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December 25, 2018

France: Le Tour de France dans les Pyrenees


Le Tour de France dans les Pyrenees

France has an extensive network of toll roads. Driving the autoroutes is comfortable. Though the tolls are steep the autoroutes are fast and well maintained with frequent rest areas or “aires”.

Roughly every 15 kilometers are aires de repos, small park-like rest areas with restrooms and picnic benches scattered among the trees. They are nicer and more frequent than the rest areas along the interstate highways in the States. Unlike Americans, Europeans on road trips often picnic on food that they bring with them rather than stop to consume the fast food at the services area. The picnic tables are popular at lunch.

The yellow jersey wearer wins.

Useful for those who didn’t or couldn’t plan their meals ahead of time are the aires de service. Spaced approximately every 40 kilometers these service areas are places where hot meals and expensive fuel can be purchased. These are much like American service areas with a notable exception; wine and beer can be purchased and is routinely consumed with the meals. The French love to have wine with their meals. They also tend to drink with moderation, which is a good thing when they drink and drive down the autoroutes.

Some of the aires de service off the autoroutes qualify as mini destinations. One of these “destination” aires is in Bresse region of France. Along the A39 at kilometer 114 is the Aire du Poulet de Bresse, a service area dedicated to the promotion of the region’s famous chicken. Indeed, the biggest retailer of Bresse chicken in the world is not a market in Paris or Lyon; it is this roadside service area in eastern France along L’Autoroute Verte.

Reaching the top of the climb

The descent

In southwest of France, along the A64 motorway at Ger, there is another “destination” service area, Aire des Pyrénées. The Pyrénées Mountains can be seen in the distance, but that is not the most compelling reason for a stop. Instead the draw is an unmissable 59 foot high, 98 foot wide monumental sculpture, Le Tour de France dans les Pyrénées. I suspect that many passing motorists are like us and brake hard to make the exit so that they can take a closer look.

Sometimes called La Grande Boucle, Le Tour de France in the Pyrénées, was created by the artist Jean-Bernard Métais. It represents cyclists competing on a climb during the Tour de France, possibly of Col du Tourmalet. The sculpture celebrates the passing of the Tour through this area of France each summer. Signs around the base of the sculpture tell the history of the Tour in the Pyrénées over the years.

Le Tour de France in the Pyrénées is by no means the only work of art along the French autoroutes. In France much of the artwork along the autoroutes was installed in the 1980s and 1990s as a legal obligation under the “1% artistic” rule. The 1% rule imposed a requirement to spend 1% of the total cost of infrastructure on culture. This often translated as artworks.

The sculpture is impressively large.

While driving through France we see the autoroute-side art frequently. Usually it appears as a surprise. Cruising down the road 130 kilometers per hour it is hard to get a good look without running the car off the road.

Le Tour de France in the Pyrenees is promoted by roadside sign about a kilometer before the exit. We were on the lookout for something ahead, even if we didn’t know exactly what that “something” was going to be. In this case the large scale of the work made it clearly visible from the distance. With the sign, we had just enough time to think of stopping and taking a look.

“The Cannibal”

Cycling nudes

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