Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day Twelve Le Tour

Friends: Just what I didn't need, I thought, a flat tire with night descending and thunder and lightening lacing the ominously blackening sky, though that flat might have been a stroke of good fortune. I had paused in the small village of Vaour 24 miles into the next day's stage to fill my third water bottle at the public toilet before making camp. Someone had scrawled "Eau Non Potable" over the sink. I filled my bottle anyway not sure if I would need it and also knowing that such warnings are not always to be heeded.

I gave my self a quick wash with my level of grime not as thick as the day before as the temperatures had moderated and then hurried back to my bike as nature's pre-Bastille day pyrotechnics in the sky intensified and discovered a front flat. At least I had the shelter of the toilet as a refuge if the rain came pelting down. If it could hold off just 15 minutes I could quickly slip out of this village and find a field to pitch my tent.

After a quick tire change I was on my bike and back on the road when as the drops starting falling. And just at that instant who comes along? Non other than Skippy with his radar trying to track me down knowing I'd be riding until dark on this road. We both ducked into the open toilet facility hoping the storm would be a quick one. Even if it wasn't, if the clouds went with it we'd have a near full moon to help us find a place to camp.

Almost instantly we noticed across the street in the church parking lot a tent erected for some Tour gathering the next day. We put on our rain jackets to scout it out as a potential campsite. It was 15 feet by 15 feet and inside were about twenty benches and one table. The rain had already formed puddles inside it, so we couldn't put our sleeping pads down on the pavement. Putting three benches together for each of us formed a good enough bed frame. I wheeled my bike over and Skippy collected his bedding from his car. It was past ten o'clock. Skippy was tired enough to conk right out. I needed to do some eating. It took me half an hour to finish off my couscous and cassoulet stew and turned in myself. It wasn't a very restful night though with the storm not relenting and a trio of long-haired teen-aged boys out for an evening of mischief taking a peek in at one a.m., quite surprised to see us seeming vagrants, but then noticing my bike with the panniers still attached recognized we were followers of The Tour, then wishing us a "Bon Nuit." I was glad it wasn't Turkey, though I wasn't sure where I was when they startled me awake.

After one boisterous series of thunderclaps before Skippy had gone to sleep he said, "I know who's going to win tomorrow's stage, Thor," referring to Garmin's Hushovd, as Thor is the god of thunder. Its not an impossibility. He's a very capable sprinter and the next stage would most likely end in a sprint. But Cavendish and his ex-teammate Greipel, who aren't the best of friends, would most likely be going at it with an extreme vengeance, as Greipel beat Cavendish for the first time in the Tour that day. In the previous sprint finish at Chateauroux Cavendish just narrowly beat Greipel. Greipel had been left off The Tour team when he and Cavendish were teammates, so this is the first year they've been able to test each other and not defer to one another. Today's sprint could be epic. It will be the last one for three stages while the peloton spends three days in the Pyrenees.

I won't be watching it on the big screen in Lavaur at the finish as I pushed on to Toulouse, 22 miles away after arriving in Lavaur at noon. I didn't care to linger for five hours in drizzly weather, especially since there was no Internet to be found in Lavaur with its library closed on Tour day. And there will be no Internet tomorrow with it being Bastille Day. I didn't object at all to getting a head start on tomorrow's sage. It is another ten miles to the start. This will allow me to get 30 miles down the stage tonight and then at least to the feed zone tomorrow morning before I'm pulled from the route. The road will be mobbed with spectators if the weather clears since everyone will be on holiday. I'll have to watch the Tourmalet climb and the finishing climb on television. That's okay as three years ago I was on the Tourmalet on Bastille Day. I remember it well as Cavendish brought up the rear, about twenty minutes behind the leader, following the wheel of a teammate. He's gotten stronger in the mountains, but he still won't be pushing it.

I was hoping to see David and his kitten at the end of yesterday's stage as he could now be happy that a German, Greipel, had won a stage. I encountered him near the big screen a couple hours before the peloton was due. He was on his hands and knees peering under a car trying to coax his kitten out. The day before had been an especially trying day with the kitten in the heat. He's about to head back to Germany at any minute, but wanted to get a little more cycling in together.

He prefers to watch The Race in a bar sipping coffee rather than at the big screen amongst all the fans, so we arranged to meet at the public toilet that I had already visited in the town's main square half an hour after the stage finished. He didn't make it so perhaps decided to turn back. If he were on the course he would have caught up to me unless he lost his way, a possibility, as for the first time someone had pilfered a series of key course markers that made following the route guesswork unless one had the route details. I was in a stream of camper vans and just followed them.

Skippy was livid about the stealing of the course markers and promised to send off an email to Tour officials about it. It is an extreme taboo to take down a course marker until after the peloton has passed and remarkably it is largely observed. Earlier in the day Skippy had emailed President Sarkozy about the thugs who force flags on unsuspecting Tour fans and then demand money out of them. Some even include a box of candy with the flag and want ten euros for the combination. There are enough retirees along the route who can be intimidated that it keeps these guys at it.

Later, George

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