Monday, June 10, 2013

Saint-Gilda's-des-Bois, Ville Départ

It's a month until Saint-Gildas-des-Bois hosts the start of the tenth stage of the Tour on July 9, but it is already fully decked out for the occasion with bikes mounted and dangling everywhere, bringing joy to anyone who has an affection for the "Petit Reine," as the French affectionately refer to the bicycle.

The roundabout to the town's entry was decorated with bikes.

Bikes adorned the sides of buildings all over town.

Bikes graced bushes.

Bikes formed a pyramid.

Lone bikes were attached to poles.

Shop windows featured paintings of bicyclists promoting its wares.

The city hall had displays promoting The Tour.  One featured the four French teams competing in The Race with Tom Voeckler's Europcar team at the forefront.  Jerseys and water bottles from each team were part of the display.

There was also a display of stories on some of the more legendary Tour events, particularly those that involved riders from the region.

The Tour fervor came as no surprise, one of the reasons why I wished to bike 400 miles up from Yvon's, even though I will have to bike over 800 miles back to The Tour start in Corsica.  Brittany has a rich Tour history and fully embraces The Tour whenever it visits, perhaps more than any other region of the country.  The Tour doesn't always visit Brittany.  When it does, its citizens hold nothing back.  It missed last year, so The Tour went out of its way to include it this year,  shoehorning it into the route by making a gigantic hop all the way up from the Pyrenees at the bottom of the country during its first rest day to the top of the country along the English Channel.  Brittany will host three stages.  One will be a time trial that will conclude at Mont-Saint-Michel, perhaps the most dramatic backdrop of this year's Tour. 

I was sorry I couldn't share Saint-Gildas' Tour mania with Andrew,  as he bowed out of our travels at Nantes with depleted legs, just forty miles from Saint-Gildas, taking a train to Paris for a flight home one week earlier than he had planned.  Brittany's notorious wet and sultry weather were a contributing factor.  Our Sunday ride ranged from sudden downpours to misty drizzles and oppressive, low-hanging clouds.  We were even forced into a McDonald's, about the only place open on a Sunday afternoon. It was packed.  Mcdonald's in France caters to a middle class crowd with prices double what they are in the US.  The cheapest item on the menu was a small fries for two dollars, the same price of the smallest drink.  A Big Mac was five dollars and combo meals were around ten.  But at least I could charge my iPad.  Still, we had a marvelous two weeks, and anticipate many more travels together in the years to come.

Our final campsite was ten miles south of Nantes alongside a pasture of eleven very curious cows. Their noses particularly perked into the air when Andrew began cooking his steak.

Another site Andrew missed today was the house where two-time Tour winner Petit-Breton was born in Plessé,  nine miles east of Saint-Gildas.  Both were small towns without a tourist office, so I went to the Plessé Town Hall to ask its whereabouts.  The receptionist brightened with delight at the question I had for her after looking quite leery as I approached her desk.  She pulled out a map and showed me its precise location across the street from the locked-up cathedral, and one door down from the bakery.

And on the way out of town was a side street named for him.

Though it was still dank and misty when Andrew and I parted in Nantes shortly after crossing the Loire,  the miserable weather gave way to sunny skies and I had a joyous day of cycling.  A tail wind kept me on the bike until eight p.m., quitting with two hours of light left and ten miles short of 100 miles.  It was hard to resist a century, something I will have to do day after day once The Tour starts, but I don't wish to overdo it just yet.

My longest break of the day was in Vay, where I started in on my dinner of couscous and causolette while my iPad was recharging in the town cathedral.  It was just the second of five cathedrals that I stopped at during the day that I could get into for some electricity.  The day before I was struck by a sudden brainstorm that I might be able to charge my ipad at small town cathedrals, as they are often open so anyone can duck in for a peek or a prayer whenever they have the need.  I checked on a couple that day and was able to confirm that even though they were built centuries before electricity was even imagined I could find an untended socket, though it could take some searching.   Suddenly my usual style of taking breaks at picnic areas would be replaced by taking breaks at cathedrals. While I started in on my dinner I regained 20% of my power in 45 minutes, enough for two hours on the iPad.  Touring in France now takes on a much more religious overtone than it ever has.  It has always been cemeteries for water, but now it will also be cathedrals for electricity. 

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