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Sunday, July 16, 2017

And Here They Come -- Tour de France in Le Puy

Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands won his first stage victory here in Le Puy, the end of the 15th stage of the Tour. Mollema is a professional cyclist currently riding for Trek–Segafredo.
According to the travel guidebooks, the French are not much into sports, at least not as much as Americans are. However, they love bicycling (and, of course, soccer). The Tour de France classic is one of the most coveted events of the year and on Sunday, July 16 at 5:30 p.m., Bauke Mollema of the Netherlands pumped his way onto Le Puy's main streets to complete the 15th stage of the tour. 

Le Puy was a welcome place on the Tour and a half-way rest stop of the 23-day tour that started on July 1 in Düsseldorf, Germany. It is slated to end July 23 on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. This was the first time since 2005 that the Tour has come through Le Puy. The very first time the city hosted the Tour was in 1954.

The Tour started out with 198 young men on 22 teams dressed in short, tight pants, colorful corporate-sponsored shirts and matching shoes and crash helmets. The Tour wanders throughout the country, the Alps, the Pyrenees and not all of them are expected to finish. Due to slippery wet roads in the first of 21 stages of the tour, several riders fell off their bikes and 2 riders were knocked out completely. Eight riders withdrew in the 9th stage alone with one and two riders out in many of the other stages. Here is a complete list of the withdrawals. (To see the difficulty of the terrain, scroll down on this site.)   

While the crowd awaited the cyclists' arrival, a caravan of the Tour's sponsors (which sported each team's colors) created much excitement with floats. Cute young women on the floats danced to loud rock music while others threw out promotional gifts to onlookers. I was able to collect three hats, two inflatable pillows, four stir sticks, two Madeleines, two rulers and one box of juice. Pretty good for a rookie gringo! Here are some of my favorite floats.

As one can imagine, security was high with plenty of gendarme troopers and local and national police available to protect the cyclists and control the crowds. Helicopters also flew overhead on the route. Each section of cyclists was accompanied by motorcycle police (and cars with their bike racks). Fortunately, there were no incidents and everyone was loose and happy on this special day.

The motorcycle gendarme below waved a yellow flag and blew a whistle to warn cyclists of the road divide. I don't know how he was able to stay cool in a long-sleeve jacket, gloves and helmet. It was not a hot day, but being out in the sun for a long time could not have been easy. (It certainly wasn't easy for me!) Seeing these committed public servants at a major event like the Tour gave me an appreciation for them for the hard work they must do. 

I'm very pleased to have experienced the Tour de France!


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