TARBES -- Dozens of French fans gathered in a graveyard outside this Tour de France start town over a 1985 steel Gitane bicycle and poured out bottle after bottle of Bordeaux wine, chanting the names of French cyclists from the last thirty years who, for one reason or another, saw their high hopes of Tour de France victory snuffed out. The last bottle was saved for a trio of riders -- Jean-Christophe Peraud, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet -- who were expected to contend in this year's Tour, only to find themselves all more than thirteen minutes back. The only sip ingested was at the mention of Tony Gallopin, who lies seventh overall at the moment, but whose butt is considered too large for an actual Tour contender.
Not even Bastille Day could arouse the spirits of these mourners, who croaked out "allons citoyens" in a muffled manner when prompted by passers-by singing the national song, though for whatever reason there was a noticeable uptick in enthusiasm for the lyrics "Qu'un sang impur... Abreuve nos sillons."
LATTE, ITALY -- An encampment of Italian cycling fans that had been slowly building along the border of the nation with France quickly dissipated today upon learning that their hero, defending Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali, had fallen to tenth place after a disappointing result in the first mountain stage of this year's race. The fans, whose entry into France had been delayed by French officials waiting to see where Warren Barguil stood on the general classification before admitting foreigners to the Alpine region, spent the day watching the race before silently gathering up their possessions and filing eastward back toward their homes. A number of fans were said to have stopped in nearby Ventimiglia for the town's annual Tribute to Marco Pantani, which celebrates the nation's prior Tour winner and convenes a panel of experts to discuss important questions about his suspicious death in 2004.
PAMPLONA -- Chanting name after name, Basque cycling fans celebrated the nearby passing of the Tour de France in a mass gathering in the Plaza de Toros. While a few Spanish fans expressed laments that their hero, Alberto Contador, will not win the race this year, they were drowned out by the deafining cheers of the crowd as the master of ceremonies, Pamplona mayor Joseba Asiron, read off the general classification standings to the cycling-crazed crowd. Efforts by reporters to ask attendees why they were so excited were fruitless, as fans responded by shouting "AUPA!" along with names like Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, former Tour winner Miguel Indurain, and even riders like Tony Martin who had departed the race earlier, and waving Ikurrina flags blocked any effort by reporters to penetrate the gathering to conduct further interviews.
PAU -- Chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" rang out loudly from a tourist hotel in this Pyrenean foothill town as American fans rallied around their Tour de France heroes doing battle on the nearby mountain roads this week. While Britain's Chris Froome has taken control of the race, Tejay van Garderen remains in second place, which lifted the spirits of fans attending the rally. "Van Guardian is totally going to win!" gushed Ed Smith of Dallas, Texas, visiting the Tour for the first time with a group of friends. When asked how that seems possible given Froome's display of dominance in stage 10, Smith countered "because he's awesome! He's gonna go nuts on Alpe d'Huez and crush this Tour, YEAH!"
Other fans seemed less focused on specifics. "I'm Captain America!" screamed one fan, Tom Jansen of Albuquerque, New Mexico, as he displayed his cartoon character costume to the roar of the crowd. The event was briefly disrupted as four men dressed in neon thongs raced through the restaurant, to the delight of the fans in attendance. Some fans did harbor more specific hopes for the race. "I just want to finally find out who the next Lance is," said Heather Rossi of Teaneck, New Jersey, referring to the former Tour winner whose titles were removed after he admitted to using performance-enhancing substances during his career.
ALPE D'HUEZ -- Police in southeastern France have closed off roads in and out of Bourg d'Oisins as Dutch cycling fans, clad in orange, descended on the area in numbers large enough to overwhelm the transportation system of the town as it awaits the arrival of the Tour de France in ten days' time. Carrying tents, backpacks, spray paint cans, beer kegs and carboard cutout figures of cyclist Robert Gesink, fans began arriving over the weekend and reached record numbers by Tuesday afternoon. Lucas van Leiden of Rotterdam said "We have come here to Dutch Mountain to watch history made," referring to the nickname of the Alpe d'Huez climb where riders from the Netherlands have found unusual success. "We expect a great result from Bobo Gesink," said Frans Pourbus, reflecting the general sentiment that the LottoNL-Jumbo cyclist is on good form for the race after several disappointing seasons.
Pieter Breughel, traveling from Breda for the fifth year in a row, said that Dutch fans have a duty to take over "our mountain," and to make sure that their riders have the utmost support at the Tour. "It's special this time, given how strong Gesink looks." This sentiment was reflected by his campmates, Jan Mostaert, Jan Provoost, Jacob van Utrecht, and Hieronymus Bosch, though when asked why they were so optimistic after the last four years of poor performances, the fans stopped making eye contact until starting up another chorus of "In de hemel is geen bier," a popular song.