Friends: It was just Vincent and I enjoying all the day-before preparations along the Stage Seven route from Le Mans to Chateauroux yesterday as we rode the first eighty miles of the course, as Dave the Australian did not make our noon rendezvous point at the start of the course, nor did he come charging up from behind us we expected at any moment.
But David the German did meet up with us less than fifteen miles from the finish just a couple hours ago. He had a mighty surprise for us, something he had hidden in his front basket that he wanted both of us to see at the same time, the most incredible thing imaginable, he said. He being a professional bird watcher I figured it might be some feathered creature. It was indeed a creature, but rather a meowing one, a young kitten. He found her at a rest area two days ago and has been traveling with her since.
She was loving it, nestled up in David's travel bag he carries in his wire mesh handlebar basket. David carried on about how smart and affectionate she was as if he were a proud father. She could well be the first kitten to travel The Tour by bicycle. David said he had become so preoccupied by her that he nearly went a whole day without smoking a cigarette. He thought at last he would be able to quit. But he had another this morning, and he said it was absolutely divine.
We reached the finish of today's route just after two, having to ride the last mile along the sidewalk rather than on the course. No Dave at the big screen but we encountered a young Scottish touring cyclist who had just joined up with The Tour and plans to bike as much of the route from here as he can. So we might have a new recruit. Its his first Tour and had lots of questions, wondering if he'd be able to ride the mountain passes on the day of the race and where the best place to watch the stages was and on and on.
Its great to be reunited with David as besides being a very energetic and frolicsome traveling companion shouting out "Bon Tour" and "Bon Appetite" to the throngs along the road as they greet us, he buys "L'Equipe" every day. He and the nation were deprived on Monday and Tuesday though, as the drivers who deliver "L'Equipe" went on strike. It was a near national catastrophe, timed of course when people most crave this national sporting newspaper that devotes up to eight pages each issue to The Tour.
David had been so preoccupied with his kitten that he hadn't been able to find a bar to watch the last two stage finishes. Vincent and I were lucky yesterday to find a television in the first bar we tried about an hour before the stage finish, unlike the previous two days when we had to try at least six or seven and were getting quite desperate. Two days ago a woman helped us out and led us as she drove her car to a bar. But yesterday, since we were on The Tour route it was a snap. When we came to the town center of Montoire-sur-le-Loir there was a bar right at the corner with a "Vive Le Tour" banner. We didn't even have to ask to turn the television to The Tour as we had to to the day before. The bar was plastered with all the team rosters and the route and the course profile of the mountain stages. And as with all but the first stage, the winner came from an English speaking team, Team Sky, joining Garmin and HTC-Highroad.
Earlier in the day we had stopped for lunch in one of those typical small quiet French towns. Vincent asked," How long would it take before you were bored shitless living here. It might be nice for a month, but I don't think I could last much longer." Vincent once owned a bakery back in Australia. He would like to introduce meat pies to France. He may miss them more than Vegemite. He drives a taxi one day a week back in Melbourne and it is easy for him to stop and grab a meat pie from any number of outlets that have them in a warming box on a counter.
While we were keeping our eyes peeled for Dave, a car pulled up and two young men hoped out with boxes of small flags and began ringing doorbells. I'd seen such an operation along the Tour route before, but they had always preyed upon fans along the course or people in cars. This year they are much more aggressive.
They have always been the scourge of The Tour, racing at people, thrusting the small cellophane French flags into someone's hands who think this is something affiliated with the Tour caravan and is free. But they want a euro for their flags. And they are surprising successful, especially when a small child already has one and starts waving it.
This year there are several bands of these entrepreneurs/con artists. Some are wearing reflective vests and stand in the road stopping traffic. The two Vincent and I were watching had cards dangling around their neck as if they were official credentials and bright yellow Tour wrist bands.
Many people know the scam and immediately send them on their way. But these guys aren't deterred. They are hustlers of the highest order, literally and figuratively. They just sprint on to the next prospect. I've nearly been knocked off my bike as they swerve in front of me to park and then fling open the car doors, sometimes with three or four guys flying out and then sprinting to fans along the route. It is always a delight to see the flag handed back to them. Occasionally the gendarmes will run them off, but they are always back the next day in the next region where there is a fresh crops of gendarmes and potential victims.
Skippy too is more infuriated than ever by how blatant they are this year. When he's driving his car he just blasts his horn and charges them. Skippy is campaigning to have something down about this blight on The Tour. You can read about his strong feelings at http://tourdafrance.blogspot.com He came along in his car after we'd been on the road for two hours this morning and said he'd pull over up ahead for a chat, as we'd missed each other the past few days. When we arrived he had his cooker out and was boiling water for coffee or tea. He said he had spoken to a three star general in the police force about the flag sellers and hoped he might take some action. Its a good thing there is no market value for the course markers otherwise these characters would strip the course of them in the night, such is their character.
Now its back to the Giant Screen for today's most likely sprint finish. Hopefully Dave will have joined us and we'll be up to five in our touring cyclist entourage.