Tour de France on the doorstep

Are the French coming?

A watchful crowd looks south across the rolling fields of Wallonia, just before the road to Brussels enters Waterloo.

Copyright photography Kevin Mayne

Copyright photography Kevin MayneAn invasion is expected soon.

It is 18th June 1815 and the French army is about to do battle.

No, no, no.  It is 6th July 2019 and the Tour de France is about to whiz past the Butte de Lion, Memorial Site to the Battle of Waterloo 1815 as part of its ceremonial tour of Belgium for the Grand Depart 2019.

This is great fun – the toughest part of today is work out where to watch the race, because these are my roads and my landmarks, the backdrop to seven years of living in Belgium.  I may work in Brussels, but the lanes and hills of Brabant Wallon are where I live.

As a backdrop we could chose the grand canal lift at Ecaussinnes, the magnificent ruined abbey of Villers-la-Ville or the swish of the wheels through one of our local towns and villages. And they all looked great on the TV replay.

Copyright photography Kevin MayneBut because my father was with me and he was our guest at the 200th Anniversary of the battle of Waterloo in 2015 it just seemed to make sense to jump on our bikes and roll just down the road to the monument that dominates the landscape just to our west.

Copyright photography Kevin Mayne

Sunny day and because of the race we rode on almost closed roads, signs everywhere told motorists not to bother going in that direction except to watch the race. A real privilege, even rolling along one part of the route before the race.

Things were very chilled up at the Memorial when we arrived, most people were filling the cafes and listening to the race commentary on their mobile phones.

Copyright photography Kevin Mayne


Then woosh.

A helicopter getting the inevitable photo of the people on the Lion Mound who had waited all day for their moment.Copyright photography Kevin Mayne

The crowd rushes to the roadside and the peloton is right in front of our noses.

Copyright photography Kevin Mayne

No matter how many times I watch pro bike racing live two things always surprise me.

One – the speed. They were not anywhere near full gas, but as the width of the group pushes them up close the speed feels amazing. Human power on bikes.

Copyright photography Kevin Mayne Copyright photography Kevin Mayne

Two – the proximity. Does any other sport brush your elbow and make you pull in your toes the way the bike riders do? I don’t think so.

All over in seconds, so we could jump on our bikes and return over the still closed roads, at home just in time to see the first sprint finish of the Tour in Brussels on TV and then compare bragging rights with the rest of the competitors in our Fantasy Tour de France league.

However the memory will last much longer. I will ride those roads, spin up the hills, lean into the corners and in my subconscious I will go just a little bit faster because I am on the route of the Tour de France. That’s the magic of this event – it comes to the people, and has done so for over 100 years. Long may it continue.