Vassieux en Vercors, June 2nd 2013
Did you ever try to ride an ultra light 14 pounds road bike with 23 mm wide tires in the snow? well, believe me, it does not work…
However, when your bike club suggests to participate in a 220 kms ride around the legendary Vercors mountains on a week end in early June, you don’t plan to take a montain bike with fat tires. Because before the dinosaurs disappeared from the earth for a second time, ie before 2013 and the melting of the Antartic, June was a warm month in the south of France, and cyclists were riding happily with light jerseys. Well, no longer. Today, prepare to wear your winter gears all through the summer months!
This is what we did during this week end. More than ever the Velominati rules (www.velominati.com/the-rules/), which are the sacred Constitution of any serious biker -:) , apply, and in particular rule N°9: if you are riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass.period.
But the Vercors mountain, on the west side of the Alps, is loaded with a tragic history that should remind us that any whining and moaning in the hills would be totally indecent, when riding through a region whose villages were burnt and bombed, whose civil population was hanged and shot, whose resistant fighters were killed to the last.
July 1944. The allies are fighting in Normandy against a still very strong German army. Americans are preparing to land in Provence, on the Mediterrannean coast of France, in order to attack the German army from south and squeeze them to liberate France before invading Germany. The French underground is asked by the Allies to do everything they can to harass German troops, and in particular prevent German division stationned in the South to move North towards Normandy. All over the French territory, thousands of men and women of all ages and walk of life, hide arms and munitions parachuted from England, and fight as they can, mostly conducting a guerilla warfare: hit and run, blow railways, sabotage trains… German troops , specifically SS divisions, often react with utmost brutality: they take hostages in the civil population and shoot 50 people in retaliation of one German casualty.
The Vercors is a high plateau 50 kms long 20 kms wide, strategically dominating the Rhone Valley, the north -south crucial road for troops, panzers, equipment . It is an ideal terrain for the resistance to hide men, arms and amunition. Since early 44, in view of the Allied landing in Normandy and in Provence, underground fighters prepare to fight as soon as the order comes from the BBC through a secret message “le chamoix bondit” (the chamoix leaps forward). But men in the underground are often uncoordinated, ill equiped, badly trained. Faced with a strong regular army, what can they do? End of July, Germans decide to strike a definitive blow: they send 600 paratroopers and 15 000 troops against the 500 or so underground fighters: within a few days, all men are killed, villages are burnt, civil of all ages hostages shot…
As we were freely riding on these haunted backroads and visiting the rubbles and memorials of these villages (Vassieux en Vercors, La Chapelle en Vercors), I was thinking: Wounded Knee, My Lai, Oradour, Alger, Sabra and Chatilla, Screbrenica… History stutters. How many Vassieux en Vercors today in Syria?