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NANTES, France (Reuters Life!) - Just days before cycling's elite gather to race in the grueling Tour de France, pigeon fanciers are looking to promote their sport with a 13-stage race around the country.
The pigeons completed the fourth stage of their race on Thursday, eclipsing their cycling counterparts as they whizzed from town to town at speeds ranging from 40 km per hour (25 miles per hour) to 120 km/h, with favorable gusts.
"With this Tour de France, first and foremost we want people to get to know our sport," said Jose de Sousa, president of the French pigeon fanciers' federation, which boasts 800 clubs and 14,500 members.
The 2,000 km (1,242 mile) race started in the northern city of Lille on Sunday.
Pigeon racing originated in Belgium during the 19th century and a race winner is the bird with the highest velocity. The art of pigeon fancying has lost its broad appeal over the years, which has meant a fall in new racing generations.
"The aim is for next year to beat the speed record that was established this year and to include it in the record books," Sousa said.
The main cycling Tour kicks off on Saturday covering almost 3,500 km with its traditional finish on Paris' Champs Elysees and the speedy pigeons can dream of being part the bigger event in 2012.
"In the future, we plan to contact the organizers of the Tour de France to set up departures at the same time," Sousa said.
Reporting by Guillaume Frouin; writing by John Irish, editing by Paul Casciato