Friends: It took some doing to find the just unveiled Laurent Fignon monument in Créteil, an ugly industrial suburb south of Paris, but it was well worth the effort. There was no tourist office in this city to go to for help. I searched out the City Hall instead. On the way there I passed the police department and gave it a try. There was too long of a line for the lone officer in the lobby handling complaints, so it was back in search of City Hall.
The receptionist pulled out a map and showed me about where it was, near the Prefecture about a mile away. I had to ask a couple more people as I closed in on it, but they too were well aware of it, as its unveiling Sunday before the start of the final stage of The Tour must have been widely reported.
The monument was a magnificent three foot oval sculpture with Fignon's profile featuring his trademark headband and long hair. It rested on a base with a plaque stating it was erected by L'Equipe and The Tour de France and the mayor of Créteil. It was on the edge of a flower garden. Creteil chose to honor Fignon, as he raced with its local cycling club as an amateur.
Though I never saw Fignon race in France, I did have the opportunity to see him race in a criterium in Chicago in Grant Park back in the '80s. It was a thrill to see a Tour de France champ in my back yard. His autobiography, "When We Were Young and Carefree," recently translated into English, awaits me upon my return thanks to Amazon.
With my visit to Créteil, I have now ridden all or part of twenty of this year's twenty-one stages, missing only the Pau to Lourdes stage, though I have passed through both of those cities several times in years past. Only once before have I managed to ride so many of the stages. I can thank the organizers for making a route with several loops in it that allowed me to take short cuts, and also not having a huge rest day transfer of several hundred miles, as happens on occasion.
I have been reveling in the memories on my four-day ride back to Paris. One of the reasons I was able to keep pace with the peloton this year is that it has been a remarkably cool summer. There was only one day with temperatures in the 90s, and otherwise not much more than 70. It was a relief not to have to worry about running out of water as I sat watching the Big Screen.
It was a shock to get snow one day in the Alps. Not only did the cool temperatures not sap as much energy, it allowed great refrigeration for my food. I could buy a yogurt drink or chocolate milk in the evening and have it as my energy drink the next morning as I took down my tent. It spared me from having to worry about getting food for several hours at the start of the day.
I was hoping those cool northerly "Glacial Winds," as the French call them, would abate with the end of The Race and switch to the more seasonal southerly breezes for my 400 mile ride back to Paris, but no, I've had slight headwinds to contend with all the way. They were gentle enough that I couldn't object to their air-conditioning effect.
Even though The Tour 2011 is now history, riding through rural small town La France Profonde I could not escape reminders of The Grand Race. A few camper vans passed with course markers in their rear window and the small town of St. Leger-sous-Bevray had a sign on its outskirts announcing The Tour had passed through it on July 12, 2007. I rode that Tour but couldn't remember the town.
For any town, The Tour passing through is a monumental event. It will be a life long memory for all its residents. It is not something I take for granted at all. Riding the course seeing all the anticipation and jubilation, there is no ignoring what huge event it is in the lives of the French. It is a privilege to be a part of it. With its early June 30 start next year, it is little more than eleven months until the Opening Ceremony introducing all the riders. I can feel the excitement all ready.