Ussat-les-Bains – Avenue de la Gare - Another postcard from the small village of Ussat-les-Bains in the Ariège department of France. I have already posted one postcard of the village and mo...
Friday, 16 July 2010
It's an image that has made sports headlines around the world; the sight of a cyclist head-butting a competitor as the two approached the finishing line in a stage of this year's Tour de France.
It happened on Thursday at the end of the 84.5-kilometre ride from Sisteron to Bourg-lès-Valence in the 11th stage of this year's race.
As the riders jostled for position for the final sprint, Australian Mark Renshaw (team HTC Columbia) quite literally head-butted New Zealander Julian Dean (team Garmin) not once but three times, as he cleared a path for the eventual stage winner, his HTC Columbia team mate Britain's Mark Cavendish.
After reviewing what had happened race officials decided to throw Renshaw out of the Tour.
"This is cycling not wrestling," course director Jean-Francois Pescheux said on announcing the decision.
"There are rules to respect and his behaviour was unacceptable."
Renshaw's reaction to his exclusion was one of disbelief and disappointment.
“I never imagined I would be removed from any race, especially the Tour de France, AP quoted the 27-year-old as saying.
" I pride myself on being a very fair, safe and a straight-up sprinter, and never in my career have I received a fine or even a warning.”
Dean was surprised at Renshaw's behaviour especially as the two riders had ironically been team mates at Credit Agricole in 2006 and 2007.
"He wasn't like that when we rode together," Dean said afterwards.
"But it's not the first time we've seen this sort of thing," he added.
"It has already happened several times on this year's Tour."
Friday, 9 July 2010
It's hot in France at the moment - very hot.
and the country's meteorological service, Météo France, has put several regions on heatwave alert for the next couple of days. Daytime highs are forecast to peak at 37 degrees Celsius in some parts of the country and not dip below 20 degrees at night.
The heatwave is not predicted to be nearly as long or as fatal as the one that hit much of continental Europe in 2003 and during which around 15,000 (mainly elderly) people died in France.
But the health minister, Roselyne Bachelot, is not taking any chances and has advised local authorities to "be on their guard".
"The lessons of 2003 have been learned," she said on national radio Friday morning.
"Départements are ready and health facilities have been prepared. The number of hospital beds available is higher than normal at this time of year and mayors throughout the country have maintained lists to pinpoint those most at risk."
The eastern region of Alsace is expected to be one of the hottest places with temperatures in the main city of Strasbourg rising as high as 37 degrees Celsius.
The Prefect of the region, Pierre-Etienne Bisch, has put health and emergency services on high alert.
In Paris and the surrounding départements, local authorities have introduced a "system of support and guidance" for the most vulnerable citizens.
France's second largest city, Lyon, the surrounding metropolitan area and the whole of the Rhône département is the third region of the country in which emergency services are on high alert following Météo France's heatwave warning.
The hot spell also coincides with what is the second weekend of the summer holidays and tailbacks are expected on many of the country's motorways.
While the metro in the French capital for example has become a roasting tin for commuters and tourists alike and some bosses in companies around the country have encouraged employees to stagger their working hours and come in earlier to avoid the heat, one man in the south-western town of Moissac tried another way of dealing with the hot weather.
According to the regional daily La Dépêche du Midi, the man decided to begin mowing his lawn - at 11 o'clock at night - and would have continued doing so had his neighbours not complained and called the local police.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Budget airline EasyJet has once again refused to allow an unaccompanied handicapped person to fly because he presented what the company called a "security problem".
On Monday 48-year-old Joseph Etcheveste was due to take a flight from the south-western French city of Biarritz to Paris.
Etcheveste is paraplegic following a car accident and had an appointment in the French capital for a medical examination.
He had checked in his luggage and was waiting in the departure lounge but, as the national daily Libération reports, when boarding began was turned back because he was unaccompanied and as far as EasyJet was concerned presented a "security problem".
"It was humiliating," he said. "I've never been treated like that before."
"I made my booking one month in advance and told them that I was in a wheelchair, but nobody said anything," he continued.
"How come other airlines allow me to travel by myself but not EasyJet?"
The answer lies in the company's regulations which state that passengers "must be self-reliant in emergency and evacuation situations."
As the regulations explain, that means "they must be able to undo their own seat belt, put on their own oxygen mask, life jacket and make their way to the nearest emergency exit unaided."
The reason, according to EasyJet is "because our cabin crew will not be able to concentrate their efforts on individual passengers in emergency situations."
Although the director for EasyJet France, François Bacchetta, disputes Etcheveste's version of exactly what happened he confirmed that it's company policy not to allow unaccompanied handicapped passengers aboard flights.
"We make absolutely no compromise when it comes to passenger safety," he said.
"In an emergency we have an obligation to be able to evacuate all passengers within 90 seconds."
EasyJet has promised to refund Etcheveste the cost of his ticket but the airline could face a law suit from both the Association des paralysés de France and La Haute Autorité de lutte contre les discriminations et pour l'égalité (the French anti-discrimination watchdog, Halde).
Halde is currently dealing with a complaint lodged against the airline for a similar incident in March this year when 38-year-old Marie-Patricia Hoarau was removed from an EasyJet Paris-Nice flight because she was in a wheelchair and travelling alone.
The crew reportedly insisted she get off the 'plane even though a fellow passenger had volunteered to be her official companion.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
M6 has cancelled the airing of a new reality show following the death of one of the candidates.
"Trompe-Moi si tu peux" (Cheat on me if you dare) had been due to begin airing on the national commercial channel later this week.
But on Tuesday M6 issued a short statement on its website saying the programme would be withdrawn from its schedule after the death of one of the candidates.
Although the cause of death was not given "out of respect for the family" reports soon emerged in the French media that the candidate, 32-year-old Jean-Pierre, had committed suicide.
The monthly showbiz and gossip monthly Entrevue was the first to break the news reporting that Jean-Pierre had hanged himself at his apartment after leaving a message on his mobile 'phone in which he blamed his former boyfriend Hakim for his decision to take his life.
The pair had taken part in "Trompe-Moi si tu peux", shot in the Dominican Republic in April, along with what the production company said were nine other "real couples".
Speaking on national radio Matthieu Bayle, the programme's producer, said there was no link between what had happened and Jean-Pierre's participation in the show.
"We were very close to Jean-Pierre during the shoot and we're devastated by the news" he said.
"On the 'phone just last week, Jean-Pierre said how he eager was to finally see the show," he added, insisting that the contestant's death had been a "personal tragedy".
The concept of "Trompe-Moi si tu peux" was for each contestant to hide the identity of their real partner from the rest of those taking part with the winning pair walking off €39,000 richer.
At the beginning of each episode everyone was assigned a new partner and together they had to try to convince the others that they were a real pair through a series of intimate games designed to "incite the jealousy of the true partner" as the national daily Le Parisien-Aujourd'hui en France described it.
Every time the identity of a real couple was revealed they would be eliminated from the game.
M6 had scheduled the programme to compete head-to-head with another reality TV show, "Secret Story", which returns for its fourth season on France's largest commercial channel TF1 on Friday evening.
Instead, as Bayle told Europe 1 national radio, the show would never be broadcast.
Friday, 2 July 2010
Cycling's premier event, the Tour de France, starts on Saturday. But even before the first stage gets underway in the Dutch city of Rotterdam, scientists are claiming that the Tour's anti-doping test are flawed and some riders have found new ways of cheating.
According to the BBC, Pierre Bordry, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency (Agence Française de Lutte contre le Dopage, AFLD) has raised concerns over the reliability of tests scheduled to be carried out by the sport's governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) during this year's Tour.
Last year AFLD and UCI shared responsibility for testing but, as the BBC reports, there was friction between the two bodies with the French claiming that the UCI had given some top riders preferential treatment and had relied only on screening samples rather than backing them up with customs information and police investigations.
The UCI will conduct tests alone this year with observers from the World Anti-Doping Agency, Wada, on hand to oversee the screening process.
As far as Bordry is concerned, that's proof that Wada also has some doubts about the UCI's ability to keep the Tour drug-free.
"I think if this year there are three people from Wada to control UCI, surely there is a reason for that," he told the BBC.
Bordry is also critical of the new passport introduced by the UCI to establish a "biological profile" of every rider based on blood and urine samples taken throughout the year.
It's supposed to set a norm of levels for each rider but Bordry says it can be easily foiled by taking small but regular amounts of doping substances.
Bordry is not alone in his concerns ahead of this year's Tour.
Bloomberg News reports that while testing in cycling has become more rigorous, riders have found new ways of cheating.
"Cyclists are transfusing less blood and injecting smaller doses of stamina-building drugs to try to get around more intensive doping tests, according to four scientists who analyse exam results," it says in a report that looks at the general problem of doping in cycling.
“I’m afraid things are as bad as they’ve ever been,” Michael Ashenden, an anti-doping researcher on Australia’s Gold Coast told Bloomberg News.
"What I see is the incidence of riders trying to dope and avoid detection isn’t very different to how it has been throughout history.”
The UCI has defended both its passport and its testing, insisting that it does more than most other governing bodies to try to combat drug-taking.
"We have created the most sophisticated tool that many other international sports organisation would like to introduce," Enrico Carpani, a UCI spokesman told the BBC.
"We are explaining, we are selling the biological passport to other federations so that's proof that this new approach is the most important and the most reliable that sport has today to fight against doping."
This year's Tour de France, the 97th edition of the race, will begin on Saturday with the prologue in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.
The final stage will be on July 25 with riders crossing the line on the Champs Élysées in Paris.
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