Sunday, July 25, 2004

Besancon, France

Friends: I didn't initially plan on biking to Besancon, site of yesterday's time trial, as it was 60 miles beyond the previous day's stage finish and not on my way back to Paris, 250 miles away, but after learning it was the birthplace of the Lumiere Brothers, fathers of cinema, that was reason enough to alter my route. It's nice to be under no pressure to be anywhere for the first time in weeks. My only deadline is to make it to Paris in ten days for my flight home. I can
once again dig out my long forsaken, 1,100 page, Lonely Planet guidebook to France and let it dictate my meanderings for a change.

Its been two months and two days since I concluded my gluttony of 60 films in 12 days at Cannes. I haven't seen a movie since, which puts me right on my yearly average of about 20 per month. Fahrenheit 911 has opened in France, but I'll hold off seeing it until I return to Chicago. Its Sunday, so the Lumiere Brother's home in the city center here, right across the street from
Victor Hugo's home, wasn't open. That meant I could go straight to a sports bar with a big screen to watch the Tour's promenade into Paris and its multiple concluding circuits of the Champs Elysees.

I was happy to have one last chance to ride a Tour route while it was still fresh from all the previous day's energy. As soon as I picked it up, I could feel the charge right to my bones. It happens every time, whether I'm preceding the riders or following them. The yellow arrow markers were long gone, so I didn't have that thrill of letting them guide my way, but the
official plastic orange garbage bags still lined the course, bulging with refuse, waiting to be picked up. There was little stray litter between them, as everyone conscientiously picks up after themselves. There were a few people out walking the course, as I always see, hoping to find something. And surprisingly, despite the thousands that had lined the course, there is still stray stuff to be found. I picked up some cheese and crackers and a racing cap and a can of soup. I kept my eyes peeled for the newspaper "L'Equipe," but saw none. There was plenty of writing still on the road and an occasional banner left posted and also decorated bikes in the small towns the route passed through.

The possibility of more bike art was another of the attractions that drew me to Besancon. The
previous arrival city had a fantastic cluster of paper-mache bodies on bikes ranging from Charlie Chaplin to insects and animals and bare-breasted women. There were mobs of people still attracted to them in the town center. That could be Chicago's next summer art project--give 300 artists a bike with a mannequin and let them go wild. As this exhibit showed, the possibilities are infinite and so is the interest in it.

I took a 15-mile detour on my way to Besancon this morning to see one of France's 27 UNESCO World Heritage sites--the utopian industrial city Saline Royale. Like all the other of these sites I've seen here (the Roman Theater in Orange, the Chartres Cathedral, the walled city of Avignon) it was most exemplary and worthy of special recognition. The UNESCO sites invariably offer something truly unique, inspiring a sense of awe and appreciation and wonder. They inspire hope and confidence in the ability of humans to create things of nobility that can lift the spirit and soothe the soul. This was the first such site I'd gone out of my way to see. If I'd had a map of all of them, I would have made a genuine effort to see as many of them as I could. Seeking them out would make for a great bike tour in the future.

Saline Royale was built in the late 1800s to harvest salt. It lasted just over 100 years. The
industrial complex was laid out in a manner that treated the workers with respect, somewhat influenced by the philosopher Rousseau. The ten or so large stone buildings, laid out in a semi-circle with vast lawns around them, are now devoted to championing humanistic urban development. One of the huge buildings had a special exhibit devoted to Danish architect and designer Verner Panton that was also most exhilarating.

Its now on to Dijon and its Mustard Museum, 60 miles away, and a ride through champagne country. I will eventually make my ride into Paris following the route the peloton took today. That will mean that I will have ridden at least some segment of 16 of the 20 stages of this year's Tour, much more than I anticipated. I was able to witness nine of them. I will now be able to answer in the affirmative that question I'm asked by those not so versed in cycling, "Have you ever ridden the Tour de France?" Until now I've responded by asking them, "Have you ever played in Wimbledon?", if they're a tennis player, or "Have you ever played in the Masters?", if they're a golfer. They always seem disappointed that I, with all my biking, have never ridden in the Tour to France.

Cheers to Lance and his exceptional efforts. I hope his intimations of this being his last Tour are
just frustrations with the French for letting that book alleging his drug use to be published here. Even though it was written by an English journalist, it has only been released in French. Lance tried to get it stopped. Lance used to live in France but moved to Spain, in retaliation to a lingering investigation into his team's alleged drug use. He definitely can't retire, obligated as he is to his new sponsor and teammates. If he elects to race in the Tour of Italy or the Tour of Spain instead, both three week grand tours just a cut below the Tour de France, he would bring them great attention and luster. But fear not that this is his last race. He is still too good and relishes it
too much to bow out just yet. And that's good news for all of us who appreciate superlative performance.

Later, George

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