Friends: For the third time in the first ten stages I was able to get a full 24-hour head start on the peloton with yesterday being a rest day relieving me of any pressure to beat the peloton to the finish line in Carmaux. It helped too that the stage was only 99 miles, considerably shorter than the average of 125 miles.
Now that The Tour has crossed into the southern half of France the temperatures have warmed up. For the first time I overheated enough early in the evening last night on a category three climb that I shed my shirt. I was not alone as just about every male sitting in a camp chair besides his camper van along the route was also shirtless. I though was the exception in not having an over sized gut hanging over my belt.
As seems to be the theme this year, there was more exceptional hay-bale art along the way, perhaps inspired by this year's poster which is "Tous Fous Le Tour" spelled out in a field of hay. Rather than just piling up rectangular and circular bales of hay into some bicycle figure, many farmers have been sculpting hay into figures with arms and legs and facial features. Three deer on bikes whose wheels were giant rolls of hay were today's standout. They could well end up on television as there was also a huge sign written out facing skyward for the helicopters. It was 25 miles from the finish, so has a good chance of making the broadcast unlike art in the first half of the course before the telecast begins.
French producers don't go out of their way though to show such human-interest angles of The Race. Evidently they know their audience craves non-stop bicycle action and steams up when they divert their cameras to show the beautiful and exceptional sites along the route as do the American producers.
Vying for the most original piece of art of this year's Tour is a mannequin of The Devil complete with pitchfork chasing a mannequin on a bicycle wearing the red polka dot jersey. I didn't have my German translator with me today when I passed The Devil to ask him if he had seen it. I saw him on a bicycle for the first time, as it was mid-morning and there wasn't much going on. He had his pitchfork in one hand and was delighting a handful of villagers.
Even those off The Tour route on the roads linking a stage finish to the next day's start get in on the act of celebrating The Tour with bike art. On the way to Aurillac yesterday on N122 I passed a bicycle on a ridge above the road with twelve empty tin cans evenly spaced attached to its rear wheel. The rear wheel was slightly elevated and was slowly spinning as a hose filled a can with the weight of the water moving it downward.
Two miles from today's finish a cyclist in the US Postal Service uniform of ten years ago flew by me. He shouted out "Garmin" as he passed. We had spoken briefly several days ago at the Chataueroux finish line as we watched the big screen. He was a Norwegian of about my vintage following The Tour for the first time. We reconnected in the town plaza here in Carmaux before heading over to the town's cyberbase. He had ridden all of today's route as well and hadn't seen any of the other touring cyclists who I've had contact with earlier in The Race. Evidently they've all dropped out as usually happens.
The Norwegian is riding a carbon fiber Trek without any racks, just wearing a small pack on his back and staying at hotels. As we talked a woman wearing a shirt of the Norwegian flag and carrying two Norwegian flags walked by. She is part of a bus tour of Norwegians. Interest in bicycle racing is exploding in popularity in Norway with the Garmin rider Thor Hushovd having won the world championship last year and the green jersey in The Tour in previous years.
Now its over to the Giant Screen to watch the final two hour's of today's stage. It being so short the peloton set out at 1:30 this afternoon and are expected here by five. There were four categorized climbs, but just threes and fours, so it ought to end up with a sprint finish. Then it's just a ten mile transfer to Blaye-les-Mines for the start of tomorrow's stage, the shortest transfer of this year's Tour.
Tomorrow's stage has only one small climb, so Voeckler will be able to keep the yellow jersey until Thursday, Bastille day, when The Tour heads to the Pyrenees and its first of four mountain top finishes. Then we will see who is for real, if Evans has truly improved his form to be able to ride with Schleck and Contador and if the Schleck brothers have it in them to keep up with Contador and if Christian and his teammate Danielson can be factors as well. Its been a great Tour and it will only get better.