Le Tour de Kent

I’m gradually recovering from a fairly hectic weekend, which included going into London on Saturday to watch the prologue of the Tour de France, and then to Tonbridge on Sunday to watch the riders climb Quarry Hill – oops, sorry, “le Cote de Southborough” – during Stage 1.

One of the highlights of seeing the Tour live was encountering le caravan publicitaire. This is a convoy of at least 200 publicity vehicles – carnival floats, cars shaped like car tyres, that sort of thing – that precedes the race by an hour or so, taking over half an hour to pass by. Quite a spectacle, albeit a rather naff one (just check out the photos here).

In his entertaining book about riding the route of the Tour de France, French Revolutions, Tim Moore memorably describes the approach of the carnival as being greeted (or at least deserving to be greeted) with cries of “the free crap is coming!” – referring to the various promotional gifts – key-rings, fridge magnets, sweets, etc – distributed by many of the passing vehicles.

It has to be said this does not bring out the best in human nature: grown men scrambling to grab fluorescent wristbands and cardboard promotional megaphones from under the noses of young children, that sort of thing. Our elder son had taken a word-search book to keep himself occupied during the wait for the race, and even that got nicked by someone who (we assume) mistook it for “free crap”. Still, we ended up with a reasonable haul of free crap for ourselves, most of it obtained without significant moral compromise.

And then we cheered on David Millar – who ended the day as King of the Mountains, lol – in the leading group of five cyclists that came up the hill first, watched the peloton whizz past five minutes later, and went home to watch the thrilling finish on TV.

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