The How, Where and Why of Toti's Tour de France

Written by Toti - August 2010

I love painting people and costume and of course, PARIS. The Tour de France is all of this. So one day I decided to paint the Tour de France. The start, the mountains and the finish. With champion Lance Armstrong as an added inspiration and my husband, Peter helping with the photography and was a piece of cake...well not exactly. Three large 7 by 4 foot canvasses, four years of intense painting and drawing and three trips to France...A real adventure!

We saw Lance twice in France... whizzing by at top speed, but on Wed. August 25th he will be "off the bike" so to speak, and sitting very close to us at a luncheon sponsored by the "Breast Cancer Foundation" in Edmonton, Alberta...A Tour de Force for me because Lance will be able to see himself in the paintings...up front and personal and possibly sign the artwork for a "Charity Donation auction".

The Start

Le Grand Départ de Vendée

July 2005...We arrived in beautifull Paris..and from there took a fast train to Nantes where the TOUR time trials would begin in the nearby fishing village of Noirmoutier. On discovering that the roads would be closed at 6 Noirmoutier we did some fast talking in the Hotel and were offered an early morning ride from a couple of young Americans. (Chad and Mallory)

In Noirmoutier it was exciting to see some Canadian flags lining the barricades of the Tour road...the farmers took time off from the Salt -raking to picnic with their families while waiting for the racers...always the baguette and cheese and wine. The hay farmers ate their feast on a huge wagon in the field.. Lots of souvenirs for sale too...hats, shirts..buttons..flags.. The Sponsor's publicity Caravan of vehicles arrived 1 hours before the bikers appeared..Everyone was excited because there are petit cadeaux (gifts) thrown from every float..hats, whistles, scarves, musette bags, candy and even cheese and beer coupons..Bottles of water are thrown from the Aquarel can even get sprayed with a mini fire hose.

We had a sneak preview of the race in the overhead tv screen..and there's Lance Armstrong overtaking Jan Ullrich..everyone looked up and Cheered..This was a Lance defining moment in the race....eventually he whizzed by for real as we were near the "arrivee" finish line..You could hear Phil Liggett's voice clearly over the loud-speaker.

And that was my inspiration for painting #1.. Le grand Départ de Vendée..Noirmoutier. (Did I forget to mention Tom Boonen? A great sprinter. One of My favourites) Back to Paris on the night train.

The Mountains

Col de Souler- the Pyrenees

We travelled to the south of France to explore Arles (Van Gogh's starry night Cafe). Vence (Matisses's Chapel de Rosarie) and Nice ( Chagal Museum)..then to Florence for a little Botticelli and Michelangelo.. From Florence, a fast train to LOURDES where we caught up with the Tour in the Pyrenees mountains. What luck..our Hotel was home to Credit Lyonnais, a main sponsor of the Tour de France..Yellow cars everywhere..and also a chance to see the Grotto where Bernadette saw the Vision of Madonna...Lots of enlightened souvenirs here.. and Red Cross nurses helping the hopefulls, waiting for their blessings.

An auspicious meeting with two kind Americans (Charles and Missy) who offered to take us up into the Pyrenees Mountains early in the morn... Hundreds of Gendarmes lined the way. A mountain scene of RV's stretched for miles.. colored tents and Biker Tours from all around the Globe, and yes...a Chalet with espresso..and cheese and sausage stands..souvenirs too.

All the famous Tour crazies were out..the Tifosi, Basques bunny girls...Texas Longhorn road runner, DiDi Sneft the Devil man..lots of ideas for the painting...the chalk drawings on the pavement gave homage to the former greats..Coppi..Pantani..Hinault and Eddie Merckx . And there's a large white banner with the "Lance Armstrong Foundation" kids. After hours of waiting and having loads of fun meeting loads of Tour Bikers..the sound of the whirl of a helicopter meant only one thing..the Tour was coming around the bend..what excitement..!! And then the peloton was in view..a breakaway with Pereiro, Mazzoleni , Zandio and Evans!.Lance and George close by.. but really didn't last long.. the fans will camp for days just to get a glimpse of this gladiator activity... All my sketches from the day ..lots to work with.

A bus to Pau and then an overnight train to Paris..and get ready for the Champs Elysee finish.

The Finish


At 6 a.m. we finished our croissant and cafe and headed to the Champs-Elyseés (in the pouring rain) for the final stage of the Tour de France. As we raced through the streets of Paris we came to Ave. Montaigne and I suddenly STOPPED..there's a Chanel window..I put my face so close that I accidently crashed my nose..Oh Well..A broken nose (almost) on a Chanel worth it!

Onward to the Champs Elysee. Thousands of people are already camping out..we found a prestine spot..perfect view for my research..and waited in the rain for about 8 hours.. A bus of German tourists arrived behind us with tables and chairs and crates of wine..and created a Tour party..No shortage of entertainment here.

The sun came out and there were the Riders.. and Lance in the Maillot Jaune. 7 times around the Course followed by the red Skoda Car..with Jean-Marie Leblanc leaning out of the roof...ready with a glass of champagne for the Champion. And then it was finished..Lance had WON! He makes a final round carrying the American flag and is hounded by photographers..Graham Watson, legendary Tour photographer was there in front line. The whole team of "Discovery" in clear view. ...I absorb everything I can.

So this is Lance's 7th Victory. It makes for an Inspiring Project..not only to paint the Tour de France (and Paris)... but to paint a living Legend. He went up on the Podium to receive his awards.. Two beautifull women gave him flowers, a stuffed lion... all part of the program... and there was his Mom and Sheryl Crow... and his cute kids all in yellow. And Robin Williams was there too. (I think I'll put him in the broom wagon).

A year later

Vancouver Island, Canada

An image of the first completed painting (Grand Départ de Vendée) was sent overseas to Christian Prudhomme, New Director of the Tour de France. He was impressed and happy and sent us a letter with two VIP tickets on the Champs Elysee for the 2006 Tour... That was a plus and excellent viewing for the final painting.

View the finished three Tour de France paintings »