PERPIGNAN, FRANCE — A RUSTING tractor has lost its flatbed trailer at a sharp turn in a sun-soaked French country road, and its load of peaches sits ripening in the middle of the 14th stage of the Tour de France. With the Tour's swift-pedaling cyclists not far off, race officials, gendarmes, and an embarrassed farmer scramble to remove the obstacle and avoid an international sporting incident.
This is not the kind of problem that the World Series, the average pro-football game, or a European Cup soccer match have to worry about. But then the Tour de France is not, logistically, your average sports event.
``The only thing I can think to compare it to is a big circus, but even that doesn't move every day,'' says Jean-Marie Leblanc, the Tour's general director. ``We're like a town of 3,000 that needs a new home every 24 hours.''
In addition to the 180 cyclists who started this year's Tour, that ``town'' consists of trainers, technicians, masseurs, race officials, promoters, team sponsors, laborers, nearly 1,000 journalists, and everyone's paraphernalia - including a mobile weather bureau and a communications center. It all rolls over 130 miles or more of country road every day.
In recent years the Tour has had to drop many of its traditional, quainter destinations, because of the growing number of hotel rooms it requires.
Still, despite a stop this year in Marseille and its finale in Paris, the Tour remains a rural event. And to show that it cares about the countryside it covers, this year the Tour added one more vehicle: A mobile home, traveling the route two days behind the racers, is taking down all the signs tacked up to indicate the way.