My Reminiscences of events, old and new, and travels, far and near
Friday, July 8, 2016
The Tour de France 2016 - part 1
July already - the month of the Tour de France! This year it started on Saturday July 2, 2016, at the Mont St Michel in France. By the time it ends on the Champs Elysees in Paris on Sunday July 24, 2016, the cyclists will have run a total distance of 3,519 kilometers or 2,186 miles. The route will cover 23 stages: 9 flat, 1 hilly, 9 mountain including 4 summit finishes, 2 individual time trial stages and 2 rest days. The 103rd Tour de France will visit three countries: Spain, the Principality of Andorra and Switzerland. (Click on collage to enlarge.)
There are 22 teams with 198 riders starting the 2016 Tour. This year the riders come from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Republic of South Africa, Russia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the USA, Ukraine and Wales. It is truly an international sport even reaching 3.5 billion viewers, live and on television, in 188 countries. I explained some facts about the Tour in a post in July 2009 - you can read it here. The first stage, on July 2, 2016, ended in Utah Beach, Normandy. Photos of Utah Beach and former German bunkers below.
Utah Beach was the code name for the furthest west of the five beaches designated, during World War II, for the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. 20,000 men landed there with 1,700 military vehicles. Because of strong winds, they landed almost 2 km south from where the German soldiers were stationed, resulting in only 197 US casualties (or less than 300 overall.) Mark Cavendish, from the Isle of Wight in the UK won a well deserved yellow jersey for the Tour de France first stage, ending in Utah Beach. It made him immensely happy, because of the historical significance of the place, and because he had won 27 green jerseys (for sprinting) from taking part in several Tour de France races, but never a yellow jersey, as a winner of a stage.
The day prior to the start of the Tour de France, Friday July 1st, 2016, was the 100th year anniversary of another battle, the Battle of the Somme during WWI (north of Normandy, in pink in the map below.)
This battle was a lot deadlier. The battle started at 7:30 am on July 1st, 1916. The British Army alone suffered 57,470 casualties by the end of the first day, including 19,240 men killed. The battle lasted 141 days resulting in over 1.2 million casualties on all sides with Allies advancing only a total of five miles. Four million men, from around the world, were involved in the Battle of the Somme, from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, etc., in addition to the French, British and German armies. It is estimated that it was the deadliest clash of the Great War. (Click on collage twice to be able to read postcard captions.)
On July 1, 2016, commemorative evens were held in Manchester, London and France. 10,000 guests (half French, half British) were invited in Thiepval, France, one of the main battlefields. French President Francois Hollande was joined by British Prime Minister David Cameron, the royal couple Kate and William, Prince Harry, as well as Prince Charles and his wife Camilla. Former German President Horst Koehler was there and Irish President Michael D. Higgins. Six hundred children (half French, half British) placed wreaths by the graves of fallen soldiers.
Initially, France was to be represented by Prime Minister Manuel Valls. But at the last minute, and despite the British people decision to leave the European Union (EU,) French President Francois Hollande came to "show friendship between the French and British peoples." A week earlier Great Britain had voted to leave the EU, after the Brexit referendum.
I'd like to end this post by pointing out that all 198 participants of the Tour started today, July 8th, 2016, in stage 7. There was no abandon by anyone in the first six stages - a first time in the history of the Tour de France. A British rider, Stephen Cummings, member of the South African team, won this 7th stage.