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My train to Dijon couldn’t care less about the Tour de France

How to miss an entire stage of the Tour on public transport.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 04.07.2024 Photography by
Gruber Images & Iain Treloar
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Here’s how I imagine the train trip from Paris Gare de Lyon to Dijon went, two hours earlier than mine. Based on the number of bikes I saw in the station, it was a mass celebration of cycling – people stowing their Canyons and Pinarellos carefully in the designated spots, dislodging their bikepacking bags and backpacks, settling into their cushy seats for a big couple of hours watching the bike race on the train on the way to watching the bike race in the flesh. This year, it’s about as close as Paris gets to seeing the Tour de France – so who can blame the bike-loving folks of the French capital from taking some time in lieu and fucking off to the Home of Mustard? Not me, that’s who. 

I reckon everyone was pretty amped about bikes, talking across the aisle about who their pick was for the stage. I reckon they were comparing bike spec notes, discussing dream builds, talking about whether Jonas had it in him for a third win or whether this was the Tadej show, or whether David Gaudu would dramatically buoy himself from a lacklustre beginning to snog his way onto a podium in Nice.

I’d love to tell you that this was my journey. Alas, it was not. As I write, I am on a train some hours later, without any of the Tour specators, tracking an identical route but crucially arriving an hour after the stage finishes, as opposed to an hour and a half before.  This means that the bike race will well and truly have been run and won. Could it be Cavendish again? (Maybe!) Could it be Philipsen? (Probably!) [No spoilers, Iain, but nope and nope. -Ed.] But you know who won’t be there to watch it? (Me!)

Spoiler alert? Probably!

Lest this look like another moment of gross unprofessionalism after months – years – of the same, let me assure you here that this wasn’t entirely my fault. My alarm went off at the indecent hour of 4:30 AM. I got out of bed. I caught all my flights, from Stavanger to Oslo to Paris. But the key to my downfall was this: someone who checked in at Oslo airport with a full complement of SIX SUITCASES neglected to actually board the flight. Cue 30 minutes of frenzied searching the hold, while a number of small Norwegian children lost their minds in the row behind and across from me. One kept touching my hair. Another, in tones of escalating shrillness, confidently expressed that he wanted to get off, saying, “nåååååååå,” which you can probably translate for yourself.

Eventually, the plane glided up from Oslo to Paris, the piney, drizzly forest disappearing into a sea of marshmallow before the sea emerged somewhere near the coast of the continent. There were these big windmill things off the coast of what I would guess was Belgium or maybe was the Netherlands but wasn’t far enough along for my liking, seeing as I was already one flight and several hours in debt to this journey. Terrible coffee. The new Dua Lipa album, which is fine, but not much more. More screaming children. And then, when we eventually got to the most distant terminal that Charles de Gaulle has to offer, there was a delay with the luggage. My timely arrival in Dijon for an afternoon of mediocre sprint action was as doomed as the most doomed French breakaway.

Some indeterminate amount of time later – could be minutes, could be decades, who can tell – a slow metropolitan train pootled me from the airport to the centre of the city, via a change at some underground station I don’t remember the name of and couldn’t pronounce if I did. An SNCF railway worker took a massive piss on some weeds as we rolled past a rough-looking construction site next to a Citroën van with its back window smashed in. And then, finally, I was in Paris. I rushed to the ticket office to see if I could buy a ticket, even if I was just standing up or folded into a luggage rack, on the sold-out train to Dijon. “It is up to the train manager,” I was told. Be there two hours before your ticketed time. Hope and pray.

So I did. Despite my pleas, it was “completely full” and therefore “not possible,” probably because of all the people on their way with their bikes to see a stage of the Tour de France in the Home of Mustard. “It is not possible,” I was told again, which tracks with my lived experience, because, indeed, it was not possible. 

So what have I been doing since? Great question! I have been wandering the streets of Paris with a big suitcase. It’s been intermittently grim but also kind of outrageously beautiful, full of many things that are older than we normally get back home. I went from Gare de Lyon to a brasserie across the road from the station, got myself a Croque Monsieur, got myself a petit picher du rosé, tried to remember how to speak French rather than Norwegian or English which is all I’ve been doing for the last month. In short, I was a regular-fucking-Emily in Paris, minus the love triangles. 

If I was Emily (which I’m not) I’d probably walk up to the garden thingy near the station, so that’s what I did. There was a gravelly path up one side and back down the other and it was unspeakably beautiful in a “heartland of European civilisation” kind of way, all neat rows and orderly lines of plane trees. I brushed my teeth sitting on a park bench and spat on the roots of an oak. I looked at a marble statue of a philosopher deeply pondering an egg. I spoke to my family, who were scooting around on little scooters at a family sports arena thing mere hundreds of metres from Alexander Kristoff’s house. [Also nope on the day. -Ed]

I sat at a café and watched all manner of people – of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities – riding all manner of bikes around Paris’ boulevards and I felt really good about the place I was in at that point of time. About the only thing that could top it: if I was a couple of hours’ fast train ride to mustard city where the mustard’s strong and the mustard’s not gritty. 

Just out of frame to the left of the rehabilitated husk of Notre Dame: the tippy-toppy-tip of the Eiffel Tower. Pleasant!

So here we are, on a train. The amount of people on here who care about this stage of the Tour de France is, from the looks of it, close to zero. I half-heartedly check-in on the echelons, hot-spotting Tiz Cycling from phone to laptop in the hopes of gleaning any insight on the day’s proceedings. Across from me is an older woman who reminds me a bit of my Grandma, wearing a light jacket that looks like a tapestry and reading a broadsheet that’s heavy on the awfulness of the upcoming election. Eventually she falls asleep.

The woman next to me also falls asleep but then looks piercingly at my laptop screen when my typing wakes her up, which I reckon probably means she knows I’m writing this now so I’ll just flag that I’m sorry and hope that’s enough. The man across from me is chuckling along to something dry and current affairs-y. On the table across from me are a pair of businessmen busily businessing away on Powerpoint slides and Outlook Calendars. A man across from them is reading an academic paper on the war in Ukraine. No one, myself included, is particularly excited about Dylan Groenewegen winning a sprint in Dijon, even if he’s wearing silly-looking sunglasses. 

Which, to be clear, he absolutely is.

In 50 minutes, I’ll be in Dijon. The race, by then, will be long gone. Many of the people who piled onto the train from Paris to Dijon will pile back on to return home after a day in the sun watching a bike race and trying to catch trinkets from the Tour caravan. The riders will bundle themselves onto buses to dissect the day’s events, to vigorous massages, to big plates of pasta and boiled chicken. My colleagues will be sitting in a sweaty gymnasium tapping away and longing for the sweet respite of a night’s sleep of three sweaty boys in one room.

Maybe we’ll have duck. Maybe we’ll have entrecôte. These are the adventures that await this evening. After missing the entire first stage of my stint at the Tour to baggage carousels and train stations and aimless meandering, I couldn’t be more excited. 

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