half an hour but we got very little from it; only a few sweets, a McCain bag and a keyring. Had we been on the opposite side of the road, we probably would have got more stuff as most vehicles were keeping over to the right.

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Signing-on stage at the Tour de France. After the cavalcade, we went into the town centre to where the riders were signing on. Every day on the Tour de France, for about an hour before the start of that day’s stage, French TV show the riders signing in live on TV.

Movistar team sign on at Tour de France. It was hard to get close to the stage but here is a clip showing Nairo Quintana signing in alongside his Movistar team-mates.

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Ireland’s Nicholas Roche of Team Sky. Here is Team Sky’s Nicholas Roche stocking up with energy bars after signing in.The Irish stripes on his jersey signify he once was Irish road race champion.

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Bike of cycle tourist possibly all the way from Poland. There were fans from all over the world at the start today. Here is the bike of someone who had probably cycled all the way from Poland. Tri-bars are unusual on a touring bike but I guess they let you rest your arms when you are cycling long distances.  Poland is as far away from the French Alps as Ireland is and even Wroclaw in south-west Poland is about 1,500 km away by bike.

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Matching polka dot outfits. Dogs in France are maybe not as common as they would be in Ireland but along the main street, I came across this poodle who was dressed for the occasion.

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Nairo Quintana got the biggest cheer out of all the cyclists that went past us. After signing in, a lot of riders go back to their coach until near the start time. Here, is Nairo Quintana heading to the start about 10 mins before the departure time, 20 mins after signing in..

Chris Froome signing in. Chris Froome was the last rider to sign in just 7 mins before the departure. Noel was telling me that back in Ireland, on the Off the Ball radio show on Newstalk, they were reporting that Froome was being booed when he signed in but here in St Jean de Maurienne, there was only applause.

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Countdown to the start of the stage. We couldn’t get close to the actual start so instead watched the Grand Depart on the big screen.

Stage 19 gets underway. The jersey holders always lead the peloton away so today Peter Sagan (green), Chris Froome (yellow), Joachim Rodriquez (polka-dot) and Nairo Quintana (white) had the honour of being the first cyclists on the road.

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Lacets de Montvernier. After the cyclists had left, we headed back to the car and drove towards La Chambre to try and catch the Tour. On the way, we went past the Lacets de Montvernier (lacets is French for shoelaces), on which Romain Bardet had attacked the day before to win the stage.

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Roundabout at St Etienne des Cuines. However, in La Chambre, we missed the Tour by about 10 mins so instead went to St Etienne des Cuines and waited there in the middle of a roundabout for the cyclists. This photo below shows the road the cyclists were due to take towards the Col du Glandon.

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Breakaway of about 20 riders. After waiting for about half an hour, the first riders appeared in the distance. Rigoberto Uran and Daniel Teklehaimont were just 2 of about about 20 riders in a breakaway about a minute and half ahead of the peloton.

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Lotto-Jumbo were leading the chase. The peloton were being led by Lotto-Jumbo with Sky just behind. The speed the cyclists went past was just incredible; I’d say over 50 km/hr despite the cross-wind.

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TV pictures from a helicopter overhead. Here is the same shot from the helicopter camera

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Start of the final climb of the day to La Toussuire. From St Etienne de Cuines, we drove back to St Jean de Maurienne and parked up. We then had to walk about 2 km uphill to the start of the climb to La Toussuire. However, despite the long trek, we had plenty of time and even got to see the cavalcade again. We didn’t get much stuff as we were hemmed in by the crowd of people but I managed to catch a Carrefour hat.

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Nibali and Rolland were in the lead. After waiting for over an hour, and watching car after car and bike after bike go by, Vincenzo Nibali and Pierre Rolland were the first cyclists to emerge through the crowd of spectators at the bottom of the hill.

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Quintana and Froome. They were about 2 minutes ahead of the peloton being led by Movistar with Quintana right on Froome’s wheel.

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Noel watching Contador go past. Alberto Contador had punctured on the approach to the climb and was about 10 seconds further back. There was a camera crew behind Contador and this shot is the only time we made it onto TV. Noel is quite clear on the right hand-side of this picture beneath the number 1 logo with his blue T-shirt but I am just behind him and you can only make out my Carrefour hat.

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Fan opposite us tries to slap Contador. Notice the crazy fan with the beard and white T-shirt opposite us on the other side of the road. He had tried to slap Froome on the arse and tried to do the same to Contador.

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Incident was picked up by the TV cameras. Here is the same shot from the TV camera. The fan was spoted by one of the gendarmie, who had a word with him later. Crazy stuff altogether.

Here is the same incident on video. Fortunately, the crazy fan didn’t seem to make much contact as he could have knocked Contador over with his antics.

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Noel at the polka-dot sign to mark the start of the climb. After the cyclists and convoy of support cars had passed, we headed down towards the town.

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Colombian fans at the big screen in St Jean de Maurienne. There was a big screen set up in the town and we were able to watch the finish of the stage. Every time Quintana appeared on the big screen, a huge cheer would go up from a crowd of Colombian fans just behind us.

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Quintana attacks about 5 km from end of the stage. When we got there, Nibali had still 8 km to go to the finish. We were watching for about 10 mins when there was a huge cheer as Quintana suddenly attacked. It was like being at a football match and as the gap back to Froome got bigger and bigger, the chanting got louder and louder.

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Froome was isolated but dug deep to limit his losses. Froome had to chase on his own as all his team-mates had been dropped earlier on the climb.

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No one else could live with the pace of Quintana and Froome. Valverde, Contador and Gesink were struggling to stay with Froome.

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Nibali wins the stage. Nibali had dropped Rolland halfway up the climb and was faster up La Toussuire than every other cyclist apart from Quintana and Froome..There was a huge round of applause from the spectators watching the race on the big screen when he crossed the finish line first. St Jean de Maurienne is not that far from the Italian border and there was probably a lot of Italians at the stage today.

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Quintana gained 30 seconds on Froome. Quintana was second, 44 seconds behind. He was over a minute quicker than Nibali up the climb but could not close the 2 minute gap Nibali had at the bottom of La Toussuire.

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Froome was third. Froome came in third, 30 seconds behind Quintana. Had Don Nairo not lost a minute and a half the first week when the peloton split after a crash, he would now have been only a minute behind Froome overall.

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Froome still has a sizeable lead with only one mountain stage left. After the stage had finished, the crowd started to disperse and we headed towards the town centre. We came across a Casino supermarket, so did some shopping before going back to the car. We decided to head back to Grenoble on the local road as Junction 27 to the motorway was still closed. There was a huge downpour as we approached Saint Remy de Maurienne and all the cyclists heading back from the Tour got soaked.

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Downpour near St. Remy de Maurienne. On the way into Grenoble, we got totally lost due to all the one way roads. We ended up going through the old town on cobblestone roads and across tram tracks trying to get back to the hotel. The same journey that had taken us 1 and half hours in the morning, took us 3 and half hours in the evening. It was after 10 when we arrived at the hotel and too late for dinner so we had a light supper before going to sleep.