Semur-en-Auxois Hosts Its First Tour de France
Every July, France indulges in its great summer pastime — the Tour de France.
For the French, the Tour is more than a mere sporting event, it's a national celebration. As 200 of the world's best cyclists weave their way through the French countryside, they highlight the villages, customs and people of the different regions of France.
Staging part of the tour is an honor. The tiny town of Semur-en-Auxois in Burgundy hosts the Tour de France for the first time ever this year, and it has been sprucing up for the occasion for months.
The whole town is abuzz about the event. Workers perched on ladders to lay the final terra cotta tiles to repair a hotel roof. Many of the roads have been repaved. Shopkeepers have decorated their windows with displays of bicycles and yellow jerseys, and banners around town proudly proclaim Semur as host to the world's most famous bicycle race.
In a cafe on a cobblestone plaza, septuagenarians Jacques Brasse and Claude Jacquet-Franchir talk about the first time they watched the tour together.
"We went to see it with our fathers when it passed not too far from here, but that was 50 years ago," they say.
Now in its 94th season, the Tour de France has only been canceled during the two world wars. But this year's race is taking place under a cloud. Suggestions of the widespread use of drugs has damaged the race, and no one knows who won the Tour last year. American rider Floyd Landis' 2006 title is in dispute over allegations that he took performance-enhancing drugs.
Semur's medieval towers and church will soon be the talk of TV sports announcers and journalists from around the world, and townspeople are pitching in to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Michel Baudot raises Charolais cows on his farm just outside Semur.
"The Tour de France will pass right by here and we're going to move our cows out of this field to leave room for the helicopters," Baudot says. "This is really great for us because everyone in France and beyond will be talking about Semur. That's not bad for a small town of 5,000 people."
Every year the Tour de France is watched by some 15 million people lining the roadsides and two billion people worldwide — it is broadcast in more than 150 countries.
But insurance agent Philippe Guyenot says media hype is not what Semur needs most.
"This is really about the mayor's next campaign,' Guyenot says. "It's costing too much money that should be spent elsewhere like repairing our medieval castle walls. And, instead, we're repaving the roads for the Tour de France."
Semur-en-Auxois will be holding a double celebration on Friday. The start of the sixth stage of the Tour de France coincides with the eve of Bastille Day. After the cyclists depart, the party will go on into the night with fireworks and dancing in the streets, in what will be a very French celebration.
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