Thursday, June 30, 2005

Challons 2

Friends: It was a breeze finding my way to the Bobet museum as there was a sign at nearly every intersection through his home town of St-Méen-la-Grand indicating the way. And then to top it off, there was a large vinyl yellow banner with his name on it across the highway right in front of the museum. If I had to ask at the Tourist Office for its whereabouts I would have been certified blind and had my bike confiscated on the spot, as the two share the same century old two-story house.

It's been 50 years since Bobet won the last of his three Tour de France titles, but the town isn't about to let anyone who passes through forget him. The local stadium is also named after him. Until Anquetil came along a decade later to become the first person to win the Tour more than three times, Bobet and Phillippe Thys held the record for most Tour wins.

I had been riding hard, coming 160 miles in a day-and-a-half, to arrive during the museum's hours of two to five. It was 2:30 and not open, nor was anyone in the Tourist Office. This was a quiet town where attention to schedule was not strictly observed and lunches could be prolonged, so I plopped down for some refueling of my own, something I can do any time.

The woman tending the Tourist Office returned at three with the bad news that the museum was closed this day. Most places it is Monday. If I had known, I would have made my circuit of Brittany counter-clockwise and headed here directly from Plouay. If there had been Internet in St-Meen I might have considered taking a rest day there and lingering until the museum was open the next afternoon. But then I wouldn't arrive in Challans until Friday, the day of the Tour opening ceremony. I was intent on arriving by Thursday, so I'd have ample time for some rest and to partake of all the pre-race festivities. I didn't want to cut it too close and risk being delayed by bad weather or mechanical difficulties. I had bigger fish to fry than seeing the inside of the Bobet Museum. I was content to have at least seen the outside of it and to see the high esteem he is accorded by his community. The details of his career can be found elsewhere.

I will no doubt be back in this region one of these years anyway, if only to complete my circuit of the perimeter of France. Between this summer and last I have ridden all of it except for about a one hundred mile nibble between St-Méen and Rouen, where I visited Anquetil's Memorial before last year's Tour. This neglected stretch includes many of the D-Day, or J-Jour, as the French call it, beaches of the Normandy invasion, and also Mont St. Michel, the most visited tourist site of France after the Eiffel Tower. Having biked 8,000 miles all over France these past two summers and not visiting Mont St. Michel is akin to biking across India and not seeing the Taj Mahal, which I am also guilty of. Some tourist I am. I did not skip Machu Pichu, however, when I biked through Peru or the Blue Lagoon when I made my circuit of Iceland or Angor Wat when I crossed Cambodia, so I can't be accused of forgoing the premier tourist site of every country I have visited.

I have now biked a little over 3,000 miles these past two months, or month-and-a-half, as two weeks of my time in France were spent watching movies. I began with a 600 mile ride from Paris to Cannes, did about 150 miles in my two weeks there, then resumed my serious riding with 400 miles in the Alps. Then it was about 1,000 miles across the bottom of the country, zig-zagging my way up to Craig and Onni's and through the Pyrenees to Pau. It was then 700 miles up to Brest, 100 miles along the Channel and then 200 miles back down to Challans. I feel primed and ready for the 2,000 miles of the Tour, though I won't tag along with the peloton the whole way. I'll follow the first five stages and then let them head over to Germany and down to the Alps on their own. I will linger in Tours and do some biking in the Loire Valley with friends Florence, former Chicago bike messenger, and her husband Rachid, before heading down to the to follow the last eight stages of the race.

When I was here in Challans a week ago the town was well-decorated celebrating the Tour, but it is even more so now. As I headed to Challans from Nantes today I began to feel a surge of Tour excitement as I was passed by a parade of Tour vehicles--team cars, sponsors, TV trucks, RV's of fans and perhaps some of its riders. All riders are due today for medical certification. Tomorrow evening will be a gala introduction and then Saturday the competition commences. Can't wait.

Later, George

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