I was half way up the six mile climb of the Stage Ten category two Cote de Corlier when I heard a huffing and puffing behind me. I glanced back to see two women, French by their accent and the look of their super-short cycling shorts. That explained why none of the fans along the road were making eye contact with me as I passed them, but were rather looking past me at a site more appealing to their eyes and also why I had been receiving more "bravos" and "allezs" and "bon courages" than usual.
I was maintaining a good steady pace, my legs feeling good after a ten-hour sleep the night before, my most in almost a week. I was pushing it, hoping to get another 25 miles down the course to the sprint point at the 82 mile point in the stage before a beyond category climb. When I reached the summit, the road leveled off and then continued climbing another 300 feet over the next few miles before I earned my descent. Motorized vehicles had already stopped passing. It was now that nervous period when a gendarme could jump out into the road at any point and order me to stop. When it finally happened I was going too fast to stop and kept going.
I managed a few more miles before I came to a small village with a quick set of intersections with a gendarme at each. I could not evade them all, so ended by riding five miles short of my objective at 1:30. It wasn't such a bad place as there was a fountain spouting fresh spring water where I could replenish my water bottles and do a little wash. After a short rest I returned to the course. After several minutes the road presented a sidewalk I could ride on.
I managed another mile before I came to an intersection that I could use to escape the route and continue to a town with a bar to watch the peloton cross the day's big climb. I had been close to bonking so sat and had a couple of pate sandwiches while the caravan passed. I nabbed a few items and then headed to Belley, ten miles away. It was more than 2 and a half hours until the stage ended so I took advantage of the library's Internet and then retreated to a bar. I hadn't been there more than half an hour when David the German, my fellow touring and Tour enthusiast, sauntered in. It was a shock to see him at this unlikely spot off the course, but he had similar plans to mine to bypass the next two stages into the Alps and pickup the 12th stage in the city of Voiron 40 miles south of us.
He had lost his three messenger teammates the same day I lost Andrew. His had to get back to work in Bremen. I was hoping I might be rejoined by Andrew but he decided to cut his France holiday short by two weeks and spend the rest of his vacation cycling in Thailand with another American friend where the weather would be warmer and he could end his day with three dollar massages.
David was in great spirits as he had nabbed a bright green PMU cycling jersey from the caravan, an item it only occasionally disperses. He was also thrilled to see his fellow countryman Jens Voigt chasing down a four-man breakaway. The finish was nearing and he was rooting hard for this veteran hard-man, one of the most respected riders in the peloton, to pull off a victory for Radio Shack. It was not to be as the wily and ever dangerous Thomas Voeckler was in the break and dug incredibly deep to hold off his breakaway companions for a most heroic victory for the French. He face was the epitome of agony in the final uphill, almost slow-motion, finish. He said he had never suffered so much as in those final 500 meters and he looked it.
The victory was a bonus for him as his objective for the day was to be the first over the Beyond Category climb and steal the polka dot jersey for one day before the Alps the next day. Craft tactician that he is, he pulled it off and had the bonus of his third career stage victory. The day made his season. He may not be the most popular rider in the peloton, but all have to respect his grit and tenacity. When he was caught in the second stage crash that also derailed Christian, he finished seven minutes down and was in tears, knowing he could not repeat last year's fourth place finish.
David and I were happy to have a riding partner again, though it would only be for a day, as David planned to start heading back to Paris a stage earlier than I. We biked until nearly dark, at first targeting a lake as our destination for the night until a long climb set us back, so we settled on a freshly cut field of wheat. We had a fine ride and evening reveling in The Tour and the touring life and also the messengering life.
David wasn't getting as much work as a professional bird watcher as he had been and had returned to bicycle messengering. He's not earning much more than ten dollars an hour, but at least he owns a house and has a tenant so he can continue leading life pretty much on his own terms. He hadn't had any tours since a year ago so was especially ebullient to have six weeks of being off on his bike. Neither us had any complaints.