Legions of fans swarm over Les Sables d'Olonne
This event appeals to something deep in the French psyche. It’s a long game, played alone, and in conditions that test endurance, courage, caution, intelligence and spirit to the extremes. It takes lives too. All these things it shares with the Tour de France, except with Le Tour, you can follow it all the way around. To support the stars of this race in person, you get one shot, and this is it.
There’s no doubt that these people are heroes to the hundreds of thousands here. Amid the colourful carnival atmosphere, undimmed by the scudding skies and undampened by the rain, there is a sense of reverence too.
All around Les Sables, commentary rings out from PA systems and the action is relayed to big screens in the port, on the beach, in bars, cafés and restaurants. Imagine a royal wedding in which the newly betrothed then play in the FA Cup final and you’re still some way short of the experience.