By Jon Devich in Challans
Thousands turned out for the Tour de France team presentation on Friday in Challans. Cloudy skies and threats of showers didn't deter eager fans from lining the 1km parade lap. This year Tour organizers debuted a different format to the presentation compared to previous years when a simple stage and roll-up showcased each team. Always trying to outdo itself, the Tour presented each team on an elaborate stage with spectacular lighting and even a low hanging fog. After a team rolled up and each rider was presented, the group exited the Parc des Sports to be escorted by young riders holding Tour and country flags. Fans could then get a close up look at their favourites as they made their way around the loop. Supplementing the 21 teams was a recreation of a turn of the century race caravan made up of riders and historical vehicles.
The riders seemed to really enjoy their time under the lights, and every team rolled into the streets with wide smiles on their faces. Lance Armstrong looked laid back and relaxed as usual, fielding a couple of questions while on stage. Main rival Jan Ullrich looked equally relaxed, even though he was sporting a bandage on his neck which covered up the minor cuts from his crash while training earlier in the day.
The hero of the evening had to be Thomas Voeckler. Voeckler and his Bouygues Telecom team brought the loudest cheers from the audience who kept clapping well after the team got in place on the stage. Director Sportif Christian Guiberteau became heartwarmingly emotional during his thank you words to the Tour organization. Voeckler's welcome was then just as loud outside the Parc des Sports as the team came into the street for the parade.
The evening ended as teams completed the loop and headed back to the buses. Fans crowded behind the barriers for a better view but with a big day tomorrow their was no lingering by the riders. Today kicks off at 15:40 with the last rider, Lance Armstrong, leaving the start house at 18:48. With high winds along the coast it should prove to be an exciting race.