Tour De France Shines Spotlight On Tiny Village Embrun, a tiny French village hidden away in the foothills of the Alps, has suddenly been thrust into the limelight this year. Two stages of the Tour de France are starting from Embrun — the first time that has happened in the race's 95-year history.

Tour De France Shines Spotlight On Tiny Village

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For cycling fans, the Tour de France is both a magnificent challenge and a chance to get to know some new parts of the country. This year, 180 cyclists are following a route that's more than 2,000 miles, passing through hundreds of towns and villages along the way, and there's twice the excitement this year, as Anita Elash explains.

(Soundbite of bells)

ANITA ELASH: With its 12th-century cathedral and picture-perfect setting in the southern French Alps, the town of Embrun welcomes tens of thousands of tourists every year. But this weekend, it's bursting at the seams with visitors who have come to watch as the Tour de France leaves for two of the toughest mountain climbs in the race.

Nearly every hotel room in the region has been booked for months.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: At the Saturday morning market in the sprawling town square, merchants like fruit vendor Sophie Pianfety were doing a booming business.

Ms. SOPHIE PIANFETY (Merchant, Embrun, France): (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: Her sales were up more than 30 percent.

Ms. PIANFETY: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: We've been here since 7:30 this morning, and since 8:00, we've been overwhelmed, she says. People are preparing picnics to go watch the Tour de France, so it's been a very good market day.

(Soundbite of music)

ELASH: Embrun last hosted the Tour de France 34 years ago. This year, there are two stages starting from Embrun, the first time that's happened in the Tour's 95-year history.

(Soundbite of music)

ELASH: The Tour has taken over the town. The roads have been repaved, and Embrun is festooned with balloons, flags and paper hearts all in the tour's official color, yellow. The local busker is raking it in from the crowds of cycling fans, and even the traffic circles and streetlights are decorated with French flags and multicolored bicycles.

Andre Roujny, who works at the local sewage plant, has made a special effort to show his support for the tour.

Mr. ANDRE ROUJNY (Sewage Plant Worker, Embrun, France): (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: Roujny lives right at the start line. He spent three days building straw replicas of cyclists dressed in the yellow leader's jersey, green stage winner's jersey and polka-dot best-climber jersey and attaching them to his house.

Mr. ROUJNY: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: When you see them climbing hills and in the mountains, that's one thing, but it's nothing like this, he says. Having them start right outside his house twice is really exceptional. It's something I've never seen before, and I will probably never see again.

The residents of Embrun have stayed loyal to the Tour de France despite the doping scandals that have plagued the event. They hope the extensive television coverage of the Tour's two departures will draw international attention to their town and bring even more tourists next year. But not everyone is thrilled to see the cyclists pass through.

Ms. PASCALE GODFROY: (Foreign language spoken)

ELASH: All the roads have been blocked off, and local resident Pascale Godfroy says she had to park her car half a mile from her home. The days of the race, I have to leave for work two hours early, just so I don't interfere with the Tour, she says. It's just too much.

The competitors climb their highest peak today, then they'll leave the Alps and head for Paris and Sunday's finish on the Champs-Elysee. For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash in Embrun.

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