What could possibly go wrong?

NANTES, France Mon May 25, 2009 11:42am EDT

A technician prepares bicycles for the start of the Tour de France cycling race in Challans. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

A technician prepares bicycles for the start of the Tour de France cycling race in Challans.

Credit: Reuters/Vincent Kessler

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NANTES, France (Reuters) - Close to 200 prisoners will cycle around France next month, watched by scores of guards on bicycles, in the first penal version of the Tour de France, authorities said Monday.

The 196 prisoners will cycle in a pack and breakaway sprints will not be allowed. They will be accompanied by 124 guards and prison sports instructors. There will be no ranking, the idea being to foster values like teamwork and effort.

"It's a kind of escape for us, a chance to break away from the daily reality of prison," said Daniel, a 48-year-old prisoner in the western city of Nantes, at the official launch of the event. His last name was not given.

"If we behave well, we might be able to get released earlier, on probation," he told reporters.

The prisoners' Tour de France will take them 2,300 km (1,400 miles) around the country, starting in the northern city of Lille on June 4 and stopping in 17 towns, each of which has a prison. However, participants will sleep in hotels.

The finish line will be in Paris, following Tour de France tradition.

"This project aims to help these men reintegrate into society by fostering values like effort, teamwork and self-esteem," said Sylvie Marion of the prison authorities.

"We want to show them that with some training, you can achieve your goals and start a new life," she said.

(Reporting by Guillaume Frouin; writing by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Andrew Roche)

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