Monday, July 16, 2012

Stage Fourteen

While the peloton was off climbing a pair of category one climbs in the Pyrenees, I was doing an equal, if not more, amount of climbing in the Cevannes and on into the Massif Central, as I continued my 500 mile transfer to the final Saturday time trial to Chartres.

Right out Craig and Onni's back door is the Beyond Category climb over Mount Aigoual.  I had 17 miles and 4,000 feet of it remaining when Craig and I parted ways in Valeraugue a few mile from his home in the small village of Notre Dame de Rouviere.  I had been over it once before on my first visit to Craig eight years ago coming up the opposite side.  I was caught in an early May snow storm at the summit and had a hypothermic descent to Craig's.

Once again the weather wasn't so friendly, with Aigoual upholding its reputation for ugly weather. Like Mont Ventoux, its neighbor less than one hundred miles to the east towards Provence, it has a weather station that records some of the strongest winds anywhere. The dark clouds began drizzling  on me half way into my climb.  I was able to test the revived zipper on my Gore Tex jacket, no longer needing to wrap straps around my torso to hold it tight. 

Craig once again was a savior.  He is a true master at fixing the unfixable. I could go on and on listing wrecked items I have brought to him that he has managed to make usable once again--bikes, doors, lights, computers, backpacks and more. The misty rain was unaccompanied by a strong cold wind from the north. At least the grade didn't stray from four to six per cent, rather mild compared to those in the Alps and Pyrenees and Ventoux.  The wind was really gusting at the barren summit.  I couldn't get down fast enough.  Once again I was shivering on my descent of Aigoual.  At least the rain let up.

I had subjected my legs to Aigoual rather than taking an easier way around it largely to pay homage to a bicycling memorial eleven miles beyond its summit.  I had passed it eight years ago but didn't notice it in the inclement weather, nor was I aware of it then.

Knowing it was there, it was easy to spot on the right hand side of the road on the descent just before two hairpin turns before the small village of Fraissinet-de- Fourques.  It marked the spot where Roger Riviere crashed (available at youtube)  in the 1960 Tour de France and never raced again.  He had won two stages in that Tour and was a former world champion in the pursuit (Bradley Wiggins' specialty until he lost 15 pounds and discovered he could climb).  At the top of the monolithic slab of concrete a sculpture was chiseled of a cyclist bent over his bike on a descent, as if about to crash.  Below it was a color photo of Riveire in his world champion's jersey holding a bouquet of flowers.  The monument is located on an isolated road that few travel and that The Tour rarely visits.  It was the third such crash site I have visited this summer, the other's Poulidor and Bruyneel.  If I had gone to the Pyrenees, I could have revisited several more (Casaratelli, Ocana, Win Est).

It was 12 miles further to Florac where  I was eager to plop down in a bar after my exhausting three hour climb and watch the professionals do some climbing of their own.  The peloton was just finishing the first of their two climbs.  A breakaway group was 14 minutes up the road.   The peloton didn't seem interested in catching it.  Wiggins' Sky teammates were riding a steady tempo.  This was a stage that wouldn't have much bearing on The Race.  The next meaningful stage isn't until after Tuesday's rest stage, so it was as if the leaders were just biding their time.  There was some excitement when Evans flatted at the summit of the second climb and then a series of other riders, victims of someone who had spread tacks on the road, but a moratorium was called until all the wheels had been replaced and everyone was back together.

Meanwhile, the breakaway group, surprisingly including the super sprinter Sagan as well as Evans' teammate Gilbert, were jockeying among themselves.  Finally Rabobank's Sanchez broke away.  None of the others was interested in chasing after him towing Sagan with them, as he would easily beat them all.  So Sanchez pulled off a crafty win, celebrating initially in the home stretch by turning to his team car before it had to exit the course waving his fist in glee at his director and then had a most exuberant celebration crossing the line, first crossing himself as many of the Spanish riders do and then pointing to the heavens.  It was a delightful picture of ecstasy, rewarding all the suffering he had endured in the final kilometers holding off his chasers.  It was a relief to be spared one of Sagan's cocky, arrogant celebrations.

I had only 45 miles under my belt when I resumed riding at 5:30.  I was hoping for at least 35 more miles, less than the nearly 100 miles I have been averaging, but a worthy effort with all the climbing.  I had another unexpected seven mile climb ahead of me and a flat tire along with it.  I discovered the wire bead on my front tire had slightly worn through causing a sudden hissing flat, the sound that fans along the road like to imitate.  I used the dollar bill trick as padding, though knowing I'd have to replace it at the first opportunity or resort to my spare fold-up tire if I had another flat.

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