Friends: Tom Boonen, Tour de France veteran and leader of the Belgian Quick Step team, looked out over Trafalgar Square and told the gathered that he had never seen such a large crowd at a Tour de France presentation. Me neither. The crowd spilled down the surrounding half dozen streets that radiate out of the plaza and beyond.
Since early in the day Friday, all streets within half a mile of the Square had been closed off to motorized traffic, once again proving the magnitude and the power of the Tour. It dwarfs all else and draws like nothing else. More than a million people are expected to line the five-mile prologue course tomorrow, rivaling the numbers for the L'Alpe d'Huez time trial a couple years ago. It starts just down the street from Trafalgar on Whitehall, goes past Ten Downing Street, then over and around Hyde Park, before heading back to near its starting point with Buckingham Palace in the background.
Sunday's first stage will be equally dramatic, passing Big Ben and the Parliament Building and The Eye before crossing the Tower Bridge on its way to Greenwich and its Meridian Line, then heading out of town to Cantebury 125 miles away. I'm headquartered just a few blocks from the Tower Bridge, staying with a film friend from Chicago who lives along the Thames across the street from Helen Mirren. It is a sensational location, just three miles from Trafalgar. Tom couldn't be a better host. He scoured "Time Out London" before I arrived looking for all the bike-related events going on this weekend. There are loads--three galleries showing Tour photos, a bike ballet, a bike play and a bicycle fair grounds along with all the racing.
Its been exciting to meet all the racing enthusiasts at the various events and out riding the course. They've all been exceptionally well-informed and fanatical, but none more so than Graham Watson, bicycle racing's premier photographer since the LeMond era. One of the galleries hosted an exhibition of over 100 of his photos. He was just hanging out in his shorts, happy to talk. As much as his photography, I enjoy his monthly column in a British cycling magazine. He writes with a frankness that ordinary writers can't. We'll be looking for each other along the course the next three weeks.