JI Cheng of China and Giant -Shimano leads the peloton during the third stage of the 2014 Tour de France, a 155km stage between Cambridge and London, on July 7, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Ji Cheng of China leads the peloton through the streets of London during the 2014 the Tour de France. (Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Though it’s called the Tour de France, sometimes the event begins in another country. This year’s Tour began in the United Kingdom, which is where Bill Littlefield, who’d gone to London for a break from sports, came to witness the spectacle. 

Being present when the Tour de France goes by is like being at Mardi Gras, but without the alcohol and the flashing. So watching the Tour de France isn’t much like watching Mardi Gras.

But the people on the trucks and vans that proceed the riders by hours do throw stuff into the crowd, which is reminiscent of the spectacle in New Orleans, and in both cases people scramble for the stuff, which, at the Tour, turns out to be not beads, but mostly advertising for the corporations sponsoring the event.

I know this because this time around, much to the dismay of some of the French, the Tour began in Great Britain, which is where I was on Day Three of the race. That stage found the cyclists who hadn’t crashed out during the first day sweeping along a road beside the Thames down the hill from a London tube station named Blackfriars, which I mention so that you won’t think I’m making up this story which found me watching the Tour de France go by without ever intending to do so.

It is probably not possible to go to the Super Bowl or the NCAA Final Four without benefit of planning and a considerable outlay of money, but that is not true of the Tour de France. You can just show up. If it turns out you have shown up so early that there is no crowd when you get to your chosen point along the route, you can walk a couple of blocks to an excellent Italian restaurant, have a terrific lunch, and still have plenty of time to wander back to the route in time for somebody going by on a truck to throw something at you. Or at least this was the case during Stage 3 this year.

Somebody next to me had sneezed. He’d missed [the riders].
There was also time for conversations with a London police officer and a man who lived about an hour outside the city, both of whom felt London had handled the aftermath of the 2012 Olympics well, and that there hadn’t been much in the way of frivolous construction, corruption, or waste, which was good to hear.

In the fullness of time, the riders arrived. A moment later they were gone, leaving behind the memory of a colorful blur. Somebody next to me had sneezed. He’d missed it.

I’m told the riders finished that day’s racing near Buckingham Palace, but you’d have to talk to somebody who got off the tube at a stop other than Blackfriars for eye witness confirmation of that. Shortly thereafter the race moved to France. By then I’d done everything I’d planned to do on my summer vacation, and, as it happened, more.