Thursday, June 29, 2006

Obernai, France

Friends: The lobby of the city hall of Obernai has been converted to a bicycle museum for a couple of weeks, and it was mobbed this morning, even though The Tour does not come to town until Monday, when it will make its start here for the second stage of the Tour. I paid an early visit, as I will be well down the stage route when the riders make their departure sometime after noon.

The exhibit was entitled a tribute to The Little Queen, as the French refer to the bicycle, tracing the evolution of the bicycle from 1869 to the present. There were memorabilia and mementos to match--jerseys, water bottles, magazines, plates, games, photos, and posters including the rock group Queen's album with all the naked women astride bicycles. There was a bike used by firemen with a long coil of hose wrapped in the bike's triangle. There was a tandem that allowed the two riders to sit back to back, each with handlebars pointed in opposite directions, though the chain was set up so that the bike only went one direction. There were also videos of the Tour's history. The exhibit was free, but the brisk sale of yellow Obernai-Tour t-shirts was generating plenty of revenue.

Most of the local businesses had their storefronts dressed up in tribute to the Tour as well. Many had decorated bicycles dangling from up high outside their stores. Its the same in every town the Tour passes through, but each town achieves its own individuality. There is no end to how creative people can be with the bicycle.

Obernai is just 15 miles from the large city of Strasbourg where the Prologue and the start and finish of stage one will take place. Tonight the 189 participants in The Tour will be introduced at a gala two-hour ceremony in front of the palace on one of the many rivers and canals that lace the city. Usually the presentation is done the day before the Tour starts, but with the World Cup conflict, it has been moved up a day.

Strasbourg is a most worthy starting point for the Tour, as it considers itself the premier cycling city in France with nearly 300 miles of bicycle paths. There were loads of cyclists out and about yesterday when I passed through after crossing the Rhine River from Germany on the very bridge that the peloton will ride over on stage one Sunday. The route will cross into Germany for just 20 miles. This year's route will also slip into Luxembourg, Belguim, Holland and Spain. Only one Tour in the 104 years since the first race has it included more countries.

Though I've enjoyed some superlative cycling in the past month, none can match the tranquility of the French roads passing through the compact villages that dot the French countryside, each with their own bakery and town hall. There is a decided difference in the demeanor of the people as well. People seem less harried and more content here. I will greatly enjoy the next three weeks, whether I am on the actual Tour route or on my way back to it.

I have backed off a bit on my mileage the past few days and my legs feel fully rejuvenated and ready for the task ahead of riding one hundred miles and more day after day trying to keep up with The Tour, putting as much time in on the bike as the daylight and the gendarmes monitoring the route will allow. I haven't had as much mountain training as the past two years, but I should be OK. With such excitement to look forward, the legs require little prodding. These are the days when it is so wonderful to be on the bike, it is hard to stop for the necessary food and rest.

Plotting my route, looking for shortcuts to save miles, is as daunting a task as trying to squeeze in as many movies as I can at a film festival. Each day's route is an intricate web of small roads. Rare is it for The Tour to stick to the same road for more than a few miles except in the mountains when it has no choice. It winds with a mind of its own seeking to include as many towns as it can and significant sites that have a strand of Tour lore, going out of its way to pass through the hometown of someone who has or has had a connection to The Race.

Later, George

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