Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Rest Day

Macon had the honor and responsibility of being the host for The Tour's first of two rest days.  It was more than up to the task.  The city's entire central district, a car-free walking zone, was given up to Tour celebrations and activities.  There were no less than four stages in various plazas providing day-long entertainment with musical acts and bicycle acrobatics and the broadcast of a TV show.
A Johnny Hallady tribute band belted out raucous rock-and-roll on a stage in front of the city's grand cathedral while free wine was on offer from one of the several tents providing local products.  Young men and women wearing yellow t-shirts circulated about on Segways dispensing a 16-page booklet on all the Rest Day and following Race Day activities.
The statuesque City Hall facing the broad Saone River was adorned with life-sized cut-outs of racers in a sprint with the racer wearing the uniform of the French National Champion holding his arms aloft in victory.  The opposite side of the City Hall facing the main plaza was filled with brightly painted cut-outs of over-sized bikes.  There was a steady procession of fans taking their picture in front of them.
Next to the City Hall was an exhibition on The Tour with photos and relics going back to the first race in 1903.  There was a fine photo of the moustached Maurice Garin, The Tour's first winner, with a tire strung around his neck as the racers carried their spare until the 1950s.  Having just visited his grave and adding to my To Do list for next year in France visiting as many of the graves of Tour winners as I could I was wondering how many there might be.  The exhibition gave me a partial answer.  It revealed there have been 58 winners of The Tour in its first 98 editions, 28 of them multiple winners.  It did not reveal though how many of them are still alive.  Maybe half.
The vast majority of the photos I have seen in books and at similar such exhbitions and museums, but there is always at least one new one that is enough to take my breath away.  The one here was a photo from a French magazine with Anquetil and Poulidor in uniform playing checkers and the headline--"The two enemies learn to like each other."
There were two videos playing--one with the highlights of last year's Tour and the other a history of the caravan showing what a vital attraction it is to the public.  For the 45 minutes it passes by it is a wild festival.  It was introduced to The Tour in 1930 to help subsidize it.  No one complains about the commercialization (some might say "Americanization") of the event with big corporations paying huge dollars to parade before the millions of people who line the road. 
There was a wall of photos of dignitaries who have been drawn to The Tour from French presidents to American royalty--Hollywood stars such as Tom Cruise, Robin Williams, Michael Douglas, Will Smith and more.
There was also a signed jersey of each of the four prized jerseys.  The yellow was from Carlos Sastre, green from Oscar Friere, White from Andy Schleck and Polka Dot from Bernard Kohl.  Kohl's was quite an oversight, as he was stripped of his King of the Mountain title for doping.  The French hero Richard Virenque, who won the title more times than anyone, would have been a much better choice, though he too served a suspension for being involved with the 1998 Festina  Affair.
I could have easily hung out in Macon until dark taking advantage of all the activities, including a Moliere play starring the long-time host of a pre- and post-Tour show on every stage, who is a French celebrity, but I needed to get down the road.  Riding The Tour route doesn't allow time for much else.

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