Posts Tagged ‘Bicycle’

We’re on for a new Tour de France

July 6, 2008

Although I am not crazy about sports there’s one race that has a special place in my heart: the Tour de France. My family had a house in the countryside where we were going every week-end when I was a child. As it was so close from Paris the race would pass every summer in front of the house on its last day as it was heading to the Champs Elysees. I was very impressed by the speed: they were riding so fast that it was impossible to identify anyone not even the ‘maillot jaune’ (yellow shirt). I remember the hero of these times was Bernard Hinault.  


In my country the Tour de France is as famous as base-ball and apple-pie are in the US. Millions of people gather along the roads to try to see the hero in yellow and to support the racers. But it’s even more special to me as I started my career as a journalist with the Tour de France. Not that I chose to, it happened by random. Just after the end of my Journalism studies I sent my resume out to Radio France and it was received the day the director in charge of Minitel – the ancestor of internet – was looking for someone to cover the race. I knew nothing about bicycle and even less about the race, apart from my childhood memories. I called my high school friend Pascal who was crazy about bicycle, bought tons of magazines and spent days at the library. A week later I knew everything about the race and all the favorites. I was only 22 years old. That was really exciting.   


Then the Tour de France entered into its dark age and the amazing show turned into a sad and sinister story about drugs. The heroes fell off their bikes, the race down the gutter. Every year since 1997 when the scandal started I try to get back into it with the eyes of the child I was, remembering the little girl who was shouting at the racers; trying also to feel again that kick of my years as a young journalist writing about each and every small event taking place every day during the Tour. But something is broken.


This year again it’s all about controlling drugs abuse. More than 200 tests will take place by random, including for the first time hair and nail samples which will allow to identify the doping history of a racer, if there is one. Samples will be kept for 8 years until some tests are being improved. That means we’re going to hear about doping for another very long time.


But the show must go on, at least in the name of all the young dudes who are not taking drugs. For them who are fighting hard against their own body with the power of their mind for only shield, I will go on watching the Tour. For them, I will go and have my coffee at Velo Rouge Cafe, a great small coffee shop near my home where a big flat screen covers the Tour all day long. The owner is a bicycle fan, as the name of her place tells.


So for all the pure at heart – and body – here are a few facts about the 95th Tour de France: the Tour started in Brest (Brittany) on July 5th and will end 3,559 km further in Paris on July 27th. There will be 21 days of race, 2 rest days, 2 individual time-trial stages, 5 mountain stages and 4 mountain finishes. The winner will make 450,000 euros.

As we say in French, “Que le meilleur gagne!” May the best racer win! And may he win clean.


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Velib’, the new French Revolution

June 16, 2008

During my recent trip to Paris I was very impressed with the numerous stations of the new bicycle rentals system, Velib’, spread out across the city. I also felt that Parisian traffic was less congested than since my previous visit 6 months ago. Velib’ is a self-service bicycle rental program which was launched in July 2007. The service offers 20,600 bicycles and 1,451 automated stations: one about every 300 meters!



How does it work? Available 24/7 the service is very simple as users can take a bicycle in one station and put it back in another. They first need to take out a subscription by the day, week or year, which allows them an unlimited number of rentals. The price is respectively 1, 5 or 29 euros. Bike rental is free of charge for the first half-hour, then costs 1 to 4 euros every 30 minutes. This is a very cheap service, since the average trip only lasts 18 minutes. In order to avoid thefts each user has to pay a security deposit of 150 euros.



So far, 20 million rides happened with an average of 70,000 trips each day. Users are 58% male, 40% are between 26 and 35 years old and one third come from the suburb. Asked why they love Velib’ they consider it’s a great way to beat traffic, to stay healthy and to be free. It’s also unbeatable to reduce pollution. As a matter of fact 20% use their car less…


Good news: The program is starting to spread. It was introduced last month in Washington DC under the name of “SmartBike DC”. In this time of gas price increase let’s hope this service will soon be available everywhere in the US.