As sometimes happens, the Tour de France started a Pyrenees stage in Lourdes yesterday.
Stage 19 is pretty late in the Tour, so plenty of athletes had already gotten bunged up. And so, it’s not surprising to learn that many athletes, staff, and fans sought help from God, visited the shrine, and drank the water, or applied it to their injuries; and even the less devout seem to have visited the Grotto for quiet reflection. Just for a morning moment, the Tour became a pilgrimage.
But did the sports media spend any time reporting this? Not much.
Here’s a site with some nice behind-the-scenes pictures of the pre-race shrine action. “Beardy” is a photographer specializing in cycling.
The race rider shown lighting candles is Andrea Pasqualon, from the team Wanty-Groupe Gobert. He’s Italian.
Here’s a video uploaded by the folks from the shrine! Nice view of the river behind the reporter. It shows a blessing of normal laypeople’s bicycles, among other matters of interest. It’s a behind-the-scenes view of mixing logistics, crowd control, and a holy shrine.
The most famous connection between Lourdes and cycling came back when Gino Bartali, a pugnacious but pious bike racer from Italy, brought flowers to the Grotto. He was a Third Order Carmelite who was buried in the habit; and he rode races with a dozen medals on his bike, while dedicating all his wins to St. Therese. There were even rumors that a little girl had once seen an angel giving his bike a push!
Mussolini hated him for refusing to go along with Fascism. He helped a family of Jews escape the Nazis by hiding them in his own apartment for years! He also served as a courier for the Florence part of the Catholic network for hiding Jews, delivering forged documents all around the countryside while riding his bike. (The excuse was that he was training! Perfectly normal! The documents were hidden inside his bike frame.) After the war, he refused to talk about his heroic work. But it was remembered; and Yad Vashem now names him as one of the Righteous among the Nations.
So when Gino Bartali pedaled toward Lourdes in Stage 8 of the Tour de France back in 1948, it’s not surprising that his devotion led him to win the stage and then visit the Grotto in thanks. He prayed for safety, not victory; and although he did win several stages (including ones run through rainstorms and snowstorms!), he didn’t win the Tour. Still pretty good for an “old man,” who’d spent the best years of his career racing death instead of other bikes.
May light eternal shine upon him!
So yep, Lourdes and the Tour de France are old friends, even if the media may not be.