Friday, July 22, 2016

Stage Nineteen

Both yesterday's time trial and today's stage included the Côte de Domancy, a steep climb up from the small village of Domancy.  Yesterday the riders went up it one by one and today they descended it in mass.  The climb was the key feature of the 1980 World Championship Race that Bernard Hinault won in dramatic fashion.  Before yesterday's stage a monument commemorating Hinault's win was unveiled in a round-about on the main highway leading into the city of Sallanches, just two miles from Domancy, that hosted the World Championships.  

Domancy had long ago erected a monument of its own to Hinault.  It welcomes one to the village.

The Côte de Dormancy added to its lore today when Froome slid out on the rain-slickened road on his descent, which could have ended The Tour for him. He wrecked his bike and tore gaping holes in the backside of his jersey exposing splotches of bloodied flesh scraped raw by the pavement.  He quickly appropriated the bike of his teammate Geraint Thomas and resumed riding, somewhat tentatively at first, but then back to nearly full capacity, despite being on a bike with a different set-up than he's accustomed to. Luckily his wounds seemed to be just scrapes.  It was less than ten miles to the finish, a six-mile Category One climb.  He was able to regain the group he was riding with as it began the climb.  Only at the very end did he waver and lose a few seconds to Quintana, but not to the second and third placed riders, Mollema and Yates, as they both had struggles of their own and fell off the podium, Mollema all the way to tenth and Yates to fourth, eleven seconds behind Quintana.

The rain caused havoc, with double stage winner Demoulin crashing out and others taking a tumble as well, including Mollema.  Porte was caught behind a crash and needed the help of his teammates to catch up.  Van Garderen wasn't one of them as he was more than half an hour back with the laggards just trying to make the time cut.  We'll find out tomorrow if he rode so woefully because he's depleted, or so he could go for the stage win on the last day in the mountains tomorrow.  Porte finished seventeen seconds behind Froome, but is still within fifty seconds of Quintana and the podium.  All will be on the line tomorrow.  The podium could undergo another complete overhaul.  Froome still has a four minute advantage, but how stiff will he be?  After the stage he said he'd be okay, but as he accepted his Yellow Jersey he had a wrap around his right knee to go along with his raw back.

The day's big winner was Bardet, who won the stage and jumped from fifth to second.  The French at last won a stage. And if Froome had crashed out, the French would have had the Yellow Jersey with just two stages to go, one of which is largely ceremonial.  The nation would have been in an uproar, what with it being over thirty years since Hinault was the last French winner.  When Bardet dropped his breakaway companion on the climb to the finish the crowd I was amongst watching it happen on a Big Screen in Mégeve's plaza erupted into applause.  

They applauded again as he approached the finish and then when he crossed the line.  He gave a smile of great satisfaction and sincerity, as if he was happy not only for himself and his team, but for all of France.  It wasn't one of those exuberant, self-indulgent smiles of extreme ecstasy, but a deep, genuine, somewhat abashed smile, tempered by a degree of modesty.  

Even though it leaves him just a heartbeat or a crash from the Yellow Jersey, he's keeping his ambition in check.  He wasn't so emboldened as to say this proves he can win The Race, rather saying that next year he hoped he could keep up his streak of winning a stage a year.  That's not an attitude that Hinault endorses, though he won't be around next year to encourage him to do better, as Hinault has announced that he will be retiring from his podium duties so he can spend more time with his grandchildren.  He retired prematurely from racing at 32, and is withdrawing from the whirlwind of The Tour when he looks to be as vibrant as ever.

I had planned to be at the finish of today's stage, just fifteen miles from Mégeve where I had camped for the second straight night, but the threat of rain deterred me.  I was kept in my tent until nine by the rain, almost preventing me from descending the Côte de Domancy to Sallanches to see the Hinault monuments, as I didn't want to do it on a wet road, plus I knew I had to be back to Mégeve by two before the roads were closed.  I could manage the climb in the rain, but I didn't want to continue to the stage finish, a six-mile climb with a nine per cent grade, and face the possibility of having to come back down in rain.  And this was before I saw all the carnage the rain later produced.

The morning rain was disheartening, as I really wanted to see the Hinault monuments. I had twice been thwarted in my efforts over the years to find the one in Domancy.  I was under the impression that it was in Sallanches, since it was the host city for the World Championships.  In two previous visits to Sallanches I couldn't find anyone who knew anything about a monument to Hinault.  And then when I met Himsult at the Critérium de Dauphine last month I forgot to ask him about it.  But with The Tour including the Côte de Domancy, there were articles about Hinault's World Championship win and what a crucial role the climb played in it, making it seem likely that's where some memorial would be placed.  I thought it might be a small plaque on a rock at the summit of the climb.  When it wasn't there I tried the town's plaza and found someone who pointed at it down the road.  

My ride down to Sallanches was also rewarded by a marvelous giant bicycle swing along the road by someone's home.  As I stood in the road taking a photo, someone shouted a warning of "voiture" from the second floor of the house, though I did hear the car coming.

There was also a tree of bicycles in a roundabout on the seven-mile climb back up from Sallanches.

If the day had been clear, enabling me to watch all the day's dramatics on the Giant Screen at the stage finish, I would have missed out on another dose of caravan frenzy.  It is actaully heartwarming to watch how happy it makes all those gathered along the road to get free stuff.   All await with great snticipation, as if it is Christmas Day, wondering what Santa will bring them.  Young and old are filled with glee when they get their hands on something, even without knowing what it is, and adding it to their stash of goodies.

People dive and scramble for whatever comes flying.

They quickly examine what they've grabbed and then rush to show it to whoever they're with and then get ready the next item.

No one was happier on this day, not even Bardet, than the little English girl who nabbed a water bottle flung by a rider when the peloton flew past.  I wasn't there to see it, but I saw her reenactment of running and grabbing it later in the town square.  She cradled the bottle as if it were a doll.  She let her slightly older brother clad in a Sky shirt hold it, but not for long.  For half an hour my attention was divided between watching all the excitement on the Bog Screen and this little girl's glee.  She kept showing it to her mother and her father, and fondled it as if nothing could be more valuable.  Seeing The Tour is a momentous occasion for any child, but even more so when one comes away with a rider's water bottle.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Stage Eighteen

Today might have been a short day for the riders, a little more than half an hour on their bikes riding the ten-and-a-half mile up-hill time trial, but for the spectators who arrived early and stayed until the end,  it was a long and exhausting day starting before nine and not ending until nearly six.  The early arrivals had a chance to see some of the riders previewing the course, though not many do.  The only ones I saw were Porte and one of his BMC teammates, not Van Garderen.  Porte wouldn't commence his ride until after 4:30, the sixth to the last rider, but there he was in full uniform more than eight hours before he would take to the course for real.  It wasn't the first time he previewed the course, as he'd been there a month ago after the Critérium du Dauphinè.

Even though the caravan wouldn't reach the finish stretch where I was stationed until ten, the giveaways had been going on for more than ninety minutes.  Yellow hats were being put into the hands of anyone who would take one.  Fresh fruit was also being handed out.

And small boxes of juice.

If one wanted a t-shirt, a little patience was demanded.

People were drawn as much by the free stuff as by the racing, which was a dull affair by comparison, riders zipping past in a flash on the descent to the finish at better than thirty miles per hour every couple of minutes for six hours.  Only the last hour had any meaning when the top ten placed riders would go at it.  I found a place on the periphery of all the hubbub within range of the Giant Screen and sat in the shade and read the Flaubert I'd brought with me, while still absorbing the atmosphere.  I had hoped to retreat to the library for a spell in the glitzy sports center overlooking the finish line, but it was closed, though not the indoor swimming pool and other facilities.  

After awhile I ventured back into the town's central plaza to check on a smaller Big Screen set up beside its cathedral. There were only a handful of spectators, two of whom were a recently retired English couple who had been following The Tour since the fifth stage in a camper and with a tandem.  It was their first time in France for The Tour, though they had seen it in Yorkshire.  They could give a first-hand report of the chaos on Ventoux, as they had ridden their tandem up to one kilometer from the finish.  They didn't get to see Froome run, as his crash happened a few hundred meters beyond them, but they knew something had happened as all the cars following the lead riders came to a halt right in front of them.  

I'm always curious about how those driving campers decide where to park their vehicles along the course.  They didn't realize how easy and acceptable it is to do, so had reserved campgrounds ahead of time.  They marveled at the beauty of where The Tour had taken them and are eager to return to France and spend more time in many of the places they'd been introduced to.  As much as The Tour, they were enjoying a break from all the Brexit aftermath back home and were barely keeping up with current events.  They did know though that Cavendish had bowed out of The Tour on the rest day to save himself for the Olympics.  They didn't mind at all that he was sacrificing an opportunity for a fifth stage win on the Champs Elysees Sunday.

During our conversation Demoulin, who won the previous time trial, posted the fastest time.  It was nearly two hours though before Froome and Porte and the other GC contenders would have a chance to challenge him.  The English couple wanted to be at the roadside when Froome came flying into the finish stretch, while I had a spot picked out at the Giant Screen one hundred meters from the finish.  My spot was still available.  Froome masterfully paced himself, lagging a bit behind Demoulin at the first time check but then charged up the second of the two steep climbs to overtake Demoulin and win by twenty-one seconds.  

He was gloveless as he had been in the first time trial, and so was his teammate Geraint Thomas.  Among the latter riders it was fairly evenly split between gloves and no gloves.  Porte and Yates wore gloves, but not Mollema or Bardet.  Sky excessively tests such minor details, so it must have determined the wind skims over bare hands faster than gloved.  Froome's second stage win extended his lead over his chief rivals by over a minute, giving him a cushion of nearly four minutes over second-placed Mollema.  Quintana had the tenth best time, falling another minute behind Froome, but he gained thirteen seconds on Yates in third.  

With two stages left in the mountains it will be an intense battle for the podium places between Mollema, Yates, Quintana, Bardet and Porte.  Froome has certainly secured first but second and third are very much up for grabs.  At least Porte can hope for the support of Van Garderen.  He proved himself to be a good teammate by not exerting himself today, saving his energy, finishing five minutes back in 132nd place, after beating Porte in the previous time trial.   Van Garderen still is 17th overall.  He said it wasn't important to move up a couple places when he was so far back.  He's still the top American overall, even though he was the fourth placed American on this stage, finishing behind Stetina, Bookwalter and Craddock, beating only Howes.

After the stage several of the town's ice sculptors gathered in the park with the topiary cyclists and created a tribute to Froome and The Tour.  Even though their sculptures were in the shade, they were melting fast.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Stage Seventeen

Neither the lone old-style, one-man bike shop in Ugine, nor the three larger chain bike shops in Albertville had a freewheel with a ring larger than twenty-eight teeth. If I were more with the times and had a cassette, I could have found one with a monstrous thirty-six teeth.  But I remain faithful to the forty-eight spoke old-school tandem hub that I've been using for over thirty years with hardly a broken spoke and only one broken axle.  

Fortunately my legs are at optimum strength with nearly 5,000 miles of riding the past three months, so I only had to grimace with a little more determination when the grades approached ten per cent on my nineteen-mile climb from Ugine to Mégeve this morning.  When they stuck to the customary five and six per cent the twenty-eight was perfectly adequate.  After a marginal "rest day" of just twenty-five mostly flat miles, my legs felt fresh and uncomplaining.  If my knees felt as if they were going to give out, I was prepared to return to Ugine and wait for the peloton to pass through on Friday, and then head to Albertville for my train to Paris Saturday night. But all was well and I'll be in the thick of The Tour the next three days.

I didn't mind the detour to Albertville yesterday, as it had added some nifty bike sculptures since my visit last month scouting out this departure city for the Nineteenth Stage.  Besides the above contraption, it had two very minimalist versions of the bicycle.

If one didn't know better one set could have been mistaken for spectacles.

Mégeve had gone in the opposite direction, mounting a pair of topiary cyclists in a park just a block from the finish for tomorrow's time trial.

The ski town was already throbbing with early arrivals for tomorrow's stage. The bar where I watched today's action just over a mountain ridge in Switzerland was filled with fans chattering away in Italian, German, Spanish and even some French.  Fortunately there were no Colombians, as they would have been making a scene urging on Pantano in a two-rider break on the final Beyond Category climb to the finish to win his second stage of The Tour.  And they would have been exasperated at Quintana's failure again today.  The headlines have been harsh on this two-time second place finisher in The Tour, who does not look like he is ready to improve upon that.  One headline called him a "Spectator" and another "Not in the Match."   While his compatriot fell off and finished second to the Russian Ilnur Zakarin, Quintana was distanced by Froome and Porte and Yates.  Not only is winning The Race an improbability for Quintana, the podium is now in doubt as well.

While Quintana could contend he was saving himself for tomorrow's time trial, Zakarin had no such concerns and could squeeze every drop of energy out of himself.  He was so spent he didn't have the energy to fully zip up his jersey at the finish or the strength to sit upright to maximize exposure for his sponsor, only taking one hand off his handlebar to shake his fist in triumph.  He gave up on his first attempt to zip his jury as he approached the finish and then tried again, just getting it started.

The worst day honors though go to Van Garderen, who finished eighteen minutes behind Froome and Porte and plummeted from eighth to seventeenth, with all hopes of a podium or even top ten finish out the window.  His teammate Porte though is now breathing down the neck of Quintana, just a minute behind, and looking stronger and stronger.  He'll be motivated for a strong time trial, while Quintana could well have a sleepless night, dreading the further catastrophe that awaits him.

Second-placed Mollema struggled today, losing thirty-two seconds to Yates, leading him now by only twenty-six seconds.  With the Dutch rider faltering and the Aussie Porte ascending, an all-⎌English speaking podium is a possibility.  That would be a first and a greater affront to the European traditionalists than Brexit.  While Froome seems to have ended any suspense as to who will win The Race, there is plenty of suspense on the places behind him.  That will make for three more days of intense racing before the ceremonial ride into Paris on Sunday.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Stage Sixteen

As invigorating and uplifting and exciting as it is to be on The Tour route, it is so straved with stress, continually pressed to getting as far down the road as possible, that when I make a departure from the route the cycling becomes so tranquil I almost wonder why I subject myself to the intense, all-consuming focus riding it takes.  I likewise wonder how the riders survive it, even with all their needs tended to.  They must ride with near all-out effort for hours each day, and if they waver and fall outside each day's time limit, they are eliminated. I at least don't have that hanging over my head, just the gendarmes ordering me off the course for a few hours.

But The Tour has such grandeur and aura of excitement, being part of it redeems it all.  I am happy though for my brief breaks to recover physically and mentally.  Even if I still have to ride big miles and many hours, it is at least on my own terms other than finding a bar to watch the end of the stage.  It is a huge relief to be freed of the tyranny of the gendarmes.

My travails at least haven't included the ignominy inflicted upon Skippy ten days ago when he was hit by the van hauling the monstrous cyclist of sponsor Credit Lyonnaise that leads the caravan.  It was being towed to the start of the next stage.  Skippy was knocked in the back by its extended mirror as they were both negotiating a round-about.   It wasn't an "accident" Skippy said, but rather "TRAFFIC VIOLENCE."  The driver kept driving, either not realizing he had clipped Skippy or choosing to ignore it.  Skippy chased after him to find out.  He caught up about a kilometer later when it was halted by a red light.  

The driver didn't care to admit he did anything wrong nor engage with Skippy in any manner except with a middle finger.  Skippy was having none of such attitude and stood in front of the vehicle to prevent it from driving away before he achieved some resolution.  That didn't matter to the driver, as he nudged into Skippy, knocking him and his bike over.  Skippy leapt to his feet, leaving his bike in front of the vehicle, and started pounding on the driver's window gesturing him to pull over.   Skippy created enough of a scene that the driver stayed put until several sets of Tour officials arrived urging Skippy to let it go even though he was bleeding in several places and had ripped shorts and a damaged bike.  It was more than an hour before a police officer finally arrived, who after talking to all parties sent the driver on and summoned an ambulance for Skippy.  He spent the night in a hospitable and returned to his base in Innsburck to nurse his wounds and contemplate if he's had enough of the all-powerful, above-the-law attitude of those who administer The Tour.  It's heady stuff for them taking over the country for three weeks every July.

Even when I haven't disappeared into the vortex of The Tour and am just leisurely touring around France, I am relatively free of the maelstrom of worldly events.  With no television bombarding me with the horrific images of Nice and Turkey and Dallas and Baton Rouge or wherever, nor commentators going on and on about the latest calamity, I'm not riled to a sense of rage and despair and can live in my little bubble enjoying my biking and the anticipation of where it will take me almost thinking that all is well in the world.

Today I had a fabulous ride along the brilliant blue waters of Lake Annecy on the road that the peloton will be riding Friday from Albertville to Mont Blanc.  It's towering glacier-covered hulk could be seen in the distance.  The lake was full of swimmers and boaters, all seemingly without a care.

I wasn't as worry-free as I could have been,  as all the bike shops in Annecy were closed, it being a Monday, which meant I wasn't able to acquire a freewheel with a few more teeth.  I could drop down to Albertville tomorrow, as it will have a well-stocked bike shop or two, if I can't find one in Ugine on my way to Megeve, which will be intersected by the final three stages in the Alps beginning with Thursday's time trial.  I have plenty of time to get there, as tomorrow is a rest day and Wednesday the peloton will be in the Swiss Alps, while I remain in France.

Annecy did at least provide me with a selection of bars to watch today's stage.  I passed on the glitzy tourist bars in the town center and found one more to my liking by the train station, though no one else was interested in The Race, preferring to sit outside along the sidewalk.  Today's breakaway was a rare pair of teammates, the strong time trialist Tony Martin of Germany and the French Tour of California winner Julien Alaphilippe who ride for the Belgian Etixx-Quickstep team.  It might be argued that they were forcing the sprinting teams to chase them and tire themselves out making it easier for their teammate Kittel to win the sprint, but Kittel couldn't keep up and wasn't a factor in the sprint after the duo were inevitably caught.  

Nor was Cavendish, opening the door for Sagan to win his third stage, but by the narrowest of margins over the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff riding for the Russian Katusha team, who actually thought he had won.  Sagan is as much of a star of this year's Tour as Cavendish and Froome.  As the French would say, they all deserve our thanks for their sterling efforts.  They have been putting on quite a show making things happen.  Local hero Cancellera, whose home is just two miles from the finish in the Swiss capital of Bern,  surged to the front at one point, but he was no factor in the sprint, so there was no fairy-tale end to the stage.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Stage Fifteen


The raucous Colombian fans peering up at the Giant Screen beyond the finish line of today's stage had their cheers rewarded when Jarlison Pantano, one of four Colombians in The Race, outsprinted Rafai Majka to take the stage for the IAM team.  It was an extra sweet win for him, as he is looking for a new team next year, as IAM has announced that it is ending its sponsorship. Though Majka had to be disappointed with second, he at least had the consolation of taking the Polka Dot Jersey.

The clown with the horn blasted the damn thing at ear-piercing decibels for nearly two hours straight right up to the end of the stage. He must have been too frightening for the many gendarmes in bullet-proof vests to curb his flagrant disturbing of the peace.  Every thirty minutes the broadcast of the stage was interrupted by an announcement in French and English to be "vigilant" and not to leave one's bags unattended and to report any strange behavior.  Why he wasn't reported, I know not.  I remained as far from him as possible in a slowly dwindling sliver of shade up against a building, but that wasn't far enough to avoid a headache from his noise-making.  If Quintana had his vigor and fierce defiance, he'd be leading The Race by half an hour.

Quintana had another benign day sitting on Froome's wheel over six passes in the Jura Mountains while a group of thirty non-threats to the Yellow Jersey were up the road.  For the first time in five days wind was not a factor, though the heat was.  I was sweltering even in the shade as I sat for three hours watching the race unfold with the day's final climb in the background.

Froome had all eight of his teammates with him at the head of the peloton fully controlling matters through the first half of the stage, letting the breakaway group maintain an eight-minute advantage.  With the Beyond Category Grand Colombier climb several of Froome's lieutenants faded away and then Aru's Astana team upped the pace.  The only significant casualty was Van Garderen, who ended up losing a minute-and-a-half to his top ten rivals, falling from sixth to eighth and twenty seconds behind his teammate Porte.  None of the top four (Froome, Mollema, Yates, Quintana) showed any aggression with this being a non-mountain top finish, saving their dramatics for the four upcoming days in the Alps starting Wednesday.

Before they tackle the high mountains they have a relatively flat stage tomorrow into Switzerland and then a rest day.  Tomorrow's stage ends in Bern, the hometown of Fabian Cancellera, who will retire this year holding the record for the most days in Yellow by a rider who hasn't won The Tour--twenty-nine.   If the peloton had room for sentimentality, they'd let him win the stage.  But there is too much at stake, so he'll have to win it on his own.  He didn't overextend himself today, finishing twenty-eight minutes back, just ahead of Sagan and all the sprinters.  

There will be no Switzerland for me, as the transfer from Culoz to the start of tomorrow's stage in Moirans-en-Montaigne is too long and mostly uphill.  I'll being able to visualize both of tomorrow's Ville Ètapes though, as I visited them both a month ago and noted their preliminary Tour preparations.  Instead, I'll head to the large city of Annecy in search of a bike shop with a freewheel larger than the 28 I've been riding with the last couple of days in deference to my knees.

Three French riders finished in the top seven today, but France still remains without a stage victory, as do Italy and Spain.  It's the first time in ninety years that none of these cycling powers has had a stage win by now.  At least they each have a rider in the top ten.  Great Britain is the only country with more than one--the first and third placed riders Froome and Yates.

As I was headed into Culoz this morning a guy on a bike asked me in very bad French if I spoke English. I said, "Yes, I'm an American too."  He was a New Yorker and was excited to be experiencing The Tour for the first time. He was on a rental bike and was staying in a hotel a few miles away.  He asked where I intended to watch the stage.  I told him about the Giant Screen at the finish.  He'd seen plenty of The Tour on television and wanted to be at the roadside, hopefully up the Lucets du Grand Colombiere climb which began in Culoz before the plummet back into the town.  He had to push his bike up, as the road was already closed at noon.  He was going to have a long day in the sun awaiting the peloton.  If he didn't melt away I may see him in the days to come.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Stage Fourteen

I had a prize-winning, as they all are, wind-protected campsite on a grassy strip between a forest and a cornfield. I drifted off to sleep torn between wanting the winds to desist and not wanting them to let up, as they could lead to a day of memorable racing. The strong crosswind I had battled all day forced me to ride in the middle of the road to insure I wouldn't be blowin off the road, particularly when it was accompanied by a deep ditch.  If the peloton had to contend with such winds, it would be broken into rows and rows of echelons and a team with the strength of Sky could get out in front and cause havoc. Panic would be raging in the peloton.  The helicopter shots would be fantastic.

But the wind had slackened to a mere strong breeze and it was mostly from the north, a direct headwind for the peloton, keeping it in file rather than strung across the road.  Still the wind was hearty enough that the start time was moved up fifteen minutes to help the peloton to arrive at the finish around 5:15 to accommodate television.  But that wasn't enough, as they still arrived half an hour late after a day of restrained racing.  

A four-man breakaway was allowed to set the pace for the day with the peloton hanging back within a few minutes until it was time to gobble it up and let the sprinters get down to business. The last two in the break were swallowed up with three kilometers to go.  The two comrades for the day clasped hands as their time in front came to an end.  The television announcers gave them a "Merci" for being the day's sacrificial lambs.  

No one really wanted to extend themselves on this relatively flat stage with just three Category Four climbs, as all would need whatever energy they could muster for the next day's stage in the Juras, cousin to the Alps, with their most climbing yet--one Beyond Category, two Category Ones, one Category Two and two Category Three climbs.  It will make a fine day of Sunday viewing for racing fans.  I'll be at the finish by noon, taking a shortcut and avoiding all the climbs, so I can sit on the grass and watch all the excitement on the Big Screen, something I haven't been able to do since Stage One at Utah Beach.

Making it to tomorrow's finish before the peloton would have been iffy if I hadn't been deterred by the winds from reaching the end of today's stage.  I fell forty miles short, only managing the first eighty miles.  Since the next day's route swung back down to the finish in Culoz, I was just sixty-five miles away. If I had made it all the way to the end, I would have had a much longer ride, and I would have ridden some of the stage route and its climbs.  By cutting across I missed out on the route the peloton would take, and those delightful decorations that always make riding it such an incomparable experience.

I was halted on the outskirts of the small town of Cour-et-Buis by a pair of gendarmes as I rode today's route.  I immediately plopped down in the shade of an auto repair shop to eat before walking my bike into the town center.  As I ate, a fan from the other side of the road came over to tell me he did some touring himself and offed a glass of wine.  He gave me a smile of approval when I told him I was loyal to menthe á l'eau, and opened my water bottle to show him it was filled with the green minty drink.  

Though fans were strung along both sides of the road into and out of and through the town, they were spread out enough that I had my best haul from the caravan yet, including some items I could truly use.  The best were two packets of detergent, as the bar of soap I was using to wash my clothes was down to a sliver.  Now I don't have to worry about replacing it during my last eight days in France.  I also nabbed a three-pack of Bic pens and five madeleines.  I dropped a fold-up frisbee and an inflatable pillow on the small pile of items a little girl had neatly arranged on a piece of cloth and she gave me an appreciative "Merci."

Rather than lingering for ninety minutes awaiting the blur of the racers, I took a side road out of town east towards Culoz.  After riding under pressure all morning it was a pleasure to ride carefree, at least for a few miles until I had to start feeling concern about finding a bar with a television. I was sure to find one in the large city of Bourgoin-Jallieu twenty miles away.  I didn't have to go deep into the city before I came upon a bar with its television tuned to the Race and a handful of men watching it on this Saturday afternoon. 

With the peloton slowed by the wind and its own insertion I had nearly an hour to peruse "L'Equipe" and a couple of the local newspapers.  They were all filled with commentary on the Bastiille Day terror in Nice.  No one disagreed with the decision not to cancel the next day's stage.  Only the two World Wars have caused a disruption in The Tour.  

As soon as Cavendish won for the fourth time this year everyone in the bar got up and left.  Kittel was so frustrated when Cavenish came up from behind him to take another victory he thought would be his, he raised his hand in protest claiming that Cavendish had nudged him as he passed, a most uncharacteristic gesture from this normally gentlemanly German.  With a possible two sprinting stages left Cavendish has a chance to equal his best Tour performance of six wins.  That would almost be a bigger story than Froome winning it for the third time, though Froome has insured he is the story with the panache he has exhibited so far.  And tomorrow ought to be another day of glory for him.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Stage Thirteen

The return to the mountains, first the Juras, then the Alps, are two days away,  but they have suddenly gotten steeper for me as my freewheel gave out and I had to replace it with one that has four fewer teeth on its largest clog, a 28 rather than a 32. I'll be spending a lot more time standing on the pedals.  I don't know if my freewheel was a victim of the fierce winds that continue to persist, as I've been subjecting it to the sustained pressure of climbing an eight per cent grade all day, or if over 30,000 miles of wear finally did it in.

It began slightly skipping yesterday in my evening stretch until it just completely stopped engaging.  I could only propel the bike scooter-style, pushing off with first one foot and then the other.  I would rest the other foot on a pedal.  After a couple minutes when I applied some pressure to the pedal I felt the freewheel click back in and I could resume pedaling.  All remained well the next morning except a wind that hadn't lessened one bit during the night. Where it was coming from I couldn't imagine.  This was a worse wind that any I've encountered, even in Iceland.  At least one could blame the persistent winds of Iceland on glaciers and the North Pole and the open sea all around it.  Here the blame probably resides with climate change.  Days of such wind in France in the summer are unheard of.  It is an ill wind. of course, that doesn't blow any goodwill and it had been largely ill until today when I was passing through fields of lavender and the strong winds blew their rich aroma over the road.  For a spell it was luxurious, despite the effort to keep the bike upright and on the road.

When my freewheel next spun out on me I was on the outskirts of the city of Bollene twelve miles into my day.  It was large enough to have a Decathalon, a large sporting good store that also does bicycle repairs.  I couldn't have been luckier unless I had been way layed at its very doorstep.  Not many towns in France have a bicycle store.  I could have been stranded thirty or forty miles from one.  My GPS device indicated it was 1.4 miles of scootering away.  It wasn't yet nine, but on the way to the store I passed a supermarket, so I could take care of my daily replenishment of my food supplies.

It was too much to hope for that the store would have the over-sized freewheel I prefer.  The 28 largest ring they had was my second lowest gear.  My other touring bike doesn't have as low a gear as this one.  I use it on trips when I know the grades won't be as steep as the Alps can be, though sometimes they are and I manage.

The wind once again was severely limiting my mileage.  I had to stop much earlier than I wanted and with much fewer miles than I would have liked to watch the day's time trial.  I couldn't risk missing this crucial stage.  The 23-mile course had two significant climbs and would take a bit less than an hour to ride.  The climbing eliminated from serious contention the former World Champion time trialists Fabian Cancellera and Tony Martin, who excel on the flats, and favored the climbing time trialists Froome and Demoulin, who had both already won stages in this year's Tour.  And they lived up to form, with Demoulin winning and Froome finishing a minute behind.  Froome couldn't be disappointed though, as he gained significant time on all his rivals, which Demoulin isn't.  He ranks 40thnoverall, nearly an hour behind.  He had to wait over an hour after he finished for the rest of the riders to finish.  The camera flashed on him occasionally as he sat in front of a wall of Tour sponsors.  When the camera caught him eating, the announcers commented, "Bon appetit." 

Quintana finished 20th, two minutes behind Froome, putting him three minutes back overall, more than he ever was last year.  He no longer appears to be a threat.  Mollema, who hung with Froome on Ventoux the day before, showed he is for real with a strong time finishing sixth fifty seconds behind Froome. In the overall he is in second 1:47 behind Froome and 58 seconds ahead of Yates, who continues to lead the young rider competition.  Mollema is Dutch as is Demoulin.  Holland has gone even longer than France, over thirty years, since it had a Tour winner--Joop Zoetemelk.  It's not likely that either will win this year, but they give their country the best hope it has had in a long time for the future.  Mollema rides for the American team Trek.  His lone American teammate, Peter Stetina, predicted before The Tour that Mollema could be the surprise of The Tour.  That is proving true.

In the battle between the BMC teammates, Van Garderen bested Porte by 18 seconds.  Porte finished with the same time as Quintana.  Van Garderen, the American hope, moved up to sixth overall 3;19 back, while Porte sits in eighth, 4:27 back.  Van Garderen is within striking distance of fourth, an improvement on his two fifth place finishes, but the podium is probably out of range.  But with four days in the Alps and a truly uphill time trial to come, there is still a lot of racing ahead that will provide opportunity for all and drama aplenty for us fans.

Most of the riders today opted for a solid rear disc wheel despite the windy conditions.  They would have had ample opportunity to test them and receive feedback from teammates who had already ridden, so they weren't taking any great risk.  I noticed Froome wasn't wearing gloves despite a long-sleeved aerodynamic jersey.  It was too late to see if the other Sky riders did the same thing as another marginal gain the team had discovered or if it was just a personal choice of Froome or if he may have simply forgotten to wear them.  He is known to be absent-minded, once forgetting to pull the tissue he stuffs in his nose soaked with eucalyptus oil to open his breathing passages while he warming up on his trainer before the prologue in Liege a few year ago.  Having his nostrils blocked was an adverse effect.  I'll be checking for gloves at next week's time trial. 

I was hoping to make it to the Big Screen for tomorrow's finish but the winds have put a kabash to that.  I needed the twenty miles I was denied yesterday and the thirty today to make it.  I'll have to be content to watch the peloton pass thirty or forty miles from the finish and then watch the finish on television once again.  Still not a bad way to be experiencing The Tour.