*NOTE - all the pictures in this article were taken in 2012 with a first generation iPhone which means picture quality is minimal and pixelated.
At 6am on July 22, 2012 the alarm went off. I'd been looking forward to this day for six months. It wasn't hard to get out of bed - I was going to watch the final stage of 99th Tour de France, red carpet style.
As one of the top BMC bike retailers in the US, I had been invited to attend the final two days of the Tour de France with the BMC Cycling team.
As Paris woke up, I met the rest of the invited US, Asian, and European BMC bike retailers in front of the hotel. We were all given BMC jerseys to wear immediately (good marketing by BMC).
As a small horde, we were taken by our guide waving a BMC flag through cobblestone streets, past famous museums, and past the Louis Vitton flagship store that featured all yellow luggage in celebration of TDF.
After an hour of walking, we reached our destination. The TDF finish on the Champs-Elysees. We past security checks in yellow tents, got a VIP wristband, goodie bag with a TDF beach towel, and entered the BMC team tent directly across from the finish line.
We spent the next couple hours mingling with those in the VIP tent. This included BMC team managers, team owner Andy Rihs who was very friendly and gregarious, a large group of Andys' personal friends from Switzerland and France and invitees like me, BMC retailers.
Brunch was announced and I found myself sitting beside the upper class of Europe (Andy's friends), at a white linen table with real china and expensive champagne, within two arms lengths of the Champs-Elysees. It was a surreal moment that I was super grateful to experience.
While the long line of promotional flotillas slowly past, waiters served mushroom mousse for an appetizer, some type of raw shellfish with gelatin (never found out what this was), sorbet to cleanse our palate then steak au poivre for the main course. In typical French style, the presentation of each entree was elaborate. As the team cars rolled by, plates filled with delicate desserts were served. We drank champagne and our choice of wine from the vineyard of Andy Rihs while counting floats.
After a couple hours, the pacer cars drove past, we stood up from the tables full and tipsy, walked three steps to the railing and the contenders flew by. I could hear their heavy breathing, smell their sweat, hear them yelling at each other, and their wheels hitting the cobbles. I was giddy with adrenaline from the experience - and wine.
It was hard to get a good picture of the riders, they went by so fast - TV footage of the event doesn't give their speed justice. Many of my photos either showed no racers (like below) because I clicked the camera too early in preparation for their arrival, or were a blur like the second picture.
That night at the team party, amid good food and unlimited wine, Andy gave awards to all the racers and made a toast to Tejay van Garderen for winning the Young Rider Classification. I could tell he was trying to keep the mood upbeat, yet it was impossible not to notice that there was frustration that his team did not win the overall.
Cadel Evans didn't repeat his 2011 win even after BMC signed Thor Hushovd and Philippe Gilbert to ensure the podium. This year Evans was unable to defend his title, finishing in seventh overall, two places behind teammate Tejay van Garderen. Instead, Bradley Wiggins became the first British rider to win the Tour de France with Team Sky.
I heard from another bike retailer that last years team party went all night, this one petered out by midnight. Andy ended the party saying he was already strategizing with his team on how they were going to get back on the podium in 2013. I was just happy to have experienced the Tour de France up close, whether they won or not!