Romantics luxuriate in its charm. Trendy folk seek its glitz and glamour. Artists cherish its priceless treasures and culture. Historians aspire to its knowledge. And, epicureans crave its gourmet food and spirits.
No other city affords such opportunity for pleasure-and pain! Do not forget that the City of Light hosts the most popular endurance sporting event in the world, Le Tour de France. Each July the 2200+ mile, 23-day bicycle race ends on the cobble-stone Champs Elysees to throngs of flag waving and camera toting fans.
The Tour's early days were hardly as spectacular. The inaugural race was organized in 1903 as a publicity stunt for a nascent newspaper hoping to increase its circulation. A mere 60 riders launched the first Tour de France, many of whom were cycling amateurs, unemployed adventurers, or simply whimsical enthusiasts. This motley crew attracted attention and enhanced the race's appeal. Newspaper readership soared with circulation more than doubling. As Le Tour's popularity blossomed, so did its prize purse (from 20,000 francs in its first year to 450,000Euro in 2007) enticing a more serious and professional field.
The Tour always finishes in Paris, but the rest of the race alternates between clockwise and counter-clockwise circuits of France each year. The few mountain stages represent the most challenging days with vertical climbs up and over the Pyrenees and Alps ranges. Today, paved roads help make ghastly climbs over peaks such as Alpe d'Huez, Col du Tourmalet, and Mont Ventoux, slightly more bearable. Until the 1950s, hard-packed dirt over these mountain passes often forced riders to dismount and push their bicycles to the top.
American Lance Armstrong is the modern day legend of the race, he retired with 7 victories to his credit during the 2000-2006 period. But even Lance will admit that Le Tour's greatest rider of all time was Belgian Eddie Merckx.
In Merckx's 1969 Tour de France debut, he won the yellow jersey (overall winner), the green jersey (best sprinter) and the red polka-dotted jersey (best climber in the mountain stages). No other cyclist has achieved "the triple" in the Tour. Merckx celebrated overall victories at the TDF five times and likely would have won a historic 6th had it not been for one especially unruly French cycling fan. Likely infuriated over the probability of a Belgian surpassing Frenchman Jacques Anquetil's record 5 victories, the French spectator viciously punched Merckx in the liver region during a mountain climb. Merckx finished 2nd after having lead the race for eight days and rightfully attributed his loss to the attack.
Your "tour" through Paris should be somewhat more pleasurable than Merckx's '75 experience. A "bon jour" and "merci" now and again will go a long way to ingratiate the proud locals.
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