Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Pair of Memorialized Cols

I've put my legs to extra strain the last two days going out of my way to climb a couple extra cols.  It wasn't for additional training, as I've had plenty of that, but rather to pay homage to a pair of cyclists.  One was the professional racer Andreï Kivilev of  Kazakhstan, who died young in a crash during Paris-Nice while riding for the French Cofidis team in 2003.  The other was Robert Marchand, a French bicycling enthusiast, who was honored for riding old, still at it as a one hundred year old.

Kivilev is remembered by a memorial on the Col de la Gachet near where he lived while racing just north of St. Etienne.  Marchand is remembered by a col named in his honor a half day's ride south of St. Etienne.

Thanks to my invaluable GPS device, I was easily able to locate these obscure climbs off on minor roads.  What wasn't so easy to find though was the memorial to Kivilev.  I had assumed it would be at the summit of the col, and as easy to spot as the sign at the start of the four-mile climb acknowledging his memory. 

The climb is a favorite training route for cyclists in the area.  I was passed by quite a few--individuals, pairs and even a team of eight in matching jerseys and a team car following behind.

When I reached the summit, an intersection with another road, I circled around looking for the memorial.  Not spotting it, I asked a couple of cyclists who had paused if they knew where it was.  They pointed to a village two miles away and said the road continued on up to it and I would find it there.

I didn't mind too much continuing on, even though I was eager to descend to a potential camping site two miles back, as the town's cathedral, poking up high and that had just chimed out the seven o'clock hour, beckoned my iPad.  I could start in on my dinner while it got a little extra charging.  I'd had two churchly recharging sessions earlier in the day and was up to 70%, enough for two or three days, but when there's electricity to be had, I can't resist.  I now take so much satisfaction in slipping into open cathedrals and finding a socket somewhere, when I spot a cathedral or church steeple in the distance my heart takes a leap of delight, thinking "Electricity!," even if I'm not in particular need.

When I reached the town there was another sign similar to the one at the start of the climb, but not the memorial plaque I was looking for.  I asked a guy in his garden if he knew where the plaque was.  He didn't fully understand my question, so I pulled out the iPad and showed him a picture of the plaque.  He immediately recognized it and started to explain that it was back below the summit sign.  Since there were four arteries leading to it, I switched to the GPS feature of the iPad and he was able to precisely pinpoint the bend in the road where it could be found. 

I missed it because it was on the outside bend and I was turning away from it, my eye not catching the  lovely, well-manicured flowers nor the plaque off to the side, not even facing the road.

It was a warm evening, so I had shed my helmet on the climb.  I felt a little guilty and thought I might receive a reprimands from passing cyclists, as it was after Kivilev's crash that it was mandated that professional cyclists had to wear helmets when racing.  Everyone who passed me wore a helmet, but no one said anything other than a "bonjour," but then again, no one else on their stripped-down racing bikes was sweating as heavily as I was.

St. Etienne offered another cycling memorial, a bust of Velocio, the father of cycle touring, at the summit of the Col de la Republique south of the city.  I had long ago visited that highly important site.  It nearly warrants a yearly visit.  The Col  has added significance of being included in  the first two Tours de France. During the second one in 1904 some riders were attacked on the climb by fans who wished to delay them in favor of riders they supported.  As much as I would have liked to make the climb again, I preferred to avoid the snarl of St. Etienne's traffic and instead bypassed the city. 

I still had a goodly climb over the Croix de Chaubouret that went on for nearly ten miles out of St.-Chammond, and that was made a little more painful by a cyclist in the village of la Valle-en-Gier who was filling his water bottle at the village fountain. I asked him how much further it was to the summit.  He said four kilometers when it was actually eight, a rather dirty trick.  That earned me a long descent to Annonay and then another long climb going the opposite direction I needed to be going for the Col du Robert Marchand.  I wasn't at first able to locate the climb on my GPS device, as it only recognized it as the Col du Marchand.  When I noticed that was how it was referred to on a map I picked up at the Annonay tourist office, then it turned up.  I haven't been visiting many tourist offices this year, not needing their assistance to find the local Internet cafe.  I've somewhat missed them, as they frequently provide me with interesting information.  Annonay had a list of all the festivals held during the year in nearby towns.  Annonay holds an annual hot air balloon festival, as it was there that the hot air balloon was invented.

Another town I passed through was preparing for a bicycle festival.  It was already decorated with bicycles as if it were a Tour de France Ville Ètape. 

I was hoping there would be some sort of tribute to Marchand at the summit of his col, but the only tribute was two different signs announcing the summit, one with just his last name.  

And another, more honorific, in purple with his full name.

Still, it was a fine tribute to name a col after a local cyclist who'd had such a long devotion to his two-wheeled companion.  The French are extraordinary in acknowledging anyone who has had a long devotion to something they deem commendable.  The critic Todd McCarthy was given a medal by the Cannes Film Festival for covering it more years than any American.  The Tour de France bequeathed a similar honor on the New York Times writer Samuel Abt.  And this is no recent trend.  Everyone who participated in the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 was given a medal.

I frequently see memorials along the road to those who lost their lives fighting for the Resistance.  I passed one on the outskirts of St.-Chammond before beginning the long climb to Chaubouret.

As I descended to the Rhone River Valley after Marchand's col the countryside was dotted with fruit orchards.  They make for easy camping.  But before I stopped to camp I was suddenly climbing out of a gorge before reaching the Rhone.  It was nearly eight o'clock.  I'd had enough climbing for the day, but the gorge offered no camping with a cliff to one side and a steep drop to a river on the other.  But at one elbow in the road, there was an overgrown trail that offered a flat spot a little ways back.  It wasn't likely I'd be interrupted by any hikers, so made it my campsite for the night.

The only interruption in my sleep came in the morning when starting at 6:30 every fifteen minutes or so a car would stop at the slight wide spot in the road near where I had camped and out would hop some guy for a "pipi rustique,"  voiding his morning coffee.

At least I was far enough into the forest not to hear more than the opening and closing of their car door.  But I well knew why they were stopping.  Taking a less than discreet leak in public is a common French custom.  It is such a fully accepted practice that it is not considered "public urination," but rather a "pipi rustique." It is another of those qualities of France that make it so agreeable for cycle touring. There is no need to seek out toilets in France.  One can just stop anywhere along the road for a pee.

No comments: