Sunday, July 8, 2012

Stages Six and Seven

After a week of hanging tough Andrew joins the list of abandons.  Back-to-back 150 kilometer days did him in.  He was a victim of the metric system.  He starts feeling tired after 80 kilometers (50 miles) while I don't start feeling it until  I do 80 miles.  When he reaches 80 Ks he starts thinking about camping.  When I hit 80 miles I start considering the possibility of 100 miles.

When we met in Laos ten years ago his touring companion Ilias, an able-bodied young man who was on the dole and is still on the dole despite working as a substitute grammar school teacher and earning 200 dollars a weekend as a street musician, asked me what it felt like to live in a Superpower.  It was a question I had never considered but has stuck with me all these years as indication of how others regard the US and Americans.  I could have asked him what it felt like to be on the dole, but I knew he took pride in outwitting the system, though it didn't give him much self-respect.  The US may well be a Superpower because it isn't on the metric system, and I'm better able to keep up with The Tour because of that as well.

Despite bowing out early, Andrew gave a great rookie effort.  I've only known a couple of cyclists who've done better.  If he improves as much as fellow Aussie Vincent and David the German did in their second attempts, he will rip up the course and be hard to keep up with.

There is a chance he'll rejoin me in Maçon on Tuesday if his legs and his will recover.  He's no doubt suffering Tour withdrawal right now.  There's no experience remotely comparable to riding a stage route hours before the peloton along pastoral roads thronged with devotees of this great national event that defines the French.  They energy and passion is most infectious.  They are not rowdy fans, but joyous and respectful and fun-loving, celebrating their national treasure as well as the bicycle itself with countless hung and decorated along the route, as if it were a holy relic, in every manner imaginable.  For anyone who loves the bicycle as much as Andrew, it is a dream-like experience.

The originality of the art never wanes.  The small village of Bussy-le-Repos on stage six won the award for the most striking bike sculpture of the day.  On its outskirts it had erected a tripod of three extension ladders and then rounded up all the bicycles in the village and made a pyramid of them.  It was spectacular, but simple enough that any and every community could have one.

That would have been the photo of the day if we hadn't flown past on a high speed descent and couldn't stop because we were desperate to get to Saint-Mihel before the course was closed as it had the only grocery store in the first 54 miles of our day.  It didn't help that Andrew suffered his second puncture of our tour and didn't have a spare and had to patch it, costing us 20 minutes.

Andrew led us out at nearly 25 miles per hour the final few miles thanks to a bit of a tail wind and gentle descent.  That effort help contribute to his demise.  He had enough left in his legs to make it to Nancy, where we met at the train station 24 days earlier, 40 miles further after a two-and-a-half hour break eating and watching the caravan and the peloton pass.

He had hoped to find a campground in Nancy for his first shower since Liege eight days ago, but his iPhone wouldn't connect thanks probably to all the rain.  The day before we were caught in a deluge leaving Epernay and had to bike through fast flowing rivers in the gutter and a couple of lakes that filled the road.  For the first time his booties failed to keep his feet dry, one of his pet peeves.

Without being able to track down a campground he made a stab at a hotel, a long-shot with The Tour's entourage of thousands taking over the city.  But the small hotel on a side street and one room left, so we didn't have one last night of wild camping together. 

If he had been denied and accompanied me to Tomblaine, a suburb of Nancy where the next day's stage started, he could have camped with a young French backpacker who was following The Tour by hitchhiking like the young English lad we met in Tournai.  He was getting ready to camp in a field where the caravan would be gathering the next day. He was able to tell me who had won the day's stage as once again Andrew and I failed to find a TV pressed for time as we were.  I felt lucky not to have to see Sagan give his third victory celebration, and also was spared the Garmin disaster with the entire team finishing 13 minutes behind thanks to a crash.  Garmin now falls to last place among the teams, a great reversal from last year when they led the team competition for the entire race.

 I found the first yellow course marker thanks to the barricade's leading from the Départ area that was just beginning to be erected and began the stage at 8:45.  Fortunately the peloton's ceremonial promenade lasted only a mile, as that does not count as the official distance of the day's stage, as I wanted to get 20 kilometers into the distance they had to cover.  Sometimes it can go on for three or four or more miles as it did out of Epernay and Liege.

I was eager to see my first camper parked along the road, as each gives a perk to my spirit.  It came after two miles a couple blocks off the course parked by a cemetery I had detoured to for a wash and to fill my water bottles.  I imagined Andrew having a hot shower while a sponged my self off and didn't envy him in the least.

I reached my goal for the day shortly before ten going over 100 miles for the first time in weeks, ate as much as I could until 11, awoke at 7 and was back on the road by 7:30 in full Tour follower mode.  I made it 40 miles further before I was ordered off the course by gendarmes in a car.  I ignored the first warning, but not the second, even though it was still 45 minutes before the caravan was due.  It was in an isolated area with just a few other scattered followers in campers, one a Belgian who had been following the Tour for years.  There were few enough people in this forested stretch that half the peloton stopped and took a nature break along the road when they came past.

I continued 20 miles further down the road after the peloton passed and stopped in a ski resort town to watch the final hour of the stage to the ski resort of La Planche Des Belles Filles up a steep category one climb.  Team Sky put on a formidable performance leading the charge up the climb with Froome crossing the line just ahead of Evans and Wiggins.  Wiggins and Froome gave each other a hearty hug afterwards as Wiggins takes over the yellow jersey.  Both Froome and Sky rider Rogers are in the top ten overall now.

I continued riding until dark once again getting within 25 miles of the next day's start in Belfort.  Thanks to my pre-Tour scouting I knew where the tourist office was and that it had free Internet, something that would be hard to find on a Sunday, so I could get this out.  It was an all round great day despite the loss of my teammate.  I was able to nab another course marker and also a water bottle, though it was one of the lesser ones that I would want from the French Saur team.

1 comment:

Andrew F said...

The shower was great!