What could be better than traveling to France with my husband and eight friends and watching the most epic stage of the Tour de France? Being a part of the first Tour de France Harlem Shake, of course!
As a huge cycling fan, my idea of a dream vacation with my husband was to travel to France to watch a stage of the Tour de France. Even before the 2014 race route was announced, we rented a house in the town at the base of the Alpe d’Huez, Bourg-d’Oisans. It was a gamble that paid off when they announced the route with Stage 18 climbing the legendary Alpe d’Huez twice in a single stage and then Stage 19 starting in Bourg-d’Oisans the next day.
We shared the house with eight other friends and enjoyed a week exploring the French Alps before the tour came through on Thursday afternoon.
On the day of Stage 18, we packed picnics and extra clothes and put on our hiking shoes and headed toward the Alpe d’Huez around 9:30 in the morning. We were far from the only ones. The highway from Bourg-d’Oisans to Alpe d’Huez looked like a massive, exodus of diverse people all walking towards the massive mountain in front of them. The mood was festive, the clothing colorful and everyone was excited to find their spot on the mountain to witness the passing of the riders on the most epic stage of the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France.
Once we hit the uphill, the road quickly became congested with not only other hikers but also many cyclists taking their turn at an attempt on the Alpe before the pros came through.
We had scoped out a few different spots along the route including a grassy knoll, but in the end opted for corner number 12 about half way up the mountain. Once this decision was finalized, each of us laid down our blankets on the side of the road next to a barricade and pulled out our picnic lunches to reward ourselves for the unexpected physical exertion required to carry aforementioned picnic and supplies up the steep hill.
As we were finishing our lunches and opening up the beer and wine, a young couple from Brazil stopped by our blankets and asked us if we wanted to be a part of the first ever Tour de France Harlem Shake. We quickly agreed and spent the next little while helping to recruit more people for the shake and preparing ourselves for what we would do for the second, crazy part of the dance. Before we knew it, the video for the Harlem Shake had been captured and we settled down on our blankets watching the cyclists continuing to go by.
By 12:30, the road was closed to cars and cyclists and the constant stream of riders subsided. An hour or so later, the swag train of all of the tour sponsors began driving by throwing all of their free stuff and engaging the crowd, building the excitement even more. The number of sponsor vehicles was impressive and I learned later at the final stage in Paris that it was only a fraction of all of the sponsor vehicles. I managed to snag a pile of stuff, but most of it was so cheap or unneeded that I didn’t even bring it home with me.
The first official looking cars that seemed to signal that the race was approaching came some time after 3pm. We knew the race was still a ways off though because the helicopters that capture race footage for the world audience were still a ways down the hill.
With the speed of the riders in the Tour, it did not take long for all of that to change. Official looking race vehicles and motorcycles continued to zoom and before we knew it, the helicopters were directly overhead and the lead yellow motorcycle with a person on the back writing on a chalkboard “Vangarten 20″” indicating that the American cyclist TeeJay Vangarten had a lead of 20 seconds over the rest of the field. Moments later TeeJay flew by us in his red and black CSC jersey. The crowd went wild, especially those of us waving American flags. We suddenly got our hopes up for an American victory at our first stage, the epic Alpe d’Huez stage. A French rider I didn’t recognize passed 20 seconds later and then a few others before the group of the yellow jersey, Chris Froome, went by. A few more stragglers from the yellow jersey group passed and then finally the rest of the peloton went by us a couple of minutes later.
We knew we were fortunate to have the riders pass in such a spread out manner as you can better see the race unfolding and see more of each rider, but even so, it seemed like they had passed so quickly leaving us all wanting more. In the rare Alpe d’Huez stage of this year’s 100th anniversary of the tour, we were extremely fortunate that the riders were going to climb the Alpe again giving us more time with them. We stood on the side of the road with anticipation, receiving updated news about the race third hand from a French radio that some Norwegians translated for us, after it had unfolded.
TeeJay had a mechanical problem on the descent and lost at least 30 seconds waiting for his bike to be replaced. Eventually he caught up to the leader and passed him again, but the precious time and energy he expended would eventually cost him the stage win.
Much sooner than what seems humanly possible, the riders had finished their first ascent of the Alpe d’Huez, climbed the Col de Serenne and then descended back through the valley that houses Bourg-d’Oisans and were close to passing us on the Alpe d’Huez once again.
The second time up the Alpe, the race for the yellow and polka dot jerseys was getting more interesting as Molemar and Contador attacked Froome and Froome ultimately ended up bonking and needing food within the last 20 kilometers of the race, which ultimately cost him a 20 second penalty since his teammate had to go back to the team car which is against the rules with less than 20 km to go.
When all was said and done, TeeJay was passed in the last kilometer by a French guy who ended up winning the day. We were disappointed that he lost but were high from the experience of being on the Alpe d’Huez to witness such an incredible piece of French and cycling culture. It is a day I will not forget as long as I live.