Le Grand Départ!

Sometime in late 2013, the powers that be who run the Tour de France announced that the starting city for the 2015 Tour would be Utrecht, in the Netherlands. I have a vivid memory of learning this news, and of my response. I was sitting at my desk at my office in Boston and I turned to my colleague, who is also a fan of Le Tour (hi Chris!), and I said, “Ok. July 2015. I will be in Utrecht for Le Grand Départ of the Tour”.

At that point, my plans to move abroad were still in their very early stages. Amsterdam was an idea more than a plan. But the Tour was something I could pin my idea to – a goal, a deadline, an inspiration.

So, I am very happy to report that yesterday I was in Utrecht, as I promised myself, to witness the start of the 102nd Tour de France.

Welcome to Utrecht!

Welcome to Utrecht!

It was crowded. It was chaotic. It was HOT. And it was fantastic.

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Not sure who he is, but at least the team is American…

He’s only blurry ’cause he’s fast.

Crowds gather at the 1K marker. In retrospect, we should have stayed there to watch the action…

I went with a large group of expats and Dutch folks, including one very funny and enthusiastic French woman who was a Tour veteran. She had her French flag at the ready whenever a French rider or a helicopter or camera passed by.

With a big group – especially one with people with varying levels of interest in the Tour and cycling generally – it was hard to keep

everyone together, so we split up pretty quickly.  I had the good fortune to pair up with a guy who was a cyclist and a huge Tour fan, and who (like me) wanted to see as much as possible.  Although we first had a spot near the end of the course, beyond the finish line, we decided that we wanted to try to get to the start line.

Unfortunately we took the longest possible route to get there. We spent a lot of time looking at people on the other side of one barricade or another, trying to figure out how to get to where they were. But it was fun, not least because we got to see much of the spectacle of the Tour as we wandered around the course. Then, finally, after talking my way “in” through an “out” break in the barricades (sometimes not speaking Dutch is a help!), we had arrived at the starting ramp! At this point it was about 15 minutes before the first rider was scheduled to go.

At the starting ramp!

At the starting ramp!

There was a ceremony (and commentary in Dutch, English and French), with the Mayor of Utrecht and other officials. The first rider was from Eritrea, and part of a South African team. The Minister of Sport of Eritrea was present, and there was a large African fan base cheering him on. We watched the first few riders take off, and then moved to another part of the course and reconnected with a few people from the group (including the flag-waving French woman). After a little more wandering – including a visit to the team bus area, where we saw the riders warming up on stationary bikes – most of our small group was ready to head home. But me? Not quite yet…

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Team car traffic jam!

I said goodbye to the others at the station and then headed back into the fray. Being at the Tour had been a dream for too long to leave without really soaking it in. So I spent a little more time wandering around, watching the route coverage on the big screens scattered around the square, and buying a few souvenirs. (Honestly, I needed a water bottle for my racing bike. Really.)

I don’t think a water bottle and a t-shirt can capture the excitement and the thrill of the day. Yes, it was mostly the excitement of the Tour itself, and of being close to something I have followed at a distance for a long time (and just barely missed once, back in 2013). But there was also a part of the day that was thrilling because of the sense of accomplishment that came along with it. Many people I’ve met here have been transferred by their employers for a year or two – it’s a wonderful opportunity and everyone I know in that situation is making the most of it. But my move to Amsterdam was something that I engineered. I had help, but I did a lot of work and I made it happen. My day at Le Grand Départ was a reminder of that, and a reminder of the day back in Boston, when my idea of moving to Europe started to feel a little more possible.

Vive le Tour!

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