Friends: It was a desperate race against the clock to the finish today for Vincent and I. We had 76 miles to ride from our campsite along the road where we stopped last night at 10:15. We pitched out tents at a pull-off with two RVs, hoping they might be TV-equipped and watching the World Cup semi-final match between Holland and Uruguay that was down to its last few minutes. Twenty minutes before we had peered in at a bar and saw the Dutch go ahead two to one. We didn't have the time to watch the rest of the game. I was counting on finding an RV following The Tour parked along the road with a TV. When we saw a pair of them just before it was too dark to keep riding, we thought we were in luck. But neither of the RVs had a television, so we had to wait until today to learn from a cyclist along the road the Dutch held on to win 3-2.
We needed to get to Reims by three, before the roads were closed, two hours before the peloton was due. When we set out at eight this morning we figured we could do it in a little under six hours of riding time, which gave us one hour for breaks. We were set back when after 15 miles Vincent broke a spoke, no doubt weakened by yesterday's treacherous cobbles. He had taken a fall in the third stretch of cobbles, perhaps contributing to the weakening of his spoke. I missed seeing his spill as I was a little bit a head. Repairing the spoke took half an hour along the road, time for both of us to add a few more calories.
We got a lift a couple hours later when a hard-riding Australian caught up to us and rode with us for half an hour before speeding on ahead, unencumbered by any gear. He is trying to ride the whole route, assisted by his wife driving a van, transporting him between each day's stage finish to the next day's start. He had seen us in Rotterdam, but has seen no other touring cyclists or anyone attempting what he is trying to do. He asked if I had ever encountered anyone over the years trying to do what he. The only one I knew of was Jesse the Texan, who I met two years ago and had hoped to connect with last year. I had also seen a guy being motor-paced by a motorcycle a couple times one year, though I never spoke with him. He appeared as if he was trying to ride the whole route.
There are few Australian flags along the route this year, but a lot of Australians riding the course. The past few years the Australian flags greatly outnumbered the American flags after Cadel Evans' back to back second place finishes. But after Evans finished 30th last year, the Aussies evidently have given up on him. This year there are more American flags, though just a small fraction of what there had been during Lance's run of seven straight wins.
Skippy flagged us down yesterday in the middle of the fourth stretch of cobbles beside a camper with an American flag on it being driven by a couple from Boulder, Colorado. Skippy is the unofficial greeter of all English speakers following the course. He had stopped to have a chat when he saw the American flag and asked them if they could brew up a pot of coffee. When Vincent and I arrived, it was only a couple of minutes until there was coffee.
Not long after, the intrepid band of three goofball Aussies that Vincent and I met in Brussels and rode with for a day rolled up. They were happy to have some coffee too. The oldest of the Aussies, a 55-year old who races as a veteran, was exulting that he was having the greatest ride he'd ever had on a bike this day. He was gushing over the beautiful green countryside, the meticulous fields without any fences and the thrill of riding the cobbles.
Today Vincent and I were marveling over the paucity of cyclists riding the course. It is such a joy to be riding the course route it was puzzling that so few are doing it, fewer than any of the years I've been doing it. We had seen only one other in four hours until Keith the Australian with the sag wagon came by. An hour later we were joined by two Australian women just after we had been ordered off our bikes just a little after two, way too early. We walked to the top of a hill and were back on our way for twenty minutes until a cop directed us off on a dirt road. We were within six miles of the finish at this point and knew once we reached the sprawl of Reims we would have alternate streets to ride.
After a mile on the dirt road we returned to the course. We walked past the cop at the intersection and rode less than a mile when we were ordered off our bikes by two cops on motorcycles. We walked a bit and began riding again. For the first time ever the same cops came back around and strongly reprimanded us, waving their fingers, saying, "This is your second warning."
Soon after we came to a sidewalk along the road. We stuck to that for a few blocks until we saw bicyclists on the road, so we joined them. It was almost a set-up, as the two gendarmes on motorcycles pounced on us within a couple of blocks. They were red-faced livid. The younger of the two spoke in English for the first time and said this was our third and last warning. He said if we rode on the course again he would confiscate our bicycles. He wouldn't even let us ride on the sidewalk at this point the final two miles to the finish.
Just past the two kilometer arch I saw a shop that looked like it was a cyber cafe. It wasn't, but the owner said I could use his computer. I can't take up any more of his time. I'll sign off and head to the finish line giant television hoping to meet David the German touring cyclist and then bid farewell to Vincent, who has to begin heading back to Paris.