As I closed in on Mont St. Michel, the starting point for this year's Tour, I was hoping to see it draped in yellow fabric like a Christo project and adorned with yellow bikes dangling from its every ledge and spire. But it was not to be. The Eiffel Tower, France's other pre-eminent icon, may bathe itself in colored lights according to the occasion, but Mont St. Michel would not defer its dignity for even the mighty Tour de France. There wasn't a single Tour decoration to be seen on the tiny island it occupies, not even a restrained banner. The only acknowedgement of The Race were a few brochures in the tourist office and an occasional mention on the digital message border of upcoming events outside the tourist office.
The nearest bike decoration, the lone figure of a cyclist in yellow, was nearly a mile away, well before the causeway leading to Mont St. Michel that only shuttle buses and official vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists can travel. The yellow figure, along with others in The Tour jerseys,popped up all along the first two stages, singly and in phalanxes. This austere rendition of a cyclist also appears on all the Tour brochures this year.
They also appear front and center on posters throughout the region.
The Tour ought to hire the designer who formed a much warmer cyclist from the number 2016 for next year's poster.
Though Mont St. Michel was bereft of such homage there were decorated bikes and sculptures in the gauntlet of hotels and restaurants and souvenir shops preceding it such as infest any major tourist attraction, though the French version were far less tacky than most and the bike tributes genuine works of art. Most of the pyramids of bikes along The Tour route are just thrown together. The one here was stunningly well-crafted with the intricate detail that the artisans of all the grand cathedrals would have applauded.
The dangling globe was fashioned from chain rings. Mini-replicas of the Eiffel Tower and Mont St. Michel on a bike below it were ingeniously crafted from chains.
Across the street were the basic painted bikes, but these too had a little more class than most. One could overlook the minor taboo of white bikes, known in many circles as Ghost Bikes, placed at the site of a fatal bike accident.
They set the tone for an exemplary array of bike decorations for the first sixty miles of this year's Tour as it headed northeast along the coast until turning inland at Lessing to cross the peninsula and finish the stage at Utah Bay. Stage Two intersects with Lessing and continues up to the top of the peninsula at Cherbourg, which I elected to do, awaiting to finish off Stage One later. And the bold and innovative decorations didn't diminish. This was maritime country and it was reflected in the decorations.
There were not one, but two yellow boats with a red polka dot cabin, with one incorporating Homer Simpson.
The weather has been cold and sultry along the coast, leaving the beaches vacant, but Granville, a large port city that is the Stage Three Ville Dèpart, greets arrivals in its roundabout with a woman in Tour-themed beach attire.
A large indoor swimming pool on the outskirts of Cherbourg, Stage Two Ville Arrivée, mounted a large banner taunting the peloton for being drenched in sweat after their day in the saddle, saying that they too have "wet" maillots, though theirs aren't from sweat. The word "maillot" means both jersey and swimsuit.
Perhaps the most creative tribute to The Tour were a trio of modest-sized topiaries in a roundabout. Topiaries aren't uncommon, but most tend to the gargantuan.
It's not a stage without a giant made from rolls of heavy. This one was clutching a blue bike.
The town of Vasteville, near Cherbourg, is so proud of its dairy production, that it constructed a huge scaffolding to hold up a monstrously large cow on a bike.
Further south someone put as much care and time into constructing a podium scene as others at Christmas put into duplicating a manger in their front yard.
A restaurant before Avranches formed the wheels of its overs-sized bike from beer cans and further showed their homage with a pair of large historic photos.
Tour fervor was affirmed by the many shops in the villages along the route that had paintings on their windows of a Tour theme, all signed by the prolific artist who travels the Tour route. Each is an original. He is a genuine marvel.
And of course I can't forget showing a bike with a flower arrangement, as they are almost as ubiquitous as the window paintings and even more pleasing.
The pyramids too, even when they are nothing special, are also worthy of note for the effort put into them.
It's been a challenge keeping my iPad charged with all the photographing, especially this past Sunday, a day when libraries and tourist offices are closed and cathedrals are in use. I was thrown into a panic when late in the day none of the outlets in a cathedral succeeded in charging and then a little later a rare outdoor outlet outside a city hall failed me as well. I feared my charging apparatus might be malfunctioning. My battery was under ten per cent. I had to become even more selective in what I shot. Luckily I found an open cathedral the next morning and its electricity was flowing. I was spared trying to find a computer shop.
I'd once taken the ferry from Cherbourg to the UK, but hadn't had the time to give the city a look best known by many for the 1964 Palm d'Or winning "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg." The tourist office provided a twenty-page pamphlet with a walking tour of ten sites used in the movie. It began with the former hardware store where four of the film's key scenes were shot. It is just a block from the quai that juts into the city and is now a souvenir shop.
The tour also includes a cathedral and train station and theater and plaza, but not a plaza further away that has been named for the film's director, Jacques Demy. The peloton will ride past it though just before it begins a steep category three climb of more than a mile to the finish. It's on the main highway leaving Cherbourg and would only be a category four of it occurred earlier in the stage before the racers had expended so much energy.
The first stage will be for the sprinters. This one for the elite strongmen. Sagan, Gilbert, Nibali and Valverde have all won similar stages at The Tour. The winner of this stage will most likely claim the Yellow Jersey. It will be an exciting and telling finish, giving an early indication of who is to be taken seriously. Both Evans and Nibali won such an early stage when they went on to win The Race. I won't be in Cherbourg to watch it, but I'll have a feel for the effort that is being put forth as I watch it in a bar somewhere along the Stage Three route. Four days til the start. The anticipation continues to mount.