Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sisteron, France, Ville Départ

Friends: I've been following La Route de Napoleon the past 100 miles since Grasse, a ten-mile climb up from Cannes. It is the route Napoleon took back to Paris from his exile on the island of Elba nearly 200 years ago. There has been considerable climbing over several passes, with the highest peaking out at over 3500 feet, high enough for there to be lingering patches of snow on the surrounding peaks. There was even more snow to be seen when I reached Digne-les-Baines and the dramatic, snow-drenched high Alps came into view.

I will be leaving Napoleon's route here in Sisteron to follow the Stage Eleven route of the Tour de France, departing here on July 15. It will be a relatively easy stage for the peloton after three hard days in the Alps. Just as I arrived at the Hotel de Ville (city hall) just across the street a crew was hanging a large yellow jersey proclaiming Sisteron a Ville Etape (stage city) on a high tower across the street. In front of the city hall was the sculpture of a sheep wearing a yellow jersey. The sheep is a town emblem as Europe's largest slaughter house for sheep is in Sisteron.

A large banner also hung across the street announcing that The Tour would be here on July 15. The city hall already had an exhibit of Tour photos with the theme that The Tour is like a Hollywood Western with all its shootouts and grand myths and heroic figures. It led off with a quote from John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence"--"When the legend becomes reality, it is the legend that becomes known."

Included among the many photos of all the grand heroes of The Tour and its many legendary moments were Orson Welles at the Grand Départ of the 1950 Tour and one of the peloton stopping in the middle of a stage to greet DeGaulle in his small village during the 1960 Tour. There was a category of photos called "Duel in the Sun" and another "Shoot Out at the OK Corral." There was also a set of cartoons celebrating The Tour and another of renowned magazine covers.

The woman at the adjoining tourist office didn't have information on the route the peloton would be taking out of Sisteron that I wished to follow today. She told me to go back to the city hall and ask for Monsieur Lamy, who was in charge of organizing it. He wasn't in his office. After asking around, the city hall receptionist learned that he was outside overseeing the hanging of the huge yellow jersey. She looked out the window and pointed him out to me.

He was along side a photographer. He didn't mind being interrupted at all. He said he would go back to his office and get the route information for me. He was a young man new to the town who had been hired to orchestrate all The Tour events. This was the third different Ville Etape he had worked at and next year he hopes to be at another. He was doing a superb job. Many Ville Etapes have nothing going on at this point. He also had organized a couple more exhibitions of Tour art, not opening until next month though.

He said I was the first Tour follower to come through town and asked to take my photo in front of the yellow jersey for the Tour Facebook page:

Later, George

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