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Tour de France's 16th Stage Ends in Bayonne - 2003-07-23

Each city or village that hosts a stage of the Tour de France is proud to be a part of the most prestigious cycling race in the world. Bayonne, a city of 42,000 near the southwest coast of France, will be the finish line for Wednesday's 16th stage (ending at about 1500 UTC).

This is the 100th anniversary of cycling's Tour de France, which this year covers nearly 3,400 kilometers. The first Tour in 1903 covered some 1,150 kilometers less than that.

Sixty cyclists entered that first Tour de France, while 198 riders or 22 teams of nine cyclists each began this year's tour.

One of the two rest days in the 20-stage Tour was on Tuesday. Wednesday's 16th stage, the last one in the mountains, takes the riders 198 kilometers through the Pyrenees from Pau to here in Bayonne. Then it's on to Bordeaux on Thursday.

In the southwestern part of France, Bordeaux has hosted the most stages of the Tour, being the starting or finishing point 77 times. Pau is second is with 57 and Bayonne is third with 31.

Bayonne Tourism spokesperson Christele Cherumberro told VOA Sports that hosting a stage of the Tour helps the city present a good image throughout France as well as the world.

It takes weeks of preparation and many residents help with the planning and race course management. Tour de France officials decide the route the cyclists will take into town and where they will stay. Cherumberro said the tourism office helps assist the riders' families.

Bayonne has a special exhibition in its tourism office for this year's Tour de France, with one of the bicycles and a number of autographed jerseys used by Miguel Indurain of Spain during his five straight victories in the 1990s. There are also a number of photos from his victorious run.

Indurain is from Pamplona, Spain, which is about 140 kilometers from here, and Cherumberro says Bayonne calls it the city's twin town.

Despite that, she believes many cycling fans here are pulling for American Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor, to tie Indurain's record. The 16th stage ending on a street 200 meters from the tourism office will likely provide a clear indication of whether Armstrong has a good chance.