Thursday, June 5, 2014

Contre le Montre 2014 (The Tour's Lone Time Trial)

It may be nearly two months until the lone time trial in this year's Tour de France passes through the small village of Villamblard, but it is already bursting with anticipation, demonstrating with unabashed fervor how all towns on The Tour route should be responding to the honor of having The Tour pass through it. Its round-about was gallantly festooned with strings of mini-yellow and green and red polka dot jerseys forming a pyramid strung from lampposts at its center down to a ring of bicycles of the same color scheme.

Other bicycles dangled from up high around town, while behind the round-about on a low wall were mounted similarly colored bicycles.  The town had nothing to do with the white steaks in the sky above. They were the trails of jets landing in Bordeaux fifty miles away.

The 34-mile course from Bergerac to Périgueux was already marked with blue course markers, rather than the traditional race-day yellow markers, as this past Saturday there had been a blue-themed group ride following the route for a Fête du Tour that each Tour Ville Ètape hosted.  This was done for the first time last year to celebrate the 100th edition of The Tour.  It was so successful, it was repeated this year.  The blue signs are monogrammed with a small Fête du Tour in the lower left-hand corner.

I had the good fortune to be joined on my reconnaissance by my great friend Yvon, who lives less than fifty miles from the course.

As has become a tradition, he had arranged with a reporter to meet us to do a story on our ten-year bicycling friendship.  This one was from Bordeaux.  As usual, the reporter spoke no English, so it was left to Yvon to pretty much do the interview.  One of the few questions I had to answer that Yvon didn't have a ready response to was, "Where will you camp tonight?"  My immediate reply was "la forêt," though I had no idea how far down the road it would be.

Though both Yvon and I had biked through Bergerac and Périgueux on previous occasions, neither of us had ridden the tiny D4 that The Tour had selected as its route.  It was an absolute plum of a road--hilly and windy and largely tree-lined and no traffic.  The bulk of the traffic was an occasional truck involved with the repaving that was being done to a few stretches.  Including such quiet, scenic by-ways in its route is another of the great attractions of The Tour, roads that I've been thrilled to be introduced to.

We felt doubly blessed to be riding it in its pristine state, but also look forward to riding it again when it will be lined with camping vans following The Tour and all the exuberant fans from near and far on the final Saturday of The Tour.

It will make for a great final decisive stage before the ceremonial ride around the Champs Élysées the next day.  There is a considerable amount of climbing, including a final one-mile ascent less than four miles from the finish.  The contenders will most certainly be tested.  There will be no relaxing on the route and the racers will have to keep their heads up at all times with no straightaways of any length.  Whoever on The Tour team found this road deserves a hefty bonus.

As we pedaled along side-by-side I was delighted to learn that the table tennis club that Yvon had started a year ago in his small town had grown to twenty-eight members, including eight women, and now practiced twice a week along with a third informal evening without his being in command.  The other big news was that he and Collette had just two weeks ago registered their farmhouse to become a bed-and-breakfast.  They'll be the only one in their town, with the nearest fifteen or so miles away. Tomorrow will be Collette's birthday.  Yvon was giving her Ortlieb panniers for a two-week tour they'll be doing in Ireland in September.  Their lives are as busy as ever.  I was lucky Yvon was free to join me, though he feels, as I do,  that the bike should take precedence above all else.

Though Villamblard outshone the other small towns on the route with its decorations, as well as the large starting and finishing cities, there were other decorations already in place and most certainly many more to come.  Bergerac had an assortment of bike sculptures that might have been inspired by the Nike swoosh mounted in its town center where the time trial will commence.  Some were lone figures.

And others had company.

In front of Bergerac's large cathedral that the riders will pass shortly into their ride were cylinders with cut-outs of cyclists that are illuminated after dark.

The riders will also pass a large monument to the Resistance.

And just off the course past its midway point was a memorial to over two hundred people who loved on the vicinity who had died between 1952 and 1962 in the Algerian conflict as well as in Morocco and Tunisia.  The dead were all listed on ten large granite stones.  On the memorial was the phrase, "We refuse to forget them."  That is the French, never forgetting their past and those who have served and brought honor to the country.  And that includes The Tour de France.


Anonymous said...

George Whats with the blue corse marker? vincent

george christensen said...

Vincent: The official color of the Fête du Tour is celestial blue. Last year when I rode the Fête du Tour in Tours with Florence and Rachid everyone was given a blue t-shirt with stars and asteroids celebrating The Tour. There were no course markers for the ride last year. That was a nice added touch, and making them blue to distinguish them from those of the actual Tour. I will make a strong effort to be in a Ville Ètape next year for the Fête du Tour. I had no idea it would be held again this year, and a couple weeks earlier than last year to coincide with the national Fête du Velo.