Friends: All the Norwegians at The Tour, seemingly more than any other nationality other than the French and the Belgians based upon the flags along the route, are continuing to inspire their countrymen to herculean efforts. The top three finishers yesterday at Gap, well ahead of everyone else, were all of Norwegian heritage, Hushovd winning his second stage of The Tour followed by Edvald Boasson Hagen, who earlier won a stage, and Ryder Hesjedal, a Canadian with Norwegian roots. They didn't wilt in the atrocious conditions, a hard cold rain that left snow on the surrounding peaks. Not only was it a great day for Norway, but anther great day for Garmin, winning their fourth stage of The Tour, tying them with HTC-High Road and having Hesjedal as a lone breakaway brandishing the Garmin jersey.
Whenever I watch a stage in a bar with Dave the Australian, Hushovd wins the stage after chasing down the breakaway. This time he just sat on the wheel of Boasson Hagen as he chased after Hesjedal, as he wouldn't dream of chasing down his teammate, leaving him with the freshest of legs for the final sprint.
While I exalted at this great display of power by the Garmin team, Dave the Aussie and his fellow Aussie Rowan, who had joined him two days ago, were nearly out of their seats as well when their man Cadel was able to hang with Contador when he finally unleashed an attack that everyone has been waiting for since The Tour started on the category two climb near the stage finish. Sanchez was the only other rider to stick with him as they left the Schlecks and Voeckler behind. The twenty seconds they gained moved Evans up to second and was another indicator that his legs are as good as any one's in the peloton. Its into the Alps now for three of the last five stages. Its is turning into a sensational race. The suspense thickens. Any of half a dozen riders could win this thing.
We were a merry band of four leaving Gap three hours before the peloton was due to arrive, preferring to seek out a bar down the road to watch the proceedings rather than lingering at the Big Screen with the weather so abominable. It had actually cleared momentarily when Dave and Rowan and I first connected at the Big Screen and then David the German joined us. We all had been drenched by the ride into Gap.
Rowan had just trained over from Germany to follow the last week of The Tour. He had ridden it in its entirety in 2009, the year with the Ventoux finish, but was riding far enough ahead of the peloton that he and I never connected nor did Skippy spot him either. He's been working in the solar industry in Germany the past two years and was the one who inspired Dave to ride The Tour. He's a strong one too, racing full-fledged Ironman competitions. His next is in Wales next month, the first one ever to be held there. He met Dave at the Tour of Timor, a ultra-endurance mountain bike race, shortly after he had ridden The Tour and was all revved up from the experience.
He and Dave are very knowledgeable bike racing fans. We had a grand time analyzing the final hour of racing. One of the biggest surprises was seeing Cavendish finish just after the leaders, meaning that he is truly serious about winning the green jersey. There was no need for him to push himself over that category two climb, but he did it. He came in on his own without the support of any teammates with his arms resting on his handlebars looking totally spent. It is such efforts that make bike racing so appealing. There have been quite a few to be inspired by this year. Voeckler epitomizes giving one's all. Cadel too never gives up and Hushovd has shown great hunger to excel.
We were all ramped up to get back on our bikes and ride. We lost David in less than a mile when he needed to tend to his kitten. I hung with the Aussie speedsters for an hour until they decided they might want to make an attempt on going into Italy for the next day's stage finish, while I was content to just make it to the feed zone in Briançon before heading over to the Galibier. I had a harder time keeping up with them on the descents than on the climbs, as I have so much more drag from my front panniers. Aerodynamics has more bearing than than weight.
Shortly after I let them speed on ahead more storm clouds appeared from over a mountain ridge with thunder and wind. I didn't care to set up my tent soaking wet from more rain, so when I shortly came upon a cozy pine forest I made that my campgrounds for the night, just 25 miles from Briançon. It was a relief to be sheltered from the wind. About an hour later David showed up, spotting my tent through the trees.
He set out a little earlier than I in the morning so he could enjoy a coffee break, but we linked up and then a while later we were joined by Dave. He elected not to push on to Italy, though Rowan with fresh legs was attempting it. So now David, Dave and I will catch the feed zone action in three hours, watch the rest of the mountainous stage in a bar and then head over to the Galibier for tomorrow's summit finish. Hopefully today's sun will melt the fresh snow on its slopes.