Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Stage Nine

When I arrived at the 26-mile time trial course at 8:45 yesterday morning I wanted  to ride at least a few miles of it for a count on the number of Australian versus English flags and Sky jerseys to get a feel of who would get the bigger boost, Evans or Wiggins, in this showdown between the prime protagonists in this year's Race.  But the course was already in lock down and the preliminary procession of vehicles preceding the caravan was chugging along at the 12 kilometer mark before a steep climb past one of the several cemeteries along the course.

I hadn't planned on indulging in the caravan, intending to head immediately to the next stage start, Macon, 100 miles away, a most unwelcome gap in The Race route.  But with the caravan imminent I decided to join the throngs already packing the course in hopes of grabbing some reading material, the newspapers "L'Equipe" and "Aujourd'hui," and some eating material (madeleines, crackers and mini-sausages) and a few more knick-knacks (mostly key-chains) for redistribution.  I also needed a red polka-dot hat, as I'd given away the three I had grabbed, two to Andrew for friends back in Australia, and another to a slightly crazed woman to appease her for filling our water bottles at her tap (photo at http://fatseas.com/ the July 6 entry).

The caravan granted all my wishes except the madeleines and the refrigerator magnet with seven cyclists all carrying a baguette, this year's most collectible item that I'd like to give to each of my cycling friends back home.  But I did get a good number of giveaway items that will delight those I surprise riding the course ahead of the real caravan--several bags of candy and a mini-fold-up Frisbee.  Even in its pouch the Frisbee carries well.  When I tossed one to a little girl on a hillside she let out a squeal of surprise at this unexpected object that came flying towards her.  It was soft enough that it could do her no harm, and she was too young to suffer cardiac arrest.

It was 50 miles to Lons-le-Saunier, a Ville Etape I fondly recall from my first Tour eight years ago, as its main plaza was filled with artfully painted and clothed mannequins on bikes that  bore a semblance to all the painted cows that had just been a sensation in Chicago.  It remains one of the best bike art displays of my Tour de France experience.

I knew I'd have my choice of bars to watch the final hour of the time trial and maybe even find an Internet outlet.  I scored on both counts.  I chose a bar where I could leave my bike in the shade; as it had finally turned hot and I had a loaf of bread, a pound of couscous and a half pound of cheese in my larder.

As always it gave me an immediate charge of delight to have a nearly first-hand experience of The Tour experience just fifty miles away.  I marveled at the aerial views of the beautiful countryside, knowing that it was even more beautiful up close.  It was hot enough that there were fans along the course shielding themselves from the sun with umbrellas, quite a contrast to the days of umbrella need for all the rain.  There has been no rain since Andrew left The Race three days ago, one of the reasons for his abandonment.

He'd be gobbing on the sun screen if he were still tagging along.  He is so well-conditioned to protecting his skin from the sun that whenever it peeked out, he lathered up.  He explained that the Australian government has long-engaged in a strong anti-skin cancer campaign.  Australia and Brazil, two sun-loving nations, have the highest skin cancer rates in the world.  The sun is particularly intense in the southern hemisphere due to the tilt of the earth, and Australia is particularly vulnerable as its ozone layer has worn thin.

Andrew said his government goes overboard in protecting the health of its citizens.  No country tries to discourage smoking as hard as Australia.  With all the taxes, a pack of cigarettes goes for 14 dollars.  People don't try to bum cigarettes in Australia.  Rather they offer someone a dollar for one.  Soon all cigarettes will come in the same bland packaging, so one can't impress others for being a Marlboro Man or being the type to smoke Camels.

Bicycle helmets are also mandatory in Australia and most people obey.  The police are quick to give out tickets.  It is a 57 dollar fine, as are all bicycle offenses.  Andrew has been stopped twice for going through red lights.  One isn't issued a ticket on the spot but rather is mailed one.  He was lucky that only one of the officers sent him the ticket. 

Now that I'm back to the bicycle, Wiggins lived up to expectations and  handily won the time trial by nearly two minutes over Evans, the same margin that he beat him by a month ago in the Dauphine Libere on the same course.  The biggest surprise was the young American Van Garderen finishing fourth 36 seconds and two places ahead of Evans.  It puts Van Gardener back into the white jersey for the best rider under 23 .  He is one of Evans two American teammates along with Hincapie.  He is the top American overall in 8th with Leipheimer in 19th and Horner in 23rd.  Christian continues to struggle finishing over six minutes behind in 89th place in a discipline he ordinarily excels at.

Radio Shack also had another strong showing with 5 of its riders in the top 16

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