Cycling - Proust's madeleines of the Tour de France

Cycling – Proust’s madeleines of the Tour de France


Just look at the map and the route of the stages to understand why we love the Tour de France so much. We dive into the names of the municipalities, we list the departmental ones, we are already on the roads while the race has not yet started. The Tour sends us back to memories, landscapes, characters. The names of the places crossed appear there like so many madeleines of Proust. It’s Lagarde and Michard, Vidal de La Blache, Malet and Isaac together, plus the television, helicopter and drones above the peloton. Follow the leader !

1st stage

From the opening of this 109th edition, in Copenhagen, Andersen’s Tales came out when the runners passed near the Little Mermaid, who watched them from the Langelinie quay (kilometre 9.2). It was on Boulevard Hans-Christian Andersen that the finish line of the time trial was placed. Too bad Elsinore is a bit far from the Danish capital, because we would have reread Hamlet too.

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Copenhagen, departure city of the Tour and world capital of cycling

4th step

Return to France, this July 5. Dunkirk, its endless beach, the Allied rout of 1940, the English who re-embark in disaster to be able to continue the war from home, the spectacular film by Christopher Nolan but also Jean-Paul Belmondo in Week-end at Zuydcoote. Just before arriving in Calais, it’s Sangatte, synonymous with migrants, misery, deaths at sea. D’Artagnan took fewer risks by boarding very close to here in The Three Musketeers to go and collect the tags in London of Anne of Austria and fight Milady.

5th and 6th steps

On to the battles! The organizers spoiled us: Bouvines (kilometre 20), victory for Philippe Auguste’s France. Then Agincourt (kilometer 110) during the Hundred Years War: rout against the English, six thousand dead on the French side, 600 on the English side. The next day, again with Rocroi (kilometer 77), a victory over the Spaniards. We were spared Crécy, where France was crushed in 1346. Head east via Charleville-Mézières, enough time to recite two verses by Rimbaud, whose birthplace it is (“He sleeps in the sun, his hand on his chest, Quiet. He has two red holes on his right side”) and it’s Sedan at kilometer 125.

Sedan and its fortress where hundreds of French soldiers, including my father, were piled up in May 1940, forced to spend the war as prisoners in the depths of Germany. On arrival in Longwy, memories of the vanished French steel industry, in a constituency of Meurthe-et-Moselle where a NUPES deputy has just been elected.

The profile of the 5th stage: The day of the cobblestones and all the dangers

7th stage

Sometimes it’s a sound that tickles the memory. Granges-sur-Vologne (kilometer 86) evokes Lépanges-sur-Vologne of sinister memory, where little Grégory died. Cold Case. Well, just before that is Rambervillers (kilometer 58). I had attended a campaign meeting of Philippe Séguin there in 1997. Jacques Chirac had just dissolved the National Assembly and Séguin, as always, was not optimistic. He had his reasons.

8th and 9th stages

Arbois, Lac-des-rouges-Truites, Morbier, Epagny-Gruyères: there is gastronomy in the air. We imagine ourselves on the shores of Lake Geneva, on a terrace facing the beauty of the lake. In his time, Antoine Blondin indicated “contact lenses” on his expense reports. The followers were less serious than today and the newspapers richer…

10th, 11th and 12th steps

When you arrive in the Alps, the memories are closer to the race itself than to the history of France. At the top of the Galibier, two days in a row, eternal gratitude to Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour, passing in front of his stele. At the top of Alpe d’Huez, an anniversary: ​​in 1952, seventy years ago, Fausto Coppi emerged victorious from the first ascent with twenty-one bends. The legend was just beginning.

Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels – KTM), climbing the Col du Galibier, on the 7th stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné 2022

Credit: Getty Images

13th stage

Vizille (kilometre 27), doubly historic: the town was one of the cradles of the French Revolution then a center of the resistance in 1940-45. Thirteen kilometers further on is Grenoble. His elected officials have not always had very tender words for the Tour. But it is also one of the Compagnon de la Liberation cities. “A well-deserved of the fatherland”, said de Gaulle when he came to decorate it on November 5, 1944.

14th step

Political parenthesis: Yssingeaux (kilometer 50) became famous thanks to its mayor and multi-minister Jacques Barrot, who was a hard-working and sparkling centrist. In Puy-en-Velay (kilometer 85), a memory of almost lynching: on December 4, 2015, three days after the fire in the Prefecture of Haute-Loire, overexcited “yellow vests” tried to attack to Emmanuel Macron’s car. “Die on the road!”, shouted a protester. “They might kill me with a bullet, but nothing else”confided the president to his collaborators on his return.

When the stage arrives at Mende aerodrome, memories will be cut in two: half for Laurent Jalabert’s stage victory on July 14, 1995, half for the final glider flight of Bourvil and Louis de Funès in La grande vadrouille, with this unforgettable line: “there’s no propeller alas, that’s where the bone is”.

15th stage

Should we forget Tarascon-sur-Ariège (kilometer 97)? In 1998, the runners chose to sit on the ground at the start line, delaying the race by two hours. Richard Virenque and the Festinas had left the Tour, the police had landed in the hotel of the TVM team, the reporters began to scavenge the teams. Let’s forget to better take the path of the Pyrenees.

Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), on the wheel of his teammate Amaury Capiot, in the Tour de France 2022

Credit: Getty Images

19th step

When the peloton passes Valence-d’Agen (kilometre 105), Bernard Hinault will perhaps think of the strike he led on July 12, 1978: the riders crossed the finish line on foot. Reason: infernal cadences and too many transfers. Not friendly to the public. To the mayor of the city, Jean-Michel Baylet, all-powerful boss of La Dépêche du midi, the “badger” will say a few years later : “What are you complaining about? If we hadn’t gone on strike, your village, no one would know about it!” Not false.

At kilometer 147, the crossing of Montcuq, which in 2016 became Montcuq-en-Quercy-Blanc, will spark the usual jokes and Daniel Prévost’s sketch at the Petit rapporteur will be “liked” on social networks.

21st step

It’s the last and it will be royal, as it should be. And even imperial since passing through Rueil-Malmaison, and why not resistant when seeing Mont-Valérien. Then it will be the almost traditional passage in front of the Palace of Versailles. In Paris, the passage to the Luxembourg garden will remind us that the Senate, if it is republican (and very important when it pitches on the side of the National Assembly), is installed in what was the palace of Marie de Médicis. Head for the Louvre, royal residence before becoming the largest museum in the world where, little by little, tourists return.

As for the Champs-Élysées, we are no longer entirely sure that it is the most beautiful avenue in the world, but they have been an integral part of the Tour since 1975. As the riders cross the finish line, when the Patrouille de France passes over the peloton spitting its blue-white-red plume, anyone in the caravan who claims not to have goosebumps would be a little liar.


Credit: Getty Images

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