Friends: The most eye-catching of a patchwork of posters and announcements in the window of the Les Rousses tourist office window was one of the Tour de France uber-fan, The Devil, in mid-leap, teeth snarled, legs spread and his trident thrust forward. Alongside his poster was the Les Rousses Ville Etape poster with the four Tour leader jerseys (yellow, green, red polka-dot and white) hanging from a clothes line with a mountainside of trees in the background.
Although The Devil will most assuredly be in Les Rousses when the Tour passes through, his poster wasn't related to The Tour, but rather to a cycling event next week in a nearby Swiss town where he would be a featured attraction. He is indeed a celebrity. No word if he'll be on a leash or in a cage.
Les Rousses is one of four small ski villages clustered together in the Jura Mountains along the Swiss border that will be hosting The Tour de France its second weekend and first foray into the mountains. Saturday's Stage Seven will conclude in Lamoura after a nine-mile, 2,500 foot climb from St. Claude, and Sunday's Stage Eight will set out from Bois d'Amont.
It is the first time that the Les Rousses area has been a Ville Etape, and as a tourist area they are making the most of it. There is already a yellow banner over the finish line out in the middle of nowhere a kilometer beyond Lamoura stating "Ligne d'Arrivée Samedi 10 Juillet." Lamoura also had a life-sized wooden cutout of a bicyclist wearing a jersey featuring yellow, green and red polka-dots. Les Rousses is the largest of the four towns. Its tourist office had a brochure listing twelve days of events culminating with "The Extraordinary Tour de France Weekend." It is also the weekend of the World Cup final.
I biked about half of Stage Eight along the mountainous Swiss-French border, though going opposite the direction the peloton will ride next month. I had to contend with a cold rain. It was a Sunday and the only place open to escape the wet was a McDonald's. I was receiving an extra amount of friendly toots from drivers. I thought it might have been people who had seen my just published photo on the Tour de France Facebook page, or had seen the cover story "Streetwise" had done on me in April, as it had just been posted on the web-page of the international association of papers sold by the homeless, of which there are many, and made available for any of them to publish. Its a rather minor publication in Chicago, but the London version has a circulation of 300,000, more than the "Chicago Sun-Times.".
I've just completed cycling the length of the Tournus-Les Rousses stage, also finish-to-start, rather than start-to-finish. It had five categorized climbs, climaxing with a category two out of St. Claude. I descended it yesterday, but will have to climb it when I return next month. It is nine miles long at the end of the stage. It will be the first serious climb of The Race and will shake up the standings after a week of flat terrain.
In the heart of St. Claude is a giant twenty-foot high pipe and a three-foot high diamond, formerly the cities two dominant industries. One hundred years ago over 6,000 residents worked making pipes in the area. Now there are barely one hundred. And the diamond mine has closed. St. Claude may have the only pipe/diamond museum in the world.
I wasn't the only one scouting the route. A Radio Shack team car of Lance's new team passed me from the opposite direction, but there were no bikes on top of the car nor any riders following in its wake. It was probably team officials giving it a quick preview. Yesterday "L'Equipe," the French daily sports newspaper, had a picture of Albert Contador and the Schleck brothers atop the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees. They just happened to be training on the climb on the same day and coincidentally arrived at the summit at the same time coming from opposite directions.
The Tour will twice climb the Tourmalet this year, once from each direction, concluding one stage at its summit to commemorate the 100th anniversary of its first inclusion in The Race. The three of them were all wearing long sleeve jerseys. It must have been as cold there as it is here. They were all smiles. Contador and Schleck the younger finished one-two in The Tour last year and are the favorites again this year.
Not being in a rush I was able to stop and read the several information signs above one of the largest dams in France, the Barrge de Vouglans, on the Ain River. It is over 300-feet high and a quarter-mile long and forms the third largest man-made lake in France. I came down from one climb into the town of Arinthod just after its supermarket closed for its lunch break. Most close for ninety minutes. This one closed for 105 minutes.
I noticed beyond the empty parking lot at the back of the supermarket six garbage cans. I had an empty can of ravioli and other garbage left over from my dinner the night before. When I opened a garbage can to deposit them, there on top were a bunch of bananas and strawberries and croissants and bags of chocolate covered almonds and honey covered peanuts, more than enough food for a meal or two.
As I made my final descent from the Juras, it was a most welcome sight to look out over a flat expanse of terrain, the first I've seen after nine days of leg-straining, mostly mountainous terrain. Its been good for my training, though it might have been better to start out a little more gradually. Just thirty days now now until The Race commences.