21 days, 88+ hours and more than 3,500 kilometers in the saddle. This is what I was thinking about as I watched the man who was in last place during the laps around Champs-Élysées. My inner dialogue went like this… “Dude, you are in last place in the most intense, brutal sporting event in the world. Last place guy, you are a bad ass!!!”
Watching the riders race around the course was thrilling and we were privy to the absolutely best seat in the house. We watched the final eight laps with our new friends from the Versus crew and tried to revel in those final moments. After the race is done and the awards have been doled out, each team takes a victory lap around the Champs, watching these teams of men, these bands of brothers who must have been so exhausted and excited and overwhelmed and numb, watching them was an inspiration.
After everyone was gone and we were taking group photos on the Champs-Élysées the full enormity and scope of the past week’s events hit me. I just saw the Tour de France from deep within it. I had Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin, who together have over 65 years of Tour experience, there to answer every ignorant question I could come up with. I had Johan Bruyneel drive me down L’Alpe-d”Huez. And I was there sharing this moment with two of my dearest friends.
Just when I thought I had expunged all the privilege and opportunity one could wring out of such an experience Roberto said the six most amazing words to me… “Hey Raquel, want to meet George?” And just like that, I turned around and there was George Hincapie, somehow my hand had found his and he was shaking it and in super slow motion he was saying, “p…l…e…a...s…u…r…e to meet you R…a…c…h…e…l.” And somehow I managed to respond appropriately. On top of all of this I just got to meet my favorite TDF rider. I was in heaven.
Hours later I would meet George again and his charming, beautiful, young French wife - it was then that any girlish crush I had vanished, but by that time I was already 3 champagnes into the Team Columbia after-party and resigned to drooling over Christian Vandavelde instead.
That night Beth and I danced in a fountain while staring up at the Eiffel Tower. We charmed Paul and Phil and partied with cyclists. We ate a fantastic dinner and drank fine wine. I’m not sure anyone has ever had a better night in Paris.
When I finally stumbled home the calendar had claimed another day and my liver and kidneys were devising an exit strategy, as clearly their current residence was no longer a hospitable home for them. Around noon, Beth, Roberto and I ventured into the daylight for a short-lived meal and stroll about town. Roberto being wiser than Beth and I, opted to immediately go back to bed after lunch. Beth and I did some perfunctory touristing and after nearly passing out in the fountain in front of the Louvre and lighting a candle for the rejuvenation of my organs at Notre Dame we too threw in the towel and let our hangovers take the wheel. A five-hour nap later and we were off to our last meal together in France.
My time here has been beyond any expectation a sane person could possibly have. I cannot believe my good fortune, sheer luck and the immense gratitude I feel for all who aided Beth and I during our time on the Tour. By name you are Paul, Phil, Johan, Craig, Jen, Anne, Audrey, Annie, Scott, Greg, Matt, Teebo, Hans, Thierry, Henri, Christof, Hector, and of course Robert Francis Roll. Sincerely, thank you for the time of my life.
And finally thanks to Lara Beth Mitchell for being my partner in crime since I was 11 and for the photos she has contributed to the Tour posts.
Begin at the Beginning
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