Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Eyguieres, France

As he did last year, Andrew from Sydney has joined me to scout The Tour route and search for graves of Tour luminaries.  It was a spontaneous decision, as he had planned to spend his eight weeks of vacation bicycling around China.  He had so much vacation time, as he had just earned a bonus of three months for ten years of service at his government job, something called "long service leave."   Rather than using it all up at once, he plans to spread it out over a few years.

After eight days bicycling along the Yangtze he had had enough of all the traffic and the honking horns and the deep guttural spitting of the men and the gritty air.  He has bicycled Thailand several times, and kept thinking how he'd much prefer to be biking there than in China.  He gave in to its strong lure when he got to Wuhan, a large enough city that he could get a flight out to Bangkok.  He discovered this wasn't the best time of the year to be bicycling Thailand.  After several days of blistering heat he had had enough.  Remembering the fine time we'd had in France last year, and that I had hoped he would join me again this year, he booked a flight to Paris, and another to Nice, not too far from where I was at the Cannes Film Festival.   It would be our third time biking together, the first in Laos. Unfortunately, he doesn't have enough time to ride any of The Tour with me this year, but will have to settle for a mild taste of this year's route as we visit a handful of the Ville √ątapes and ride as many of their miles as we can in the next three weeks before The Tour starts on June 29 in Corsica.

He had no camping gear in Asia, just staying in hotels, so had to buy a tent, sleeping bag, stove and cooking gear and a sleeping pad when he arrived in France.  He settled on a three-pound tent, but didn't realize what little head room it had, not enough for him to sit up in.  He is 5' 4" tall.  For the first time in his life he is wishing he was even shorter.

Andrew arrived in Cannes the day the festival ended.  We had a joyous reunion outside one of the festival's large theaters beside my locked bike just as we had arranged.  It made it hard for me to fully concentrate on the movie I was watching knowing he was outside awaiting me.  Our first destination was the grave of Henri Desgrange, founder in 1903 of The Tour de France and its director up until his death in 1940.  He was a larger than life, De Gaullian character before there was a DeGaulle, ruling with an iron fist and expressing himself with great grandiosity.  There is a huge monument to him near the summit of the Galibier, one of the highest and most spectacular of The Tour's climbs, and his favorite.  He said that all the other mountains were gnat's piss by comparison, one of his typical hyperbolic statements.

His grave is in the small town of Grimaud, fifty miles from Cannes and just a few miles in land from St. Tropez.  We biked along the Mediterranean for forty miles, Andrew marveling at the different hue of the water, a brighter blue, to what he was accustomed to in Sydney.  The scenery was all too cluttered though with  homes and hotels to be very captivating, and the road was jammed with traffic.  It had been that way all the way from Nice for Andrew, so he was even more eager than I to leave the coast. 

Grimaud is one of those quaint towns on a hill that tourists adore.  We had to struggle with all our might up a  twelve per cent climb to reach the town center.  The cemetery was just a few blocks away.  An older couple tending to a grave were well aware that Desgrange was buried there but they weren't precisely sure where.  After several minutes when Andrew and I had failed to find it, they joined us in our search.  They located it for us off in a far corner.  As with most other graves of those affiliated with cycling that I have paid homage to, there was no bicycle  or wheel on it to attract one's attention. His association with cycling though was acknowledged as an engraving on his grave identified him as the "Creator of The Tour de France."  He is as significant a figure as any of the great riders of The Tour.  Any history of The Tour writes at length of his contributions and his legendary tiffs with riders and the many adaptions he made to The Race over the years. 

We had no memento to leave,  but Andrew did leave the cemetery with a handful of rosemary to season his lamb chops that night.  He wasn't sure though they were lamb chops until he tasted them.  He thought they could be pork chops.  It wasn't the same tasting lamb he was accustomed to in Australia and he couldn't decide which  he liked more, despite knowing the French are most particular about the flavor of their food, meaning this might be the preferred taste. 

Andrew's cooking is one of the many reasons he makes for such a great traveling companion.  I am content with couscous from the deli department of the supermarket along with either ravioli or couselette night after night, but Andrew always cooks up some hunk of meat and vegetables, some times more than he can eat.  He was once a vegetarian, but no more.  He has come to the conclusion that meat is essential to one's health and well-being.  "I have never met a vegetarian who isn't depressed," he says.  "They lack essential proteins."

From Grimaud we headed to Aix-en-Provence, which will host the start of stage six of this year's Tour on July 4.  Though there were no banners or other tributes to The Tour in place yet, the tourist office did have a brochure with events planned for the day and the evening before and also the route the peloton will take through the city.  It would pass right by the tourist office in the heart of the city.  We were able to follow the route  out of the city on D17 to Eguilles.  As always, I could feel a glimmer of all the excitement there would be with the road side packed with fans on that day and what it would be like for me too when I returned.

The stage finishes in Montpellier.  Rather than following The Tour route to a city I've visited several times, Andrew and I are headed to Craig's house fifty miles north of there. He plans to join us for a few days.  The good times Andrew and I are having will only get better.  Andrew and Craig have never met, but share many interests and know much of each other.  I know they will be instant friends.  And once again Andrew is writing of our travels at with loads of photos.

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