Friends: The French were far less carried away with the euphoria that would grip just about any other country playing in a World Cup Final. Biking through Tours, a sizable city 150 miles southwest of Paris, the afternoon of the match, there was no indication whatsoever that his was the day of the championship game, climaxing the month-long tournament that captivates much of the world every four years. Anywhere else, people would be walking around wearing team jerseys and colors and would be draped by their country's flag. The flag would have been dangling everywhere and there would have been a giant screen in the town plaza for the citizens to gather at.
At the cluster of eight-story apartment complexes where Florence and Rachid live on the outskirts of Tours, there was just one lone window with a paper, sunbleached French flag taped to its inside. None of this was any indication that there was no interest, as much of the nation would be watching, but the French were most restrained in their fervor. Rachid explained it was partially so they wouldn't be too disappointed if they lost.
Rachid made for a perfect viewing companion, as he had watched every one of the sixty plus games of the tournament, about two a night for a month. His intensity was contagious, allowing me to share in his tension and excitement. When the French star and tournament MVP Zadine was ejected from the game with the score tied and just minutes left, he at first wanted to turn off the TV. It was Zadine's final game of his career. What an ignominious way to end it. But he did the same thing in a game when 17 cameras were focused on him from start to finish for an entire
game for a 90-minute documentary that played at Cannes. Certain aggressive fouls warrant ejection, which this 34-year old veteran player knows full well. Whether he thought he could get away with it, or whether his manhood demanded retaliation is unknown, but it gave the French plenty to talk about after their overtime loss.
The French president attended the game and was interviewed afterward. He forgave Zadine and congratulated the team on their effort, as it was close the whole way and could have gone either way. It is assumed the French public too will forgive Zadine and that he will not lose any of his 25 million dollars of annual advertising contracts either.
Monday was a rest day for the peloton and me too, though Florence and Rachid and I took a leisurely 35-mile ride on a bike path along the Loire. It is part of a path that will one day go from the Atlantic to Budapest. We pedaled past corn fields and fields of sunflowers and scattered red poppy flowers. We also rode past a couple of motor home encampments of gypsies. Since they are a homeless people without a country, they are allowed to camp in open fields throughout Europe. Such encampments are a common site around larger cities.
Tomorrow is the first significant stage of the Tour, as it makes its first incursion into the
mountains--the Pyrenees. Floyd Landis could seize control and become just the fourth American in history to wear yellow. He was the only American to have a good time trial Saturday, finishing with the second best time and moving up to second place. The only person better, and the only person presently ahead of him, is a 36-year only Ukranian who rides for the German T-Mobile team, but isn't much of a threat in the mountains. Lance at 34 last year was the oldest person to win the Tour in decades. None of the Discovery team riders finished in the top ten of the time trial, a major upset.