Champagne Trail: Riders pedal through Fourmies to glitzy Avenue de Champagne

Jul 9, 2019
Riders pass by a corn field during the third stage from Binche to Epernay.
PHOTO: AP

EPERNAY, France — In the space of 215 kilometers, the Tour de France goes from one extreme to the other.

After leaving Belgium to enter France on Monday, riders pedaled through the small town of Fourmies, a symbol of working-class toil and pride.

A few hours later, they reached the glitzy Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, a UNESCO World Heritage site home to the most prestigious Champagne houses.

Quite a stark contrast.

On May 1, 1891, during the first French celebration of International Worker's Day, nine protesters were killed in Fourmies and several dozens injured when soldiers opened fire on a peaceful crowd which gathered in the industrial northern town.

Socialist leader Jean Jaures came to Fourmies soon after the killings and delivered a powerful speech which served as a trigger for the development and political coordination of the French working class. The massacre is still remembered with marches every May 1.

When winner Julian Alaphilippe approached the finish line to Stage Three, the Champagne Avenue was bathed in bright sunshine, he rode past a statue of Dom Perignon — a monk who lent his name to one of the most famous brands of Champagne — and trendy revelers were sipping bubbly on terraces set up in front of the magnificent buildings built by Champagne houses over three centuries.

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Most of the big names are there: Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët, Boizel, de Venoge, Vranken, Pol Roger, Mercier.

For an unforgettable and incomparable experience, the real connoisseur should travel 10 kilometers south of Epernay and stop by the Domaine Jacques Selosse in the town of Avize. Located in the Cote de Blancs, the eight-hectare land is a family-run business producing a divine elixir in the crus of Ay, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Ambonnay, Avize, Cramant, Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

After producing organic and biodynamic wines in the 1990s, the Selossses changed their focus to a more pragmatic approach with no pre-set doctrine that produces a sublime result.

BAGUETTE AND BUTTER: The top-ranked rider in the world, Alaphilippe carried his early season form into the Tour de France to triumph in Epernay with a solo attack about 16 kilometers from the finish.

Following his wins at Milan San Remo, The Fleche Wallonne and Strade Bianche earlier this year, Alaphilippe made the most of the hilly Champagne terrain to launch his decisive move and earn a third career stage win at cycling's biggest race. Alaphilippe took the race lead from Mike Teunissen and leads second-placed Wout Van Aert by 20 seconds overall. Steven Kruijswijk is in third place, five seconds further back.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I wasn't dancing up the climbs but I felt OK. I didn't want to do more than what had to be done" — Defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas, after losing five seconds to rival Thibaut Pinot and teammate Egan Bernal.

STAT OF THE DAY: 5. Alaphilippe ended a five-year yellow jersey drought for France. The last Frenchman to wear the coveted tunic was Tony Gallopin on July 13, 2014.

NEXT ON THE MENU: Tuesday's Stage Four is a long and flat route from Reims to Nancy which should end in a bunch sprint. The 213.5-kilometer ride features a small climb but it's far away from the finish to be decisive.

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Riders pass by a corn field during the third stage from Binche to Epernay.
PHOTO: AP
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