Friends: Looks like Voeckler is for real. He stuck with the leaders yesterday for the third and final day in the Pyrenees all the way to the finish line. He is now the story of The Tour, not the Schlecks vs Contador nor if Evans can finally win The Tour. And he provided all the drama in yesterday's stage as I watched it in a bar half-way along the next day's stage.
Unlike his ten-days in the yellow jersey seven years ago, this time the jersey has given him the strength to keep up in the mountains. It is a remarkable transformation, almost as amazing a performance as the eight minutes Floyd Landis put on the race leaders several years ago.
Today will be Voeckler's sixth day in yellow. He will surely keep it for the next two transitional stages before three days in the Alps. If he can hang tough there, all he has to do is endure next Saturday's time trial and he will be in yellow on the Champs Elysee one week from today when The Race concludes.
The only one showing any aggression yesterday was Schleck the Younger, with several surges from the bunch of ten contenders as they made the final ten mile climb to Pleateau de Beille. None dropped off nor could he sustain his charge. Unlike the previous mountain top finish two days before there was no finishing salvo from Schleck the Elder, as Andy seemed to be setting up for his brother Frank. It seemed everyone in the bunch had the same tired legs. Voeckler almost looked the strongest, easily responding to each surge.
Less than half-way up the climb the Garmin riders Christian and Danielson could no longer keep up. Christian rode at the front for a couple of kilometers early in the climb with Danielson on his wheel. When Basso forced the pace Christian immediately dropped off and Danielson not long afterwards. Danielson finished 13th and lost just a little more than a minute to Voeckler. He presently stands 9th overall 5:46 back. Christian is 29th overall, twenty-one minutes back.
It was easy to spot the Garmin riders as they were wearing yellow numbers on their jerseys for being the leading team thanks to Hushovd's heroic effort the day before chasing down two guys five minutes up the road to take the stage victory, the third for the Garmin team, tying them with HTC-High Road's three Cavendish sprint wins. Evidently seven days in yellow wasn't enough glory for Hushovd. He could have easily been content to take it easy for the rest of The Tour, but he showed the drive and determination of the World Champion that he is and put in a gallant effort.
I was watching Hushovd's charge in a bar in a town off The Tour route as I closed in on Limoux, today's Ville Départ, when in walked Dave the ultra-endurance Aussie mountain-biker, last seen over a week ago at the Stage Four finish in Mur de Bretagne. He was still going gangbusters, having already ridden 110 miles that day trying to get to Carcassone, 50 miles away by eight that evening for a hotel he had booked two months before and couldn't change. He made the same mistake David the German made last year, booking hotels ahead of time, not realizing it is much preferable to camp. It wasn't the first time a hotel greatly comprised his freedom and flexibility.
He couldn't blame a hotel though for not connecting with Vincent and I in Le Mans. He arrived in time but struggled to find our meeting point at The Stage start. He missed us by fifteen minutes. He could have easily chased us down, but he was so spent, he just collapsed. Plus he took advantage of a Decathlon sporting goods store near The Stage start to buy a sleeping pad and a rain coat. He arrived in Chateauroux, where the Le Mans stage finished, an hour after we did and rather than going to the Big Screen where we were, went and had a meal.
He was still charged with delight at being at The Tour and had had more good fortune than bad. He'd blown out a rear tire the evening of July 13th and miraculously found a bike shop open the next day on The Race route on Bastille Day to replace it, otherwise he would have had no hope of making his Carcasonne hotel.
He had yet to nab a course marker, unlike Vincent, David and I. When Vincent acquired his and was trying to figure out the best way to carry it, it struck him that he might be able to fit in in his spokes. It is just a little too large for that, but with some improvising it might work. That would be a brilliant way to display it, upstaging all the campers following The Tour with their course markers in their windows.
Figuring out how to fashion it to fit in a bicycle wheel will be a project for Vincent when he returns home. Last year it was figuring out how to make a light, practical kickstand. He came up with the ingenious idea of just wedging a metal rod about 18 inches long in the slot behind the bottom bracket whenever he wished to prop up his bike rather than to lay its on its side as he had to do when we camped the previous two years.
One night when the wind was whipping up I asked Vincent if he was sure it would hold. "She'll be all right," he replied. Young Dave laughed and said,"That's a typical Aussie. That means I don't really care or I haven't thought much about it." Vincent didn't dispute him. I was sorry to have had only two days with these two Aussies and their repartee.
As a chef, Vincent also was good at making food discoveries in the supermarket. Our last night together he experimented with cold water in a pack of mashed potato mix. It worked. That will make for good, light-weight emergency rations.
Nestles in the caravan was tossing out small tubes of chocolate powder good for a 200 milliliter class of milk. We'd both been buying one liter containers of chocolate milk as our energy drink. The Nestles powder made for a much tastier drink and also a cheaper one, converting us to its product. The caravan was also tossing out small tubes of a juice mix. They were so small they often went unnoticed, a rare item we could scavenge when biking the race course after the caravan had passed.
Monday is the second and final rest day before the final six stages. I'll be finishing off the 75 mile transfer between Montpellier, today's stage finish, and St. Paul Trois Chateux, Tuesday's stage start and beginning on the stage to Gap where I hope to meet up with David and his kitten and Dave the Aussie Tuesday. Then it will be on to the Galibier and L'Alpe d'Huez for some more high dramatics..