Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lanloup, France

Friends: Rather than sending the peloton east out of Brest and across the heart of Brittany to commence the 2008 Tour, organizers could have pointed it westward and allowed it to trace the northern perimeter of Brittany's rugged scenic coastline along the English Channel. After 120 miles that first stage could have concluded at the quiet, small village of Lanloup in honor of Daniel Behrman, where he wrote a good portion of the 1970's classic "The Man Who Loved Bicycles," one of the premier odes to the bicycle.

Behrman was an American journalist who wrote for UNESCO in Paris for over 20 years. He would escape to Lanloup, 250 miles from Paris, whenever he could. Much of his book recounts his bicycling forays about Paris, while detailing his evolution as a cyclist from someone who initially rode a rental bike in the bois for exercise. He graduated to commuter then on to someone who lived for the bicycle. The book is also a diatribe against all things automobile, and is subtitled, "The Memoir of a Autophobe."

Behrman died about ten years ago in Rangely, Maine, where he retreated with his French photographer wife not long after writing his bicycle book. Lanloup shows little evidence of having changed much since they sojourned there. Its location a couple miles from the shoreline and less than half a mile from the main highway has spared it the development of many of the neighboring coastal towns that have become beach resorts.

Lanloup has just one quiet, main street. Its small cathedral and surrounding cemetery are at the center of the town, right across the street from a tobacco shop and a small cafe with tables and chairs on the sidewalk out front. At the opposite corner from the cathedral is the Mairie, recessed behind a small courtyard. Behind the Mairie is a small token of a park with a couple of picnic tables. The town toilet is there at the corner, too, with a water pump and a sign warning "Eau non-potable". Despite a campground and small hotel, it has no tourist office, unlike most of the nearby towns. The only traffic to pass through during my short visit was a car pulling an inflatable boat coming up from the coast. The only sign of anything new were the rows of wicker chairs filling the cathedral. Behrman would no doubt have something sharp to say about the small billboards on the highway that runs past Lanloup advertising a McDonald's in Paimpol seven miles up the road.

Lanloup isn't the only Brittany town with a cycling heritage that The Tour route is neglecting. Yiffiniac and St. Meen-le-Grand, home towns of Tour legends Hinault and Bobet, are also being overlooked, though the route does come within seven miles of each, St. Meen to the west as the peloton heads north to St. Briec, and Yiffiniac seven miles to the east of The Tour finish in St. Briec. The Tour has visited both towns in the past and chose to include other towns this time. Both Hinault and Bobet and their home towns will receive attention enough. Lanloup sits just 30 miles to the north of the stage two finish in St. Briec, so Tour followers could pay it a visit if they cared to.

St. Briec was plastered with Tour billboards and banners. I passed through on a Sunday, when all was quiet and the Tourist Office closed. A peek inside revealed no Tour exhibits, just The Tour brochure posted in the window. St. Briec was much more excited about hosting The Tour, than St. Malo, 50 miles to the east. Three was little evidence that The Tour would be setting off on its third stage to Nantes from there. Not even its Hotel de Ville, the starting point, had any Tour mention. St. Malo hasn't been a Ville Etape since 1980 and didn't seem to remember how to embrace The Tour. Its an attraction on its own, 20 miles west of Mont St. Michel and ferry point to England. It was bustling with tourists visiting its old fort and walking its long wide beach. It is separated from its sister city Dinard by a wide estuary, that makes it somewhat isolated and not so easy to access, one reason why it has been so long since The Tour has visited.

After leaving St. Malo, the peloton will ride across a dam that blocks the estuary. The road will be closed to non-Tour traffic for much of the day of The Tour's departure, no doubt causing havoc for the locals. My map showing the way into St. Malo was a hodgepodge of small roads along the river leading into St. Malo, nestled out on a nook of land along the English Channel. The Tour route in the program was so highly detailed for the few miles out of town, I feared I'd be puzzling over my map repeatedly trying to find my way into St. Malo. But 20 miles before I reached St. Malo, I came upon a group of about one hundred cyclists who were just setting out to follow the Tour route in reverse with a full police escort. It was a minor miracle to be led in.

The night before I missed the opportunity of camping amongst a mini-Stonehenge of ancient rocks of menhirs and dolmans outside of Guer. I knew nothing of this small park. It was nearly eight p.m. as I was closing in on Guer, my 'find a campsite time' of late. If I didn't stop soon, I'd be forced to continue on through Guer back out into rural campable countryside. I'd had a continual choice of field or forest for several miles. The forest could be quieter and more secluded, but also darker and colder and more bug-ridden. When I saw a small pasture with rows of recently harvested hay drying in the sun surrounded by a high hedge with one narrow entry point, I seized it as my boudoir for the night.

The line of sun and shadow was right alongside one edge of the field. I could set up my tent in the shade and sponge down in the sun. My tent didn't have any dew residue from the night before so I didn't have to rush to set it up first so it could quickly dry. I had it unrolled and was assembling its poles when I heard behind me a tractor enter the field. I could only laugh at my impossibly bad luck to have the farmer show up five minutes after I had to bail his hay. When I turned to face him, he had already hopped off his tractor and was bounding towards me with a broad smile on his face. He had his hand outstretched, offering a handshake. He just indicated that my tent and gear needed to be an arm's length from the row of hay nearest me, which was about six feet from the edge of the field. The only thing I needed to move was my bike. It was a small field and he had it bailed into five gigantic rolls in fifteen minutes, then all was peace and quiet.

Later, George

1 comment:

Jeff Potter said...

Hi all! Hey, it's neat to see that George is also a fan of "The Man Who Loved Bicycles." It's a rare but excellent book of bike culture...and culture. It's surely one of the top 3 bike culture books. (My contenders would be: "Man Who," "The Need for the Bike," and "Dirt Road Riders Trek Epic.") It gives us a great feel for both Paris and New York...but in neighborly, accessible ways.

Those ways are lost forever to greed, but, hey, one can appreciate and be inspired by neighborliness and a keen eye and wit...even if the neighborliness has been mostly killed off. If we can't have Paris we can always have a minimall! ...We make do.

Anyway, I resell the occasional collector copies I find of the wonderful "Man Who" book, along with those other bike culture titles (and I'm the only place that does this) at my OYB website at this link: