Rather than riding Stage One and feasting on the exuberance of all the fans along the route, Andrew and I had to be content with enjoying each other's company and spent the day riding the Second Stage. Even though we're approaching three weeks of each other's company we're still thriving and feeding off each other's sardonic outlook providing each other with no end of amusement.
We found ourselves in the large city of Namur two hours before the end of the first stage, about 40 miles into the next day's stage just before its lone climb up to Namur's prime tour attraction, its Citadel overlooking the river that runs through the town. Rather than risking pushing on and not being able to find a bar on a Sunday afternoon to watch the end of the stage, we took a prolonged break.
When we found a bar with a television there was a four rider break two minutes up the road that the peloton was quickly closing down. Cancellera's Radio Shack team led the way fora space but shared duties with Evan's BMC team and the Belgian Lotto team. We were wondering if the TV helicopters would show the ugly factories that dominated the finishing stretch into Seraing. They couldn't avoid them. Andrew was surprised at the even tone of the French announcers, in contrast to the high-decibel enthusiasm of Liggett and Sherwen that he was accustomed to. the French announcers don't need to hype the action to hold the attention of their viewers, unlike the neophyte fans of Australia and America. Come the mountain stations though they will let loose when there is truly something to be excited about. During Saturday's Prologue they uttered one "Uh-la-la," over a particularly surprising time.
The breakaway was well caught before the final climb to the finish and the peloton was strung out with the pace at the highest end of the chart. Cancellera in yellow amazingly led the charge up the 12 per cent climb. Television can't adequately capture the steepness of the climbs, but having ridden in just 24 hours before I well knew the exertion it required to keep the pedals turning and could well detect the slipping cadence about half way up the climb. If the cameras were concentrating on the stragglers, rather than the leaders, one would know then the maximum effort it took to keep the pedals turning.
The young Italian sprinter Sagan amazingly clung to Cancellera's wheel. The explosive climbers, Evans, Wiggins, Gilbert and Valverde had all been left behind. But they had a chance to catch up while Cancellera and Sagan and Sky's Norwegian jockeyed trying to let each other lead it out. Sagan nipped Cancellera, but Cancellera kept the yellow jersey. That was his prime objective for the day,; but still he had to be disappointed not to win a second stage in a row. Even so, everyone had to be impressed by his effort. Sagan's performance though had to give Cavendish some alarm. There is talk that Sagan may be better than Cavendish. He has a chance to answer on today's flat stage that ends in two hours.
Andrew and I rode 50 miles of it yesterday and the final 55 miles of it today. There were already a few campers parked along the route yesterday and today plenty more. We were given extra energy by everyone cheering us along the way. Even five year old boys leaned out towards us from their chairs along the road to give us a double pump of a fist like all the older men do encouraging us to go faster; It actually works.
We fought a strong head win all day yesterday. Today a slight side wind from the south didn't hinder us at all. If we'd had another head wind it would have taken us an hour longer to reach the stage finish in Tournai. We'll have plenty left in our legs to ride another 30 or 40 miles after the racers come in, getting a jump on Stage Three. It will be a challenge to reach Boulange-sur-Mer before the roads are closed, but we can cut off a final 25 mile loop the peloton will be taking to the finish if need be.
Andrew's Garmin GPS device remembered where we camped along the route ten days ago and was able to deliver us to the same nook in the wilderness last night, a place we never expected to see again. For the first time we needed an early start and broke camp at eight. What a relief it was to see the wind generators switched around from the direction they were pointed when we quit cycling last night at 8:30.
Besides the giant screen at the finish line the grand plaza in Tournai has two screens as well to watch all the action and a stage set up for a concert this evening. Overlooking the plaza is the city's UNESCO Cathedral. We were impressed by the city's preparations when we pass through here nearly two weeks ago, and are even more impressed with the great reception it is giving to The Tour.
France is just ten miles away. We're both greatly looking forward to be back. Despite the strong head wind we had to contend with yesterday we had our fastest average speed for the day in over a week, much of it spent on bicycle paths in Holland. Andrew was at first surprised at the news but then remembered our laggard pace in Holland. "It saps your will to live," he said, then added, "We're riding hard now with France so near."