Friends: The Aussie fans ought to be back in great abundance next year after Cadel's dominance of this year's Tour. There were great throngs of them and their flag after his back-to-back second place finishes three years ago, greatly enlivening the roadside, but after he finished 30th and 26th the past two Tours their numbers have diminished to not much more than the Americans, also now hardly seen after being everywhere during Lance's string of seven straight wins.
Young Dave vowed to be back after standing alongside the time trial course for seven hours Saturday awaiting Cadel's arrival. I was there too gazing up at the Big Screen with hundreds of others as the suspense built all day. The suspense didn't last long, though, as soon after Cadel and Andy Schleck took to the course four minutes apart, Cadel immediately began gaining on Schleck's times. The screen regularly posted their time difference, starting at 57 seconds. When it was down to less than thirty seconds, not even a quarter of the way to the finish, all of us Cadel-rooters could start celebrating. He gave the ride of his life, as he did day after day during the entire Tour. He truly earned this victory.
And it was an American victory of a sort too, as he rides for the American-sponsored BMC team with two Americans on the squad, Hincapie and Bookwalter, and an American chief, Jim Ochiewz, who directed the first American team to ride in The Tour, 7-Eleven, back in 1986. Hincapie rode with Lance on every one of his seven victories. This is his 16th Tour. Next year he will set the record for the most ridden. He also holds the record for riding on the most winning teams.
We had a final gathering at the Big Screen of the handful of us touring cyclists who have followed more than a stage or two of this year's Tour. Besides Dave the Australian, David the German was there as well as Shane, a Scottish rider who began following The Tour on stage seven and managed to see eight stages in all. I saw him just two other times at stage finishes, though we had been in email contact along the way trying to reconnect.
I was hoping I might reconnect with David for a final ride together along the time trial route. I had a few trinkets left over for him to toss to bystanders along the route. He did it with great flair and panache, causing quite a spectacle. He'd respond to the cheers from the crowds by doffing his cap and bowing like a grand showman, arousing even more cheers. He was the only among us not wearing a helmet, allowing for this extravagant gesture. He would get so revved up from the cheers that he would occasionally open a gap on me. One fan along the road chided him, calling out "piano," an Italian expression for riding a little slower with a higher cadence. David wasn't familiar with the expression, but he understood its meaning. All part of the good fun that everyone enjoys along The Tour route.
We were also joined at the Big Screen by a cyclist from New Zealand who had spent the past two months cycling around Europe. He had seen the last two stages and would love to return next year for a full dose. He spent his first month in Europe riding with a tour group of forty that tackled many of the famous climbs in France and Italy. He didn't have to carry any gear with the group. It was mostly Australian and men, with only three women, a slightly higher percentage than were among the mobs riding up L'Alpe d'Huez the day before. There the percentage was 99 per cent male. Women know better than to exert themselves for such flimsy glory.
All four of us had been on L'Alpe d'Huez the day before and traded our experiences. The Kiwi had discovered a bar with an English transmission of the broadcast, allowing him to hear the commentary of Liggett and Sherwen. The Scot had biked half-way back down the mountain to just beyond the rowdy and rambunctious Dutch corner. He said when the "laughing group" of the eighty laggards passed by, many of the riders smiled and acknowledged the crowd's cheers. He said they had discussed beforehand whether to boo Contador or not. They were not among those who did.
I watched the proceedings on the Big Screen sitting on a slight hill among a Woodstock crowd of patrons along the finishing stretch just beyond the last turn. David had biked just three kilometers up the road to the first village the night before. The crowds were too much for him and his kitten, so he left the next morning and headed towards Grenoble watching the day's event in a bar sipping coffee.
The Devil came prancing by before the top riders took to the time trial course. He was besieged all along the way by people who wanted their picture taken with him. He always gladly and kindly obliges everyone. This devil is a true goodwill ambassador, bringing cheer and delight to all. When he noticed me, he charged over and gave me a hearty pat on the back and the "Musée, Musée" chant. Then he startled me by taking out his camera and giving it to someone who had just taken his picture and asked her to take his picture with me, truly a signal honor.
Back in the '50s Eartha Kitt sang a song with the lyrics "Ike likes me" and "A camel would walk a mile for me," spins on popular jingles of the day, "I like Ike" for the Eisenhower presidential campaign, and "I'd walk a mile for a Camel (cigarette)." If The Devil had been around back then, she would have ended the song with the lyric, "And The Tour de France Devil wants a picture with me."
I showed The Devil the Chicago "Reader" article on me that included a photo of the two of us in the Pyrenees. He didn't know I was from Chicago. He said he was there for the World Cup. Then he took a photo of the photo in the "Reader." I don't know why, as his museum in his home town of Storkow, fifty miles southeast of Berlin, of his many bicycle inventions, also includes hundreds of newspaper and magazines stories and photos of him. He hardly needed another. But he truly appreciates that I bicycled the length of Germany to visit his museum, and also that I have made my mark on The Tour myself, the most veteran of the many touring cyclists who have attempted to follow The Tour.
Lest I think though that doing so made me a person of any significance, later that evening, as I sat on the ground under a slight overhang at a gas station eating ravioli out of a can, a car that had just gotten some gas pulled up in front of me and a teen-aged girl hopped out and timidly handed me a hunk of bread torn off a loaf, not as a reward for having just followed The Tour for three weeks, but because she and her mother in the front seat mistook me for someone in need. I appreciated their good-heartedness as much as The Devil's respect. I could only revel in Another Great Day on the Bike.
Now its 250 miles back to Paris where I'll get to spend a couple days with my Telluride friend Ralph who I spent two weeks with at Cannes. Then its on to Telluride for the both of us for the Labor Day weekend film festival that is a grand event almost on a par with The Tour and Cannes. I'll pass through the town of Créteil, just outside of Paris, where the peloton began its 21st and final stage yesterday. Fignon raced as an amateur on the Créteil team. A memorial to him was unveiled before the stage start. I will also pay respects to his grave at the Pere Lachais cemetery in Paris, its largest and most famous.