Louisa Michaud’s eyesight is fading, so she asks for assistance as to who is looking good. “‘Qui est fort?’” she shouts out, expecting to be given a short summary by anyone nearby, offering a complimentary glass of her home made Sauterne in appreciation.
The eighty-five year old great grandmother from the village of Sanilhac-Sagries, who has, every year since 1952, travelled to the nearest town that the Tour de France passes through, sits in her folding chair, with her sun hat, her two bottles of Sauterne and her bresaola sandwiches, and waits for the Tour to pass.
Louisa had a son, who in ’51 almost became a pro but was hit by a truck on a training ride, he was nineteen, to add to the tragedy of a husband killed in the dying days of the war. Sometimes, when she sees today’s young men, as fit and strong as her teenage Pipi, living their dream, she will look away with a thousand yard stare that betrays her pain.
She reminds everybody that she remembers them all, the greats, the imposters, the helpers. “‘Je me souviens que Bobet,’” she’ll shout if asked to compare the champions from half a century ago. She says she will continue to wait for the next great French champion – “‘Rolland montre promesse’” she proclaims, and offers me a drink. And, despite the fact that it’s not yet lunch time, with riders still a couple of hours away, I accept.