Pro riders in the stage race Le Dauphine. Gary, who sent me the photo & wrote today's story, notes: You can't pick him out in the photo, but this year's Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans is in this peloton, along with Alberto Contador, who won the previous three Tour de France races.


Paris apartment for rent. St Sulpice. 

215 euros per night (min.  3-nights rental)
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le peloton (peuh lohtohn)

    : a large group of bicycle riders in a road race

Also: Peloton is also a military word referring to a group of soldiers.  Examples would be peloton d’instruction and peloton d’execution. (Thank you, Bill Blank, for this info)

Audio File: Listen to Jean-Marc: Download MP3 or Wav file

Le peloton est un terme sportif qui désigne un groupe de coureurs qui demeurent ensemble au cours d'une épreuve. "Peloton" is a sporting term that designates a group of racers that remain together during an event.

Capture plein écran 02082011 154241 French music, or passive language learning... Relax back and listen to these vocab-rich songs. Order this "Paris" compilation



Cycling: Unwritten Etiquette and Rules of the Road
..... Gary McClelland

Le Mont Ventoux, or le géant de Provence, beautifully on display for wine tasters at Domaine Rouge-Bleu, attracts bicyclists from all over the world who want to challenge themselves on the hors catégorie climb used 14 times in le Tour de France.  They also enjoy the gentler rides cycling past the purple lavender, yellow sunflowers and brume, green vineyards under blue skies, while listening to the chanting cigales and smelling the natural perfumes of Provence.  French is at best a second language for the visiting cyclists so except for bonjour, bonne route, and allez, there often is not much verbal communication.  However, good cyclists know the unwritten etiquette and rules of the road.  In biking around Provence on a recent trip with my friend Tim, I experienced a number of examples of the unspoken etiquette.

When I stopped for a minor roadside adjustment, a lovely French women rode into the gap between Tim and me as we climbed over a little col.  When I passed her to catch up with Tim, elle a pris ma roue (she "took my wheel”, or rode closely behind me) in the universal request to be paced if I were willing.  I nodded agreement and wordlessly we were off on a brisk but not frantic ascent to the col.  On a climb the wind drafting advantages are not substantial, but the mental benefit of having someone set a good pace can be enormous.  Using the retroviseur attached to my sunglasses, I adjusted my pace to maintain a constant gap between us.  As we arrived at the summit sooner than either of us would have alone, she said, “Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil.”  (I try to collect très gentil compliments when I’m in France.)  I briefly considered continuing to ride with her but that would have violated the important etiquette that riders who start together finish together.  As I slowed, I told her that I needed to await mon copain.  Later we encountered her as we biked in opposite directions and she threw me a warm smile, a big wave, and a cheery bonne route that gladdened an old man’s heart.

One evening climbing the same col from the other direction, on a short, quick ride before dinner, I rode up behind two local racers, who were, according to their jerseys, sponsored by a plumber in nearby Caromb. They were chatting during what seemed to be an after work ride.  I knew the etiquette that trying to pass them would be challenging them to a race.  But I wanted to get back to fix my appetizer of melon halves from Cavaillon filled with muscat from Beaume de Venise.  I tried to ease by with a calm “bon soir” but the flag was immediately down and we were flying up the col.  I edged out the 3rd rider to finish a distant second to the faster rider.  Then we said hearty bonne soirées and went our separate ways knowing proper etiquette had been followed.  The melons were delicious.

Un peloton looking for refreshment in Bedoin. Gary admits: "I wouldn't try to pass these guys on ride!"

Riding north one morning into a strong mistral wind, I taught Tim the etiquette of drafting.  Following closely in the slipstream of the lead rider reduces the effort by as much as 30 percent.  Drafting is just because the riders getting the benefit take all the risk—touching tires can send the trailing rider to the ground but not the leader.  There is a fine art to being close enough but not too close.  The important etiquette is realizing that when the leader flicks his elbow he is asking the follower to take a turn leading into the wind. By switching leaders at each elbow flick, a peloton can slice through the wind amazingly quickly.

 Gary notes, "my friend Derek fixes a crevé below the castle of Le Barroux"

The most important etiquette is that a bicyclist in dépannage knows that other riders will soon stop to help.  When I was on my first ride with the local Bedoin Randonneurs bike club, j’ai crevé.  Not wanting to slow them down, I urged them on but they wouldn’t think of violating the etiquette that we would all finish together.  However, Roger was not happy with my slow tire-changing pace so offered to take over.  Another rider told me to just let him do it, “he changes all our tires.”  In the blink of the eye, my tube was replaced and we were on our way to a beautiful ride in the Provençal countryside.   And we did finish together.  Knowing proper etiquette makes a cyclist part of an international community biking in Provence.

Gary's friends biking, au peloton, through the plane trees of the winery Chateau Pesquié.

Le Coin Commentaires
Did you enjoy Gary's article? Please help me to thank him, now, by leaving "un petit mot", a little word, in the comments corner. You might also share your own bike-riding stories. Click here

Gary McClelland is a professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Colorado, who became a Francophile while spending a summer as a student in Paris in 1967.  

Photo credits: The cycling photos were taken by Gary or by Gary's wife, Lou, or their friend Terry Mattison. Read another story by Gary (about Pétanque" : read it here.)


Gary notes: one of my favorite places to bike for its color and scenery is the Dentelles... note the yellow and fragrant genêt, or broom. Besides me, the people are Lily Welch and Terry Mattison (this note corresponds to the third photo, below left). The village is Suzette.

 Click on the following photos to enlarge them.

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French Vocabulary

le géant de Provence = the giant of Provence (synonym for Mont Ventoux, or "Mount Windy")

hors categorie = beyond categorization

le Tour de France = an annual cycling race in France and other countries

la cigale = cicada

bonjour = hello

bonne route = have a good ride

allez! = come on, let's go! get a move on! go for it!

le col = pass (geography)

le rétroviseur = rearview mirror

Merci beaucoup, vous êtes très gentil = thanks, very kind of you

le copain = buddy, friend

le bonsoir = hello (used in an evening greeting)

bonne soirée = have a nice evening

le dépannage = fixing, repairing

j'ai crevé = I have a flat (tire)

6a00d834515cae69e2010536f40e5b970b-500wiRelated StoryVélo: Mom talks me into buying a bike "for the endorphins it will bring!".... read the story here.

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Provence Dreamin'? Maison des Pelerins, Sablet. A Vacation Rental Dream in the heart of the Côte du Rhone.


  Green Window (c) Kristin Espinasse
So much to love about this Alsatian window, if you're a fenêtre freak as I am! Let's begin with the green façade! Next, a terra-cotta pot (in a wonderful red contrast against the wall) with is "grapes" bottom! Beneath the grapes-bottomed pot, the blue flowers (lobelia?) and the lavender are country charm incarnate! Up above, we have an outdoor blind (do you see it?... there, above the angel!)

Do you have a moment for one more story? It is a recipe-missive: a slice of life followed by a slice of tomato pie! Read it here. (Fire up your oven first!)


The Greater Journey : Americans in Paris

The Greater Journey is the story of the adventurous American artists, writers, doctors, politicians, architects, and others of high aspiration who set off for Paris in the years between 1830 and 1900, ambitious to excel in their work. Order The Greater Journey here.

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My mom, Jules, in 2003 (one month after her first mastectomy). She found her bike at the French flea market for 15 euros.

vélo (vay-loh) noun, masculine
     1. bike, bicycle

[from vélocipède]

La vie, c'est comme un vélo, il faut avancer pour ne pas perdre l'équilibre.
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
--Albert Einstein

AUDIO FILE: Listen to Jean-Marc pronounce the French word vélo and read the French sentence, above. Download Velo Download Velo

(The following story was written in September 2007)

My mom and I are standing in the sports shop looking at a wall of locomotion.
"That's the one!" she says, pointing to the retro model with the wide seat.

I recognize the bright turquoise vélo* with the caramel leather seat and wide longhorn handle-bars. We'd seen the bike last week at the neighbor's, where it rested on its kick stand and all but swung its haunch in hipness.

"If you want, we can ride bikes together," my neighbor, Danielle, had said. My eyes left the bright blue bonbon on wheels.
"I don't have a bike," I had answered.
"Can she try it out?" my mom asked, and I could have dissolved into a puddle of grease right there on the garage floor!

                                    *     *     *
Back at the sports shop my mom is stoked.
"You're going to have endorphins soon!" she chirps. "It'll be good for you to ride again."

The last time I rode a bike of my own I was headed home from Mesa Community College, only it was an ambulance that finished the trip for me. My mom received the $500 ER bill, and I sold my bike soon after. That was twenty years ago.

"Beats grinding your teeth!" my mom continued, praising the virtues of velocity. I can feel my teeth set as I approach that bike. I can't get the same vélo as my neighbor! That would make me a copycat! Besides, how would she feel to no longer own the coolest bike on the farm? And what about that ride she proposed? How's that going to look--the two of us pedaling to town like twins on our retro turquoise two-wheelers? Dorky if you ask me!

My mom is beyond dork. There she is in a pea-green poncho and a Panama hat. She pats the wide seat, then rings the bike's bell. Ring, ring, ring...RRRRIIIIIIINNNNNG! All customers look over to the bike display.
"Mom!" I hiss.
"Look at this thing! It's a Jimmy Buffet California dreamin' beach bike!" she says, ignoring me. "Do you know that Jimmy Buffet song?"
"No, I don't know the song and I don't want a bike!" I snap back. "What I need is a bench!"

Not one hour earlier we had left a home-deco shop in the town of Orange, where I found a curved wooden banc,* perfect for our front porch. Meanwhile, at the other end of the boutique, my mom found a present for her husband. She was set on buying it until I refused. (She needed my credit card for the transaction.)

"Mom! You just finished telling me that you were fed up with his drinking. You can't go buying him a set of Tequila SHOT glasses from Bavaria!"
"But they're so pretty!" she protested. I watched as she sulked back to the glass armoire and returned the shot glasses to their shelf, taking one last admiring glance at the red baccarat crystal.
"Please gift wrap them," I finally said to the sales lady, relinquishing control over my mother.

Back at the bike shop I am once again trying to control my mom. Only this time she won't have it. To my "I don't want your present!" she responds firmly: "It is not for you to decide whether or not to receive a gift. You simply accept it with grace!"

Just then, I felt all of my rigid, controlling ways melt. I turned to the salesman and asked whether there was another color.

"We have a different model in silver..." he said.

                                           *    *     *
I am reeling down a quiet country road, leaving cares and copycats to the wind. If I let go of the pedals and stretch out my legs, I can almost touch the vine rows on either side of me. I stretch out my arms until the tips of my fingers grace the mountains to the east and the setting sun to the west. I feel the touch of eternity. It must be those endorphins Mom talked about.

Comments, corrections--or stories of your own--always welcome in the comments box.


References: le vélo (m) = bike; le banc (m) = bench

     Read more stories about my mom here.
 A basket for your bike, and some accessories, here.

     Streetwise Paris: the best-selling map of PARIS


Terms & Expressions:
  vélo tout-terrain (VTT) = mountain bike
  vélodrome = cycle-racing track
  vélomoteur = moped
  faire du vélo = to cycle, to go bike riding

Aromatic lavender honey
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A Message from KristiOngoing support from readers like you keeps me writing and publishing this free language journal each week. If you find joy or value in these stories and would like to keep this site going, donating today will help so much. Thank you for being a part of this community and helping me to maintain this site and its newsletter.

Ways to contribute:
1.Zelle®, The best way to donate and there are no transaction fees. Zelle to [email protected]

2.Paypal or credit card
Or purchase my book for a friend and so help them discover this free weekly journal.
For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety