Cyclists (And Heat) Press On In Tour De France
LYNN NEARY, host:
Searing heat, blazing sun, brutal climbs - just another day of the Tour de France. The world's premier bicycle riders raced into the mountains today, and a Frenchman came out on top.
It was also a good day for cycling legend Lance Armstrong, who regained some ground.
As Eleanor Beardsley reports, the blistering weather didn't wilt the fans or the day's winner.
(Soundbite of applause)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: As 30-year-old Frenchman Sylvain Chavanel stood on the podium and donned the yellow jersey, the crowd - and an enthusiastic announcer - were clearly proud to have a French rider in first place.
As expected, the day's six midgrade climbs in the brutal heat began to weed out cyclists. Former leader Fabian Cancellara cracked, finishing 23 minutes behind Chavanel.
(Soundbite of cheering)
BEARDSLEY: Armstrong rode over the finish line at the front of the main pack, just a couple minutes behind Chavanel. He was accompanied by Tour favorite and his key rival, Alberto Contador. Armstrong moved up four spots in the overall rankings. Tour fans and aficionados haven't counted him out.
Team RadioShack is strong and loaded with climbers, says Pierre Callewaert, cycling correspondent for L'Equipe newspaper. Callewaert says he thinks Armstrong still has a chance to win the Tour.
Mr. PIERRE CALLEWAERT (Cycling Correspondent, L'Equipe): He said he would be stronger in 2010, so - and he's right. He's stronger. You would say he's old because he's 38, but he has a lot of experience. The experience is very, very important in the Tour. He knows the techniques. He knows the road very well, the climbs. And he has the strongest will to win the Tour.
BEARDSLEY: Spectators joined the grazing cows on hillside pastures to watch the 101-mile stage that led up into the Jura Mountains, known as the foothills of the Alps.
(Soundbite of crowd)
BEARDSLEY: The beauty of the Tour is that it is a big, glamorous, international sport, yet it's so accessible to regular folk.
Ms. BRIGITTE PISANTE(ph): (French spoken)
Mr. ODILLE DURANT(ph): (French spoken)
(Soundbite of laughter)
BEARDSLEY: Two couples in their late 60s have set up a card table in the middle of a field of wildflowers. It's laden with a picnic lunch of mountain cheeses and chilled ros� wine. They can't seem to name any riders, but they are having a great time, say Odille Durant and Brigitte Pisante(ph).
Ms. PISANTE: (Through translator) The Tour is all about friendship and hanging out, and having a good time.
Mr. DURANT: (Through translator) And it's about discovering France, too, because every July we follow it, and explore a new region.
BEARDSLEY: Others come to the Tour for the pure sport of it. Amateur cyclists and brothers Ulav and Aldam Dal(ph) have planted themselves under a tree, and hung a Norwegian flag from its branches. They got up early to ride the last part of the stage themselves before the race.
Mr. ULAV DAL: It's pretty cool to see the last bit of the course that they're riding to get the feel of what they are experiencing during the last miles or so, a better understanding of what they really go through.
Mr. ALDAM DAL: Well, it's amazing. I can really not understand how they can do it. It's pretty incredible, yeah.
BEARDSLEY: And for others, the Tour is more of a party.
Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)
BEARDSLEY: This group of boisterous friends from (unintelligible) Belgium say they come to the Tour every year without their wives. They're at an outdoor caf� in one of the villages along the Tour route. Robbie Mannas(ph) sums up this group's Tour philosophy:
Mr. ROBBIE MANNAS: Each year, we come in to the (unintelligible) to view a little bit of the race and to party and to drink some beer. The good weather, holiday - it's all we need.
BEARDSLEY: Tomorrow, the 186th Tour de France cyclists will head into the higher peaks for a grueling, 120-mile ride that will take them to the top of the Alps. And the French retirees, the Norwegian brothers and the Belgian friends will all follow them.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Station des Rousses, France.