Friday, June 24, 2005

Vannes, France

Friends: The Tour will commence next Saturday with a twelve-mile time trial from the small village of Fromentine, just off the Atlantic coast, out to the resort/fishing village of Noirmoutier on an island. The route will begin with a climb over a high mile-and-a-half bridge. I wasn't able to ride the exact course yesterday afternoon, as cyclists are relegated to bike paths on certain parts of the island, but I passed the same fields of hay and potatoes and salt-water evaporation pools and residences that the racers will pass. Roadside stands sold bags of the island's famed salt and potatoes. The salty soil and seaweed fertilizer give the potatoes a distinctive flavor.

The bridge isn't the only road that connects the island to "Le Continent," as the mainland is called. There is also a narrow five-mile long road, the Passage du Gois, that is only drivable several hours a day at low tide. It is otherwise submerged. It is a treacherous road, that the Tour has included several times, though not this year. The last time was in 1999, the year Lance won the race for the first time, and the road played a role in Lance's win. He was able to gain time on several of his key rivals when they were caught behind a crash caused by some seaweed along the fringe of the narrow road. Lance and the Postal Service were on the front. When they heard about the accident, they upped the pace, and many riders were never able to catch up.

I wasn't able to ride the Passage du Gois yesterday as it was under water. Yvon, the French cyclist I met at the cycling chapel, had warned me to be very careful about riding the road. There is no gate closing it or warnings of the tide rising, one must simply know. There are three towers along the road for people to escape to if they are caught on the road when the water starts rising. I will give it a ride next week when I return.

The round-about outside Fromentine, the start of Saturday's time-trial, was decorated with flowers forming a bicycle. Many of the stores had Tour-related displays. Some freshly laid asphalt didn't even have lines painted on it yet. Rows and rows of metal barriers stood in clusters waiting to be interlocked along the race route. An art gallery in Noirmoutier, not far from the finish line, had a display of Tour photos, all from the past couple of years. There were very few photos of Lance.

The terrain has been fairly flat the past couple of days as the vineyards of the Bordeaux region gave way to fields of hay, many of them already harvested and dotted with giant rolls. I've camped the past two nights in hay fields that had barriers of tall trees surrounding them, giving me ample privacy. In one the hay had recently been harvested and had yet to be bailed. It made for the softest mattress of the trip. When its already been bailed into giant rolls, I can push the rolls together to form a private boudoir if I desire some extra privacy. With the temperature in the 90's, as soon as I stop to camp, I immediately shed my clammy clothes and shoes and socks, only adding sandals, even before I set up my tent, and begin cooling down, becoming a naturist, one of those activities I couldn't engage in if I were staying in a campground. I haven't bothered with the rain fly in days, as it retains my heat and blocks whatever cooling breeze there might be. My tent has mosquito netting on four sides, as well as the roof. Sitting in it without the rain fly is almost as good as sitting outdoors.

Later, George

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