Tour de France, immersed in a celebration without borders

From our special Tour correspondents Pierre Adrian and Philibert Humm

Updated

On the pavements of the Tour de France road, they come from all over the world to get drunk… on memories. Report from Alpe d’Huez.

At bend number 16 on the Alpe d’Huez, grandfather Maurice watches the Tour de France pass with his mouth open. he The first time was in 1952, and Fausto Coppi won there. In the twilight of his career, the Campionissimo had just spawned the dynasty of great climbers who had won the Alp. He was followed by Zoetemelk, Kuiper, Hinault or Pantani, who still holds the record for the fastest ascent. Since then, Maurice has seen life go by; he held the coffee across the street from his house and cringed. Now, sitting on a plastic chair in the shade of an acacia tree, he watches the world go by. “I was born here and I will die there,” he laughs. The grandfather gets up, he wants to show us something. Your steps are counted. Back with a framed photo of the 1952 Tour. Alpe d’Huez in black and white. Maurice was 26 years old.

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Opposite, on the terrace of Virage 16, the current boss, cigarette in mouth, unfolds a Granini parasol for a pair of Italian cyclists. Willy expects the worst but smiles at the angels. The next few days will be long: record crowds, mythical ascent. It is neither the longest, nor the hardest, nor the steepest. But it is the Alpe d’Huez, climbed thirty times by Coppi’s peloton, and that is enough.

What happens after this announcement?

The Germans are finishing dinner when the Spaniards come out of their nap. It is the Europe of nations on the edge of the departmental highway

Two days later, the first motorhomes are already occupying the side of the road. In Alpe, each lace is numbered. We climb in descending order, from bend 21 to the first. A Dutchman arrived a fortnight ago. He dismantled the folding table, removed the chairs and the snack. He is here at home. For a while, I would plant a vegetable garden. Like those Clermontois who have invested in a square of wild grass in front of the chalets rented to holidaymakers at the exit of curve number 5. “We’re going to install a mailbox, we can deliver packages…” Next to the carretera , Tour de France fans reinvent the property, preferably settling where they nested the previous year. First come, first served. It is the story of a conquest without weapons, hatred or violence.

View of the Ecrins National Park… and the 2 CV Cochonou in one of the twenty-one bends on the climb.

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We decide to set up our Paris Match van just above the Norwegian bend, 5 kilometers from the summit. The choice, well considered, is strategic. It is here that the coast has its highest percentages. Where, trained with the pedals, the climbers who lead the way will give their full measure. It’s also where the Norwegians dispense the coldest beers and have the most kilowatt speakers on the rise. Svein and his son traveled from Kristiansand. Thirty-four hours without a break, loaded with coffee and Red Bull. It’s a tradition in the Alps: each nationality has its place. Two kilometers further down, the Dutch bend has a reputation for being the most tumultuous. Area of ​​strong turbulence. “I don’t have many good memories at Alpe d’Huez,” Thomas Voeckler told our “Dauphiné Liberated” colleagues. “It is, he says, a mythical place. There are these 21 bends, the pages of history that have been turned… Then, what bothers me a little is that I’ve received cups with I don’t know quite what in them, punches in the back. It didn’t traumatize me, but it marked me. »

What happens after this announcement?

What happens after this announcement?

Some play rowers when another gets carried away: the game of paquito in the bend of the Dutch.

Some play rowers when another gets carried away: the game of paquito in the bend of the Dutch.

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It seems that the bend of the Dutch has had its day, it has become a tourist attraction. This year, the first to park their caravan in front of the cemetery, on the Dutch bend, were Bretons. D’Ille-et-Vilaine exactly. “We started in a tent in Bourg-d’Oisans, our son was 4 years old. Today he is 44…” At this moment, a yellow van drives through the crowd. Nathalie, the wallet, does her last round of encouragement. “The turn of the Dutch, you have to go well, smile, play… On the other hand, I’m telling you, we won’t deliver the mail tomorrow. Or the day after tomorrow, don’t push…”

At five in the afternoon, in the bar-supermarket in Huez, people have gathered in front of a television screen. Two boys in berets, smoked like salmon, comment on stage: “Let’s go, Romain! Speed ​​up big boy, you’re gonna eat it! The runners climb the Col du Granon in Mondovisión. Under the bolt, a group of young Lyons hit the cardboard. In the evening menu, they have planned a raclette. A friend still has to bring them the apparatus and the caquelons. In the Tour, there are no more seasons. July 14 lasts for three weeks.

Friends who know how to make noise!  Svein, right, and his boy came from southern Norway: thirty-four hours of non-stop travel.

Friends who know how to make noise! Svein, right, and his boy came from southern Norway: thirty-four hours of non-stop travel.

© THEO SAFFROY

At last night falls. The gendarmes blocked the road. They give us the keys to the mountain. Here we are, thousands of housemates, under the stars, condemned to live together. The Germans are finishing dinner when the Spaniards come out of their nap. It is the Europe of nations on the edge of the departmental highway. On the other side of the road, the Lyonnais set the table. Seduced by the smell of cheese, a couple of retired Belgians were invited. As a sign of recognition, Marie and René draw a rock neck on the road. Everyone is laughing. “It’s the day of our neighbors! enthuses Marie.

The police are back. “Go to Blues!” sing french

World champion of Air Sardou in Nord-Isère, 29-year-old Pierre hands out hot potatoes. Born in July, his parents wanted to name him after the stage winner. Bad luck, his mother gave birth on an off day. His name will not be Lance, or Miguel, or Richard. But he makes up for it by coming to Alpe for his birthday with eight friends. “There are two things I hate in life: the lack of money and subsidies,” he says between two throats. Tour supporters are peremptory.

A bicycle to see the world... When passion crosses generations.

A bicycle to see the world… When passion crosses generations.

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At 11 p.m. only the trucks of the technical teams travel. They go in convoy. Their headlights go through the night with cheers. A crawler is improvised on the bottom of heavy vehicles. It’s a miracle that no one goes under the axles… The Angel of the Tour is watching. Saint Eugene Christopher, pray for us. Rockets crackle in the distance. Out of professional conscience, after one last caterpillar, we think it’s time to go home. This requires passing through the Norwegian bend, transformed into an open-air discotheque. Two hundred individuals move their hips in it under Svein’s sunken eyes, covered with his sealskin. Germans, Belgians, Dutch, Berrichons have joined them. All these beautiful people talk with their hands. The bicycle is Esperanto. Meanwhile, in front of our van, a Slovenian family has painted the names of their champions on the asphalt. Children vibrate around uncles and warn trucks with headlights. Wet paint with care. The Tour Bariole brings color to the villages of France. Tonight, children have the right to go to bed late.

Our neighbors in Saint-Etienne woke us up early in the morning, in the middle of a discussion about a Cabernet Franc. They talk, and talk, about the Saint-Paul-de-Vence campsite, whose swimming pool is heated, and the Bricolex store. But yes, you know, on the road to Saint-Quentin… At 9, breakfast at Café d’Huez. The boss mutters with his mustache: “We’re sick of coffee, we’ll have to wear whites…” The establishment opened at dawn. A customer posits the equation: “heat wave + Dutch + beer = mayhem.”

Salomé, leader of the Cochonou caravan, does her 9th Tour de France.

Salomé, leader of the Cochonou caravan, does her 9th Tour de France.

© THEO SAFFROY

The landscape has changed. Alpe is invaded from all sides. By bike, on foot, on scooters, there are nearly 500,000 to invert the ditches. The square meter is becoming more popular than in Paris. As good landlords, the old people, the ones who arrived the day before, survey these newcomers. With the smells of brake pads, burnt tar and stale beer, we climb the coolers on skateboards. The police are back. “Go to Blues!” he sings in French as they pass. About 250 gendarmes are distributed along the ascent. Thirty for the Dutch bend alone. No hostility towards them.

A skewer of professional rugby players have planted their guitoune before turn 6. They turn to the anise and comment on the rise of the cyclists: “Feiiiiignant! “We’ve got ten kilos of merguez sausage in the draw,” announces the scrum-half, serving us a glass of blue pies as authority. “Is blue cake dangerous?” we care “The danger, he answers, is relative. Don’t you think it’s more dangerous to pedal under this dodger? Before heading off to a pre-season camp in Vald’Isère, these cute 20-year-old babies are partying around the bend. Suddenly the excitement rises. We announce Cochonou at the head of the valley. The Dutchman barks and the caravan passes. It is for her that most of the spectators came.

Maurice, 96, a faithful.  In his hands, the first arrival at Alpe d'Huez, in 1952.

Maurice, 96, a faithful. In his hands, the first arrival at Alpe d’Huez, in 1952.

© THEO SAFFROY

Ten tons of sausage are distributed every year for 2 overinflated CV. The Xtra tank leaves behind laundry odors. Jacqueline, a local resident, had a good harvest. she is happy A polka dot key ring and a cap from Crédit Lyonnais. Summer is off to a good start. At 17:35, the escape is at the foot of the climb. The rotor of the helicopters drowns out the screams: “Where is he?” “Can you see?” – That’s it, it’s coming! “What shift?” “Shit, he’s an Englishman!” We encourage it without resentment. A Norwegian who has not realized anything pours glasses full of rosé to anyone who wants it. Our photographer shirt pays the price. He will smell Roche Mazet all the way to the Champs Elysees.

Ten minutes later, it’s over. We repack All this for this. Nights in tents, waking up at 6, turkey breast on paper plates… But that counts without the memories. Phone numbers are exchanged at the door. We promise to meet again next year. In other places, no doubt. On another pass, on another slope. In the fever of a July night, Marie embraces a Lyonnaise in her arms. “We adore you…” Pierre, his cheeks pink from the sun, answers her as if it were obvious: “So do we, Marie. If we don’t love each other at the Tour, when will we love each other?”

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