Chris captures the leader in the maillot jaune (yellow jersey) as the peloton approached our spot on the mountainside

The Tour de France route came within 2 hours of our home in Acqui Terme. So how could we resist a Day at the Races?

We set out in the morning with high hopes and little idea of how the day would go. Our vague plan was to watch the race near the category 3 mountain summit outside the tiny town of Villanova Mondovi. The racers would be riding slower on the climb and the hillside would hopefully allow a vista of the approaching cyclists.

A parosol against the sun, a lawn chair and great people watching made the waiting easy.

High mountain Stage 15 of The Tour dipped into our part of Italy, ending in the ski resort town of Prato Nevoso. Visitors take note - ski resort less than 2 hours from our place. Waiting for the action, we ate lunch at a pizzaria along the race route but did not get there in time to stake out an outdoor table. We could have watched the race with a slice of pizza in one hand and a glass of vino in the other. We'll know better next time!

For hours before the race came by, amateur bikers rode the course to the cheers of the crowds. I talked a really nice Italian guy (duh) into letting me pose on his super expensive bike with the mountain summit finish line in the background.

To get to our viewing spot we needed to drive on the race course itself for 30-40 kilometers – would we be able to do that? Turned out the race road is open to car traffic until 2 hours before the peloton is due and reopened almost immediately after it passes.

The first thing we noticed on the way to the race was the streets in towns along the course had been decorated by locals in festive yellow ribbons. Bike racing is BIG in Europe, like the Super Bowl in the USA. Although the racers were not due to pass for 4-5 hours, people were already partying along the roads. The atmosphere was exuberant and catching.

The beginning of the action is marked by the appearance of The Big Yellow Guy. At this point you know the racers are about an hour away.

About an hour before the racers are due to arrive, the Sponsor Parade cruises by made up of dozens of Mardi Gras type float cars. They threw souvenir hats, French comic books, playing cards (ouch), even packs of cigarettes. The crowd, including me, loved it.

The best part-time summer job ever - driving the cappuccino cup car in the Tour de France sponsor parade.

I had always wondered if the racers and support vehicles were really as dangerously close to the spectators as they looked on TV. Actually, THEY ARE CLOSER! Check out my close encounter of the Tour kind.