My first big challenge of this year's Tour, the 103rd, as represented with the above montage of bikes in the city of Vitre, will be to cover the 139 miles of Stage Three, the second longest stage of this year's Tour, before the peloton does. If I fall behind here, it will be days before I see the peloton again, as there is a 30-mile transfer to the next stage, which is the longest of The Tour, six miles more than Stage Three. I'll get a massive head-start on the peloton as I'll only ride the first 25 miles of Stage Two and then diverti down to Stage Three, less than ten miles away at that point, while the peloton heads north to Cherbourg at the northern-most point of France along this stretch of coastline and a popular ferry crossing to the UK.
I'll wait and watch them pass at 1:30 in the town of Percy and then connect with Stage Three in Villedieu. If the wind continues to blow from the north as it has been, I could knock off 80 or 90 miles before dark and be in fine shape. I shouldn't have to worry about getting lost as the course markers will have been mounted earlier in the day, plus I'll be familiar with the route as I have just biked it coming up from Angers. It was most fortunate that I did, as it is so rich in bike decorations that I would have lost an hour or more stopping to photograph them all.
They began right away in Angers. Besides the metal cut-out bikes in The Tour colors and poster-sized photos of Tours past that I've already reported on, the city had also painted some of its tram cars to honor The Tour and emblazoned them with The Tour logo.
As with many Ville Étapes it had a digital countdown until Tour day. Cuillé was a rare small village on the route that had a countdown as well, though of the manual sort.
Blue was a popular color to paint bikes mounted along the course with the European Cup soccer tournament going on in France as the French team is known as Le Bleu. Besides the wiry over-sized bike in the foreground, there were a pair of normal-sized bikes, also painted blue, in the distance behind its rear wheel.
This was far from the largest bike to be seen.
The over-sized bikes are totems for the devout to genuflect before.
There was also a giant replica of the fore-runner of the bike--the pedal-less Draisienne, designed by a German Baron of the same name in the 1830s.
A fanciful bike made of tree limbs was showcased on a mini-stage.
Even more orginal was a bicyclist made of planters.
Planters were also used to form a scarecrow in a round-about in another town.
There were various concoctions of wheels as well.
One town had a series of them with metal green leaves as if they were flowers.
Another town had a series of bikes with dolls.
There was only one categorized climb on the route, a mere four, but red polka dots was a common theme.
There were of course a few bikes adorned with baskets of flowers, as one sees all over France. They are not reserved for The Tour.
Strings of small cellophane Tour jerseys strung across the road are a common site on The Tour route. One small town strung real jerseys and water bottles as well.
Elsewhere residents here and there strung clothing in The Tour colors on their homes. Anyone unaware of this Tour custom would think such people were rather coarse to be hanging their clothes out to dry in such a public place. They'd also have to wonder at the commonality of the colors of the clothing. It is always an odd and humorous site, but also a wonderful affirmation of the depth and universality of feeling the French have for their Tour. They are a simple, but profound gesture.
They are as much of a delight as the monstrous figures made from huge rolls of hay.
Each and every decoration kept me in a non-stop spiral of revelry. And it will be multiplied many-fold next Monday when I pass them by again, especially when they are mobbed by the throngs lining the roadways. Hail, hail to The Tour. It is just a few days away and I can feel the exhilaration already.