There was so little at stake in this year's final time trial, unlike in year's past, with the first three spots all locked up and only some minor possible jostling in the top ten, I was almost able to give Florence and Rachid nearly undivided attention as we watched the final four hours of action on the Giant Screen across the race course from us at the 150 meter to go marker.
I was so absorbed in conversation with my long-time friends from Chicago, who moved back to France ten years ago, I didn't notice David in his bright yellow vintage Kas jersey standing on a ladder under the screen waving his arms trying to catch my attention. It was Florence who saw him first and asked if I knew the guy who seemed to be focusing on me. We were trapped on opposite sides of the course, too far apart to yell to one another. One of us would have to walk better than a mile to get around all the barriers.
The Race was nearly over by the time David joined us, so Florence had little time to get to know this fellow bike messenger and bird watcher. It would have been a fascinating conversation, but Florence and Rachid and I had more than enough to talk about. Florence is pretty much a vegetarian but she sampled wild boar at a Bastille Day party and liked it so much she'd buy it herself if she could find it at the butcher shop. Andrew will be excited to learn about a new meat he can try if he returns next year. He left before he could find horse meat, so has that to allure him back as well.
The most exciting news though was that Florence and Rachid will be paying a visit to Chicago next fall, something Rachid has managed a couple times since they left, but not Florence. And the visit will also be a scouting trip for a possible full-time return. The streets of Chicago haven't been the same since Florence made her departure. For seven years she was the Jeannie Longo of Chicago messengers.
She and Rachid guessed right on which side of the barriers to find me. They didn't arrive in time though to partake of the spoils of the caravan, driving in from Tours 100 miles away. It was actually their first time in Chartres. Rachid was particularly happy to get a close look at its celebrated UNESCO cathedral, as he had studied it in architecture school and had often seen it in the distance above the city when he drove or took the train to Paris.
The cathedral didn't have a big enough plaza around it for the stage to finish with it as a backdrop, but the final two kilometers of the course included the city's main boulevard just below it. The boulevard was lined with a series of huge photographs on vinyl celebrating the bicycle in Chartres from times past and present, each evoking the freedom and joy of being astride the bike. Many were magnificent pieces from the Les Cycles de l'Amour collection of J. C. Martin.
The exhibit was another example of why I always try to get to as many cities that host a Tour start or finish and with some spare moments to appreciate the tribute they offer either to the bicycle or The Tour. There is always a bicycle loving faction in every community that wishes to bring attention to the object of their amour.
When I began scouting out the time trial course at nine Saturday morning, there were already hundreds of people gathered, even though it was three hours before the caravan was due to arrive and the first racer not for another hour after that. There were a handful of racers out scouting the course, each followed by a team car. None of them had their numbers pinned to their jerseys or attached to their bikes yet, just their uniform, so one had to know them to recognize them.
The BMC teammates Evans and Van Garderen were among those to give the 33 mile course a ride, though not together. It paid off for Van Garderen, as he finished seventh in the stage and moved up one place to fifth overall. He was strong enough to pass up Evans on the course, who had started three minutes before him. It was a good day for Americans. Beside Van Garderen, the Garmin teammates Zabriskie and Christian finished 11th and 17th. Christian will end The Race in 60th place, his poorest showing by far in quite a few years. The highest placed Garmin rider is Dan Martin in 35th. He was the only Garmin rider out previewing the course. He rode side by side with his cousin Nicholas Roche, the lone Irish riders in The Race.
As I sat and read, whenever I peeked up at the whooshing sound of a solid rear wheel passing, more people had gathered along the route. I stationed myself at the two kilometer to go marker for these preliminaries of the few riders testing themselves on the course and then the passing of the caravan before returning to the Giant Screen for the true action. When I returned to the Screen I was able to find a nice spot in the shade against a brick wall with a few fans perched above me. It was cool enough that being in the sun wouldn't have been a disaster, though I preferred not to.
David and I set out for Rambouillet, the start of the final stage into Paris, at six pm, almost half an hour after Wiggins crossed the line with a time of one minute and sixteen seconds faster than the second-placed rider, his teammate Froome. It was 25 miles, one of the shorter transfers of The Tour. Then we rode ten more miles until 9:30 and camped in an open field.
Riding into Paris with David would be a great way to wrap up The Tour, as was getting together with Florence and Rachid. I was able to meet up with all three sets of my great friends who live in France this year, making it a banner year. And I had the bonus of two visits with Craig and Onni, one pre-Cannes and the other during The Tour. My only regret was not getting in a second visit with Yvon during The Tour, as he is a true Tour aficionado. But it was a delight to be able to visit a Poulidor monument with him on the way to Cannes, the first of quite a few I visited this year. The final will be a monument to Anquetil on the second of two category four climbs on Sunday's route.