And breathe… More Asterix tomorrow.
It’ll be obvious that I’m something of a Francophile. I’m sure it’s less obvious that I occasionally haul myself up off my backside and get out on my bike. Occasionally. Inevitably, the OCD monster within me insists that every ride I do is meticulously measured and recorded (I bought a trip counter before I bought a helmet). It’s all on a spreadsheet and everything.
These two interests-cum-obsessions dovetail nicely with the Tour de France. I’m learning to understand and appreciate the complexities of the various strategies employed (‘rafting’ in the peloton, the break-away, making use of a team-mate as the lead-out rider, pumping your veins full of EPO), but am still at least equally enamoured with simply watching the French (and occasionally non-French) landscapes whizz by.
This year’s Tour started on the west coast, and, tomorrow (Thursday 7th July), takes in a stage which is pretty close to my heart, beginning in Brittany, passing by the Mont St Michel, and ending in Lower Normandy (as far as I’m aware, no stage of the Tour has ever begun, passed through, or finished in Lillebonne – presumably all the riders would fail their doping tests due to abnormally high levels of petrol in their system).
It being a relatively flat region, this stage should see a relatively bunched peloton until the final small climb, 1.5km from the finish line. Get me, talking like I know what I’m on about.
The stage begins in Dinan, birthplace of actor Jean Rochefort who stars in the wonderful L’Homme du Train (opposite, wait for it, yes, it had to be him: Johnny Hallyday). I remember visiting Dinan on holiday as a small(ish) child. Other than its castle and coat of arms (which has strangely remained emblazoned on my mind) I don’t recall much about it, but as it’s on the banks of a river in Brittany, I suspect it’s pretty nice.
The peloton will then pass by the Mont St Michel: one of those odd places which are generally nicer viewed from afar. Up close and within its walls, it all too easily becomes a slowly-shuffling parade of tourists, removed from the perspective which tells you that, yes, that is a small fairy-tale town sitting out in the sea.
Lisieux is in the heart of Normandy’s Pays d’Auge, and as such is an urban island within the region’s vast expanses of fields of cows and apples. Technically, I’ve been to Lisieux three or four times, but only ever on the train, passing through on the way to/from the bright lights of Paris. Every single time the train pulled up in the station, I looked out of the window (or even got off to change), saw the frankly breathtaking basilica a mere stone’s throw away and thought “I have to go and see that”.
Guess what? Not once.