Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

A Wicked Tour of France; Michelle Buckman Takes a Wild Tour De France Ride

Newspaper article The Observer (Gladstone, Australia)

A Wicked Tour of France; Michelle Buckman Takes a Wild Tour De France Ride

Article excerpt

A WOMAN approaches. aOh, tu es Australie? Un photo s'il vous-plait.a

The Australian boxing kangaroo flag is wrapped around my body.

After some translation, a small child tells us this French lady wants to take our photo with the boxing kangaroo to send to her daughter who lives in Sydney.

Suddenly, we are deafened by the sound of media helicopters above us. It is the first indication that the riders are approaching.

The Tour de France is held over three weeks and it doesn't cost a cent to watch the race.

This is one of the only sporting events in the world where fans can secure front-row seats to watch elite athletes compete.

Millions of people line the course waving flags from all around the world in an electric, friendly and positive family atmosphere.

The race is held every year with cyclists racing across the French countryside in daily stages that total around 3500km.

Spectators get to see diverse, spectacular scenery from the mountains to the sea and tiny villages normally off the tourist trail. This race is one of the best advertising campaigns for the French tourism industry.

A total of four jerseys can be won including the overall winner, the sprint jersey, the king of the mountains and the best young rider jersey. In 2011, in a first for Australia, Cadel Evans won the race and proudly wore the yellow overall winner's jersey into Paris.

In 2010, we rented a Wicked Campervan and followed the race to soak up the atmosphere first- hand. The drive from Mirepoix to the Col du Tourmalet took us through the foothills of the Pyrenees and spectacular scenery packed with sunflowers and hay bails for more than 100km.

We pass many spectators cycling to the top of the Col du Tourmalet. Three-and-a-half kilometres from the summit, the gendarmerie close the road at La Mongie, a ski resort, so we decide to camp on the grassy flats at the bottom of the lifts.

As we set up camp, a Scotsman passes.

aCan I take a photo of the campervan?a

aSure, why not,a I reply.

The Wicked campervan is a cheap and excellent mode of transport for following the Tour.

This vehicle is particularly useful in the mountain stages where space to park is at a premium. It provides basic accommodation and although there is not a lot of space, there's enough room for short trips.

The exterior is painted with cheeky signage providing good entertainment for those around.

Kids play football, old men play boules on the dusty road and Germans with their poles hike above us. We are surrounded by ski-lifts, mountains, donkeys, cows, sheep, the sound of hammers, birds, the rustling of grass, cowbells, air-beds being pumped up and the sound of languages from many countries.

There are flags from Australia, Luxembourg, France, England, Switzerland, Germany, Scotland, Spain and Norway. …

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