My connection to the famous Tour De France cycle race goes back a long way.
When I was in my early twenties I went to the UK with the intention of doing a cycle tour. On arrival I went into the nearest cycle shop, which happened to be in Chesham Bois, and looked at the bikes. I went for a sturdy-looking one with not too many gears and aluminium alloy wheel rims. I bought a small tool set and a spare inner tube. The bike had a name. Eddy. I didn't name it this; it was written on it: "Eddy Merckx". At the time the name meant nothing to me. In my colonial ignorance I didn't know that this famous Belgian had won the T d F no less than five times - no small feat. The year I bought 'his' bike, 1978, was the year after he lost the 'one tour too many'.
But his bike proved marvelous and I rode it from Chesham to a delightful tiny village called Yielden near Rushden where I found work as a rousie, tieing fleeces. After work and on rainy days when the sheep were too wet, I house-kept and cooked for the shearing gang boss.
After a month or so when the shearing was over, I jumped back on my bike and went back to London. Well, actually I skirted London and ended up in Rye on the coast. I biked (with a friend) all along the South Coast, avoiding Southhampton by getting on the ferry to Ryde, biking across the Isle of Wight, then taking the ferry up to Lymington in the New Forest.
We went as far west as Fowey (via Avebury, Salisbury and Winchester) then came back to Plymouth for a while.
Taking off again north across Dartmoor then Exmoor to Lynton and Lynmouth, we walked around the coastal path there and explored the lovely Valley of the Rocks before plunging down Porlock Hill (and going through a complete set of brake-pads) on our way back to London.
Me peeking over the battlements of Dartmouth Castle
The whole trip took three months and was really wonderful. We camped in fields (like that one above, near Powderham Castle), cooked over a little burner and had stand-up washes in pub loos. The weather was kind and I was fit and brown and glowing with good health by the end.
That was my Tour d'Angleterre avec Eddy.
My connection with the Tour de France continued when in 2003 I discovered the quirky and surreal French animated film "The Triplets of Belleville". I enjoyed this tremendously. Briefly, it is a story of a T d F competitor who is kidnapped by French mafia and taken to New York (thinly disguised as 'Belleville', but recognisable by a fat hamburger-munching Statue of Liberty), to be the object of an illegal betting game.