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Happy 100th Birthday, Tour de France
Le centenaire du Tour de France

June 2003...One of the world’s most grueling sports celebrates its centennial in July of this year. For the 100th time, an international group of lycra-clad musclemen on two wheels will set out to ride thousands of miles for three weeks across the mountains, rivers and valleys of France to compete for le maillot jaune, the yellow jersey. On July 27th the Champs Elysées will be crammed with people eager for a glimpse of these superathletes when they arrive in Paris to cross the finish line.
     This renowned bicycle race began as a promotional stunt to gain newspaper readership. In a clever competitive move, the publisher of a sporting journal decided to boost sales by sponsoring a different sort of cross-country bicycle race, the longest ever (more than 1,500 miles) and in six stages over a period of time. The paper’s vivid day-by-day reports of progress of the 60 participants did much for bicycle sales, and the newspaper sold hundreds of thousands of copies as well. The Tour de France has become a French institution, and over the last century many a French school child learned as much about the geography of
France from assiduously following this summer race as from any classroom lessons.
     This year’s 22-day race covers 3,350 kilometers (nearly 2,100 miles) in 20 segments. Although the route is changed each year, it always includes steep mountain roads, rolling fields of grain, grapes and sunflowers, historic monuments, small isolated villages, and of course the grand finale down the Champs Elysées in Paris.
     This is a world of superstars. And heroes. American Lance Armstrong competes again this year, hoping to join the elite of bicycle racing with his fifth T-d-F win. But he is already a superhero, not only for his athleticism but because of his valiant fight with cancer in the midst of his career. Other famous names that roll off the tongues of true aficionados include the Spaniard Miguel Indurain, Belgian Eddy Merckx, Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, and Greg LeMond, the first American to wear the yellow jersey with his win in 1986.
     Today the Tour de France ranks as the world’s third most popular sport, after the World Cup and the Olympics. In fact, because these latter occur only periodically, it is said that this glorious race is the world’s most popular annual sporting event. Whatever…millions of people tune in to follow progress, via television, the internet, and, of course, the newspaper. For details on this year’s route, up-to-the-minute coverage, and profiles of racers, check out the Bicycling News site at www.tourdefrancenews.com. For French coverage, try www.letour.fr.

 


Lance goes for his fifth win
in the 100th Tour de France


 

Take me out to a ballgame...
Amène-moi au jeu de baseball...

October 2001...Any baseball is better than no baseball, and in France you take what you find. On Sunday, October 15, we found the French championship for 15-year-olds at Le Vigan, up in the Cevennes about an hour and a half from Uzès. The Barracudas from Montpellier won a close and exciting 8-7 victory over the arrogant "Pukes" from Paris, the PUC or Paris University Club.
 Baseball1.jpg (169126 bytes)
     The field at Le Vigan features one of the few actual monticules de lanceur (pitcher's mounds) in France. Normally they just pitch off flat ground, lighting up the hitters' eyes while terrorizing the thus afflicted lanceur, the pitcher. Quality of play was, well, ragged. But spirited.
     A young man from Toronto, name of Osborne, heads up the coaching for the Montpellier Baseball Club, a group of adult players. This past year he also coached the French national team, who were eliminated in an Olympic qualifying round by the powerful Dutch and Italian teams. We'll go down to Montpellier in February when play resumes to see his team. Apparently their ballpark has an Astroturf infield.
     As for the boys, Montpellier celebrated the final out with a classic thrashing human dogpile near the monticule. Afterwards trophies were presented. Each player also received the gift of an onion. It's a local specialty. Well, as we were saying, any baseball is better than no baseball.

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