Sport: Derby on Wheels

Heads low and rumps high, 100 cyclists threaded their way through the narrow passage that police maintained for them. Paris' Avenue des Champs Elysées was so jammed that it looked like Liberation Day. The first postwar revival of the Tour de France was under way. The 26-day-long, 2,900-mile bike race—a kind of Bunion Derby on wheels—is France's most avidly followed sporting event.

All along the route (see map), townsfolk dropped whatever they were doing to watch the tour go by. Fans encouraged and refreshed their favorites in the customary manner: by dumping buckets of water on their heads. In efficient Belgium, fire...

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