Living in Provence: Cheering Lance

Living in Provence: Cheering Lance
NYONS, FRANCE:    Lancemania has been in full force at the 11th-century chateau owned by my former New York City neighbors, Lydie and Wayne.  Vaguely I’ve been aware of the race. Two years ago, I went down to the Place de la Liberation to cheer when Lance rode through Nyons on a trial run; the summer before, I waited two hours in the broiling sun to watch the Tour zoom by faster than I could click the shutter on my little digital toy. Did I get what it was all about? Not really.     Then someone vandalized my car in a particularly ugly manner with a signature that indicated it was expressly directed against me.  When I called Lydie from the Police Station, begging her to come down in case there were some legal esotericas in the French language I didn’t understand, she told me she couldn’t, she was watching TV.  WATCHING TV!!!???   “Today iz ver-ry important for Lance, I em sorry”; she had to go.  A few minutes later, Wayne appeared at the Police Municipale and was dutifully supportive, but this is another story.       My curiosity was peaked: what was it about Lance and the Tour that could turn a normally caring friend into a callous crazed fanatic? I turned on the TV. There were a lot of bikes and exquisite shots of the French countryside–a perfect tour of France, if you will. There were more bikes. Some went faster than others. Bikes are bikes.     I went over to the chateau.  The floor-length curtains were drawn, blocking out the brilliant Provençal light that is what most people seek when they come here. Lydie, by nature quiet and calm, was in her white arm chair before the TV: “Vas-y, vas-y, mon chou-chou!” she screamed, “Go to it, my little cutie! Go to it!”  Quickly she started explaining. “That’s Ullrich; ’e likes ze chocolate cake too much; ’e iz too fat.”  Lance is worried, Lydie says, “ ’e iz whor-eed about bee-ying accidentally  ’it by a fan.” Quickly, I realize all fans are on first-name basis with Lance. I settle in.     Today the crowd is better behaved, Lydie explains, no one is booing Lance or holding up posters of syringes. They are cheering. There are hundreds of gigantic floppy green hands being waved, freebies given out by Credit Agricole, a sponsoring bank. It is very hot. Everywhere fans give the cyclists water, fortified drinks and solid energy bars. What the cyclists eat during the Tour, Lydie confides, is a highly guarded secret. Riders burn between 15,000 and 20,000 calories per day. Each team has its own special top-secret formulated diet. Lance is reputed to have his own chef.    Lance is resplendent in his yellow T. “Luuk at those legs,” Lydie yells, “look at those legs!  ’e iz off  ’iz  ass, ’e is riding en danseuse!”  He is standing, he is peddling faster….   Already I’m focussing less on the scenery and more on the legs.  I’m beginning to get it. Lydie explains the meaning of the different-colored jerseys: red-polka dots for best mountain climber; green for best sprinter; white for best youngest rider, le tri-couleur for best youngest French rider; yellow–we all know about the yellow.  By now I’m not terribly concerned with the guys’ outfits.   Oh, God, WHAT IS LANCE DOING???!!!  Lance is pedalling like a maniac, en danseuse and otherwise; he is crazed, he is mad, he is super-human! He’s Le Boss! He raises his magnificent Michaelangelo arms above his head and sails over the finish line!! Lydie and I are wild! We are jumping in the air!  We hug each other. She runs for the champagne!     Later, she hands me the book: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE BIKE: My Journey Back to Life, by Lance Armstrong and instructs me to read it, especially the chapter called “SURVIVORSHIP.”  I rarely read autobiographies; in my whole life I have never read anything by or about an athlete, except maybe a few bons mots from Yogi Berra. I’m up all night reading THE BOOK. The next two days I spend at the chateau in front of the TV. I try not to focus on my car, which has gone for an extended stay at the carroisserie (body shop), what was done to it and why.  The 400 euros’ damage will not be covered by my insurance.  I try to stay rivetted to Lance and his story, the testicular cancer that nearly killed him, the horrendous brain surgery that removed cancerous lesions threatening to destroy the area of his brain controlling vision and motor control, the radiation, the chemo, the hell and despair, the long struggle, the comeback and repeated triumphs. Wayne joins us from time to time, but basically Lydie and I are alone with our obsession.     Lydie has planned a Lance Victory Lunch for Sunday, the last day of the Tour, which begins in the late afternoon.  By now we know he will win his last and seventh consecutive Tour de France! He will break all records for all time. When I arrive at the chateau, the garden is set with tables covered in bright Pierre Deux tablecloths laden with local wines, elegant glasses, cutlery, exquisite handmade faience bowls and plates, fresh-baked bread and potato chips in antique Provençal baskets, Nyons olives, local homemade sauscissons.  The guests arrive with gifts, their bathing suits and an air of excited anticipation.  Lydie starts pulling her famous Tartes Nyonsaises from the ovens; Wayne uncorks….
Previous Article Packing for Your Return From France
Next Article A Summer Wine Tasting