Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stage One

Friends: It was just David and I riding Stage One as Vincent headed straight to the end of the stage to join us there. David was awaiting me precisely at the appointed picnic table a kilometer from the Passage de Gois well ahead of out noon starting time. We began our Tour almost 24 hours ahead of the peloton, riding until ten p.m. getting 75 miles into stage one. Though there weren't many fans yet occupying their spots along the route there was a fair amount of road graffiti already, most of it cheering on the Europcar Team and its leader Thomas Voeckler who are from this Vendée region.

The other most prominent writing on the road was directed at Contador and not encouraging him other than to leave the race. Someone gave him the red card (the soccer symbol for ejection from a game) not only writing it out in French but also painting a large red block on the road. There were other Contador writings with a syringe periodically along the road. The headline on the front page of the local newspaper was that he had been booed the day before at the team presentation. As feared his lingering drug case is becoming an all too dominant story. He has a fragile temperament and said he had been considering dropping out of the race except for the encouragement from his fans and teammates and fellow riders in the peloton. David is typically German in having no tolerance for drug use in the peloton and is unequivocal in his opinion that Contador is guilty and should not be allowed to race.

The further we got into the course and the later in the evening it got the more campers we began to see parked along the route. We knew we could park out tents anywhere and not need be discreet about it. We chose a grassy area with a handful of trees that already had one camper parked nearby. As we were setting up our tents a French gentleman came over to greet. He said he lived 60 kilometers away but was thrilled to spend the night in his camper and secure his preferred spot along the course.

We were back on our bikes by eight the next morning for the final 45 miles of the Stage. We finished it off by noon, plenty, plenty early, five and a half hours before the peloton was due. And there at the finish line Vincent was awaiting us along with five English cyclists he'd met who were all staying at the campground where he was. They were already all great friends, one of whom was riding Skippy's 1998 Tour de France bike. All but one of them had attended previous tours. But no Skippy as he was off riding the course having ridden from Les Essarts to the start and then riding the course until Les Herbiers, almost 300 kilometers, a normal day for Skippy . They all were devoted fans of the big screen for watching the race, so we headed over to it for the next four hours. We were lucky to find a sliver of shade.

There was an inconsequential three man breakaway until the final 30 kilometers and then the racing started. A crash caught Contador and quite a few others throwing havoc into the final placings. Gilbert, the Belgian, won as expected on the steep two-kilometer finishing climb, beating Evans by three seconds and Garmin's Husovd. It places Hushovd in great position to take the yellow jersey today if the Garmin team can win the team time trial. They will be riding with vengeance as its three hopes, Vande Velde, Hesjedal and Danielson were all caught behind the crash and lost nearly two minutes, but only thirty seconds to Contador.

It is now four hours until the start of the time trail. The town is swarming and alive with great enthusiasm. Once again this is the ultimate place to be today. Now I turn the computer in the tourist office over to Skippy for his report: http://www.tourdafrance.blogspot.com

Later, George

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