Friends: If I didn't have the need to do better than 100 miles a day these two days to reach Tournus for Stage Seven before the peloton, I would have stopped in Brienne-le-Chateau and watched the final 90 minutes of Stage Five yesterday, but I pushed on for another hour to Vendeuvre-sur-Barse and saw the final half hour at the Bar de Paris with two other patrons and the bartender.
Three riders had a minute lead on the peloton with 14 miles to go. I hadn't missed any action during that extra hour on the road, not that I expected to on this flat, straightforward stage of 115 miles that I had ridden six weeks ago as I scouted the route.
I would have liked to have stopped earlier as much to escape the heat as to watch The Race. It was the first truly hot day of my summer in France, though the day before was a warm one too. I was stopping at every cemetery and village water spout I came upon to soak my shirt, douse my head and fill my empty water bottle with relatively cold water. I stopped at two small bars along the way once TV coverage of The Race began under the pretense of checking in on The Tour, but actually to fill a water bottle with the ice cold water they often have on tap. Neither of the Bar-Tabacs had TV, but they did have ice cold water from a bar tap as refreshing as I could hope for.
Mark Cavendish, the English sprinter who rides for the American Columbia team, had expected to have three stage wins by now after dominating the sprints last year, easily winning six of them, but he had yet to be a factor this year, crashing out of one and having his lead-out man actually beat him to the line the day before, so he had to be super-motivated to win this stage that all the experts had conceded to him before The Tour began.
And he came through, winning in a relative breeze. He let out such a forceful yell of delight, and relief, as he crossed the line with his arms upraised, he couldn't have opened his mouth any wider, even if a dentist had put a jack in it. Any hippo would have been mighty impressed by his jaw extension. He manages to vary his victory celebrations. He will be the favorite to win again today before The Race heads to the mountains tomorrow and the sprinters will be relegated to just chasing minor sprint points in the middle of the stages.
I will be tagging along behind the peloton for a few days after they pass me at about the two-thirds mark of tomorrow's stage, as I won't be able to beat them to the line, what with a final ten-mile climb that will take me two hours. I hope to watch the action in a bar at the start of the climb and then bike up it and start on the next day's stage.
There was no dew for the second straight night. Ian, the ringleader of the three Aussies that Vincent and I rode with for a day, had to be pleased, as he didn't bring along a tent, though he does have a protective holder for bananas. His two mates are sharing a tent, but its barely big enough for the two of them, let alone a third. He had no complaints though the night we camped with them nor the night afterward when we saw them later in the day.
The three of them are just winging it and having a grand, jolly time. They are bursting with the enthusiasm that infects all first-time visitors to The Tour, not only incredulous to be at The Tour, but incredulous at how it exceeds all their expectations. It is their first time in Europe. They are still getting used to the fact that not everyone speaks English. As we meandered our way out of Brussels they shouted in their Aussie English at pedestrians asking the way. Rarely was someone fluent enough to respond, though some tried. Out in the country when someone greeted them with a "Bonjour" they'd respond with a "g'day mate."
When we finally came upon the course markers indicating the route out of Brussels the peloton would be riding, it was the first time they were aware of them, as they hadn't ridden any of the first stage. I told them we no longer had to worry about asking for directions, all we had to do was follow the arrows. One commented, nodding toward a nearby woman, "I wouldn't mind asking her for directions."
The next day when we stopped at a supermarket for food, he was startled when a woman got out of her car on the left-hand side. He blurted to her, "Back home the driver gets out on the right hand side of the car. I'm still getting used to it being the other way around over here." She looked at him with a mixture of puzzlement and astonishment, then jerked her head around and headed into the store without saying a word. He thought she was being impudent and commented, "If I called her a dumb, fucking mol, I'm sure she would have understood me."
I had to ask Vincent what a "mol" was. "It's not something very nice, sort of like a slut," he said. My vocabulary was greatly increased being around these guys. I started referring to women as "sheilas" and would end my sentences with "mate" and even managed to sprinkle in a "fair dinkum" every once in a while.
I hope to cross path with these characters in the days to come, but there's no telling when or where. They will be taking the train sporadically to keep up, but do plan to make it to the Pyrenees towards the end of The Race.
Off to a bar now for the end of Stage Six and then fifty more miles to ride before dark.