Sunday, July 24, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France: Stages 15-20

After Stage 15's brief but beautiful journey through the villages of the Southern France... was time for the Alps!

What words define the Alps for you? Maybe majestic, grand, or even breathtaking. But we Tour fans have our own unique shorthand for describing these magnificent mountains. A picture may be worth a thousand words -- but for us, a simple name brings up a world of images and stories.

Like Col du Galibier, with its misty, treeless summit and winding road, the site of this year's Stage 18 and 19:

That word, Galibier, will now always bring Tour fans back to the thrill of Andy Schleck's solo breakaway on Stage 18 and Alberto Contador's equally daring attack on Stage 19. Who wasn't cheering at their TV's during those stages?!

Then there's the mythic L'Alpe d'Huez, with its 21-switchbacks, wild fans, bright colors, and thrilling finishes...

After Stage 20, it will always be remembered as a very special place for young Pierre Rolland, the first French cyclist to win this legendary climb since the 1980's. That's the beauty of the Tour -- there's a little magic in it for everyone.

This year we can also add new names and images to our Tour vocabulary. Like the high-speed descent through the dark forests of Sestrieres, where in Stage 17 Thomas Voeckler once again defended his Yellow Jersey with so much heart and panache.

Then there was the so-called "transitional" Stage 16, which to everyone's surprise turned into a fantastic GC battle when Alberto Contador attacked on the Category 2 Col de Manse. But that was only half the story! Norwegian Thor Hushovd's victory inspired thousands of Scandinavian fans to cheer him on, chalking his name on the road in grand Le Tour tradition.

And to end this historic week of racing, there was Stage 20's Grenoble. Not a mountain, but a beautiful mountain city, where Cadel Evans launched his magical ride.

What an incredible Tour de France! And after 20 stages of watercoloring, I'm beginning to run out of paint! But I think I have a little left for one more day: Stage 21. Paris.

So fellow TV viewers ... see you on the Champs-Elysees.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France: Stages 12, 13, & 14 (The Pyrenees)

The soulful Pyrenees seem so mysterious and remote in comparison to their superstar cousins, the Alps. But that just makes them all the more romantic. Maybe you have a mountain range near your own home that you love, like the Berkshires, the Cascades, or the Alleghenies. But for a few days in July, every cycling fan's heart lies in the Pyrenees.

My Stage 12, 13, and 14 watercolors are of the blur of orange-flag-waving Basque fans as they crowd around the climbing rider, a lone racer careening down a misty Pyrenean descent, and the mountain switchbacks made so colorful by the breakaway and long line of fans:

There was so much drama in these three stages! Not only did Thor Hushovd earn his first mountain victory, but the battle of the favorites was both weird and wonderful. Sure, it would have been fun to see Contador, one of the Schleck brothers, or Evans pull out ahead and really dominate the race. But watching all of the contenders eye and test each other on the slopes of the Plateau de Beille was equally suspenseful and thrilling. And best of all, we still have no idea who the 2011 Tour de France frontrunner is. It's going to make for a wonderful few days in the Alps!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stages 10 & 11

Two stages, two days of amazing Tour de France scenery and racing. For Stage 10, I decided to paint a watercolor of the riders careening through the lovely red-roofed village of Villefranche...

And for Stage 11, the iconic Tour image: the peloton racing past fields of bright yellow sunflowers ... here in a quick, late-night watercolor:

Can't wait for the Pyrenees tomorrow!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France: Stages 7, 8, & 9

Those were beautiful fields the peloton rode through in Stage 7 of the Tour de France -- the perfect setting for Mark Cavendish's incredible stage win. Here in my Stage 7 watercolor, the riders are being cheered on by local fans as they race through the lovely colors of the Loire Valley:

But the scenery in next two stages was truly magical! Deep in the Auvergne region of France, the riders weaved their way around the "puys" of the Massif Central. Puy is the French term for a dormant volcano. How cool is that?! Both stages featured climbs up and around those magnificent old mountains (as well as some terrible crashes, unfortunately). Here in my Stage 8 watercolor, the peloton is just a tiny ribbon of color as it races toward the village ahead (I put on of one of those distinctive puys on the right):

And in Stage 9, the riders rode right up into the misty upper reaches of those now-quiet volcanos:

Friday, July 8, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stage 6

We see so many colors rush by the peloton as the Tour weaves its way across France. Soon we'll replace the greys, browns, deep greens and blues of northern France with the sandy and sunny colors of the Mediterranean coast and the cold granite shades of the Pyrenees and Alps. But if there's one color we see absolutely everywhere on Le Tour, it's the stark white of all those rented RV's and campers!

I imagine the camper-renting fans must be having so much fun. They simply park their RV in a prime spot, role down the awning, break out the Normandy cheese, and wait for the Tour to pass by. I love seeing whole families cheering on the race, standing in front of those oddly charming-looking vehicles.

So here's my Stage 6 watercolor, dedicated to rented campers and the fans who inhabit them.

Hmmm ... I wonder where that family on the left drove in from, waving the black, yellow, and red flag. Can you guess? (Hint: they're most likely rooting for Philippe Gilbert and the entire Quick Step and Omega Pharma-Lotto teams...)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stage 5

Congratulations to Mark Cavendish on an incredible sprint finish!

As much as I was rooting for Tyler Farrar on Stage 3, I was rooting for Cavendish today. Something just doesn't feel right these days when Cavendish isn't out there winning stages. Maybe it's because we feel his emotions so vividly. We know how terrible Cavendish feels when things go wrong, especially since he always says he owes his loyal teammates a win. Or maybe it's because watching Cavendish and HTC-Highroad win a sprint is such a thing of beauty. In Cavendish and HTC's hands, the tactics of cycling look so graceful and powerful on the road.

Today's victory might not have followed the usual HTC-Highroad playbook, but that just made it all the more thrilling.

And then there was the magnificent backdrop of Brittany, with its grey villages, rocky coastlines, and all those delightful fans. Watching today's stage, I wanted to hop on a plane, rent a bike, ride to a spot on the Tour route, and cheer alongside all those wonderful people who love cycling so much.

So I'll do the next best thing. To the cycling fans of beautiful Brittany, this Stage 5 watercolor is for you.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stage 4

What an amazing stage -- with Contador, Evans, Hushovd, and Gilbert all battling it out at the finish! The "Wall of Brittany" certainly lived up to its evocative name, here in its first Tour de France appearance as a stage finish (See interesting comment from Trevor of the Purple Traveller blog below, correcting an earlier version of this post where I wrote that it was the Wall's first-ever appearance in Le Tour. Thanks, Trevor!)

Like yesterday, the scenery was just incredible. Gone are the red roofs of the Vendee region. Here in Brittany, we're being treated to the beautiful greys of the shops, houses, and village cathedrals, and the deep greens of the forests. And so it's that dark, mysterious forest that is the subject of my TdF watercolor for today, as the peloton races through Brittany on its way to the Mur de Bretagne.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stage 3

There were so many dramatic scenes I could have chosen to paint for Stage 3. The peloton crossing the incredible St. Nazaire Bridge, Tyler Farrar forming a "w" with his fingers as a victory salute to the late Wouter Weylandt, and Yellow-Jersey wearer Thor Hushovd cheering on his teammate Farrar at the finish all would have made for wonderful subjects.

But one of the things I love about watching the Tour is discovering the little slices-of-life that make Old World France so unique. I've been visiting with my parents in North Carolina this week while on vacation, and one the things my mother (who is a great Tour de France fan) enjoys seeing are shutters that actually work!

Here in the US, shutters are pretty much decorative. They're just nice window dressings permanently nailed open. They don't even have hinges anymore. But in France, sometimes the shutters are open and sometimes they're closed. Sometimes they're bright blue, red, green, or brown. And sometimes, if you look closely enough, you can see a Tour de France fan inside wearing a yellow shirt and hat cheering on the race.

So to all the French fans throwing open their shutters, waving the Tri-Color, and shouting "allez! allez!" at their favorite riders ... this painting is for you.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stage 2

For this very exciting Team Time Trial stage, I was going to paint the winning team, Garmin-Cervelo, racing through the beautiful village of Les Essarts, with "Etape 2" (Stage 2) rising out of the background. But after painting the riders so stark against the white paper, I looked at it for a moment and thought: "you know, that's pretty nice just as it is."

Because the mechanics of a team time trial are a beautiful thing alone. An even line of riders, speeding ahead at rates of over 40 mph, rotating leaders at the front like a graceful machine ... it's a thrilling site.

Keen observers will notice that I did not include Thor Hushovd's Polka Dot King-of-the-Mountains jersey in this painting. That's because it just didn't look right on Thor! We're used to him in green, sprinting toward the finish ... not laboring up a mountain in polka dots (besides, it really belonged to Philippe Gilbert, who was in the Yellow Jersey). So I took a little creative license and gave Thor a matching Garmin-Cervelo outfit. After winning yellow at the end of this stage, I'm sure Thor was happy to be out of those polka-dots too.

I may go back and finish this painting at some point. But for now, it's all about Garmin-Cervelo. Congrats our great American team!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Colors of the Tour de France, Stage 1

The Tour de France is back!

For me, the month of July is all about the Tour. That means watching the coverage on Versus each evening, and then breaking out the watercolors to continue what has become an annual tradition on this blog ... a Tour project! Because after seeing something so monumental and beautiful every night, you just have to do something.

And this year, my project is all about color.

Sometimes abstract, sometimes more literal, and sometimes a little of both, I hope to capture a bit of the real -- and even imagined -- colors of each stage. Connecting each painting: "Etape", the wonderful French word for "Stage".

This year, the Tour literally seemed to rise from the sea, as the riders crossed the Passage du Gois -- a road that twice-a-day is completely submerged by high tides, connecting the Beauvoir-sur-Mer to the Vendee region of France. We didn't see much of that crossing on T.V., since it happened very early in the race. But it was that long mysterious road that still formed the mythology of this stage.

And so today, even with all the drama of crashes and sprints that shook up the General Classification ... it was the peloton's crossing of the sea that was foremost in my mind. The blues of water and sky, browns of the seabed, the greens of the Vendee countryside, a hint of red for all those red-roofed towns, and one long, dark road illuminated by the peloton ... those are the colors that stood out in my mind in Stage 1.

As an aside, June was a very eventful month for me, which I'll be reporting on within the next couple weeks. I just finished the two-day, 150 mile Boston-to-Provincetown MS Ride -- an incredible experience. So stayed tuned for details!