While the peloton was going about its business leaving the Alps on the Stage Twelve route, I was cruising along the Rhone heading to the start of Stage Thirteen, a 90-mile gap in The Tour route. Its a pleasant stretch I have ridden before, as its the fastest way to Cannes. It took me past a series of nuclear plants, including one with a giant baby painted on one of the cooling towers, and past the alligator sanctuary, created by the warm waters from another nuclear plant, that Werner Herzog found fascinating enough to include in his 3D documentary on a French cave.
I would have much preferred to be back at the Stage Twelve finish under the Giant Screen awaiting the peloton's arrival and watching their progress, but if I did that I would have to sacrifice riding Stage Thirteen with course markers.
I've only had one Giant Screen experience this year. Usually I have that pleasure for at least one-third of the stages. I've been drowning in menthe a l'eaus, the refreshing mint drink I have at the bars where I've watched the majority of the finishes. I was spared the bright green drink on Stage Twelve though, as the Internet cafe in Saint Paul Trois Chateaux where I sent out my last report had a television with The Race on.
It finished with the rare event of the breakaway not being caught. It came down to a sprint between the the veteran Scot David Millar of Garmin and a young French rider. The announcers warned of Millar's "grand experience" having won Tour prologues and time trials. The French rider tried to come around Millar but Millar caught him and nipped him at the line. He was so inexperienced at winning sprints, he didn't feel comfortable taking both hands off the handlebars as most winners do giving full display of their jersey and sponsor. Rather he thrust out a clenched fist several times while screaming in delight and keeping his other hand firmly gripped on his handlebar. It was his fourth career Tour stage win and first since 2003. Two of those wins were time trials
Moments after the finish, the camera caught Millar sprawled on his back, utterly depleted. It didn't look like he'd ever get up. At last, Garmin has something to celebrate. With 22 teams in the race and only 20 stages, plus the prologue, not even half of the teams will win a stage. A couple of teams already have multiple wins, so Garmin can be very happy.
Stage Thirteen gave the German sprinter Greipel his third win, matching Sagan's three. Europcar also has more than its quota with two wins so far, just as does Sky. Even during its struggles I have not forsaken my Garmin jersey, though unlike last year when Garmin won three stages and held the yellow jersey for a week, people along the road regularly greeted me with a 'Garmeen' as I passed. That has only happened a couple of times this year.
The cold menthe a l'eau never tasted better than this afternoon at a bar in Ganges with the temperature in the 80s, the warmest it has been. The peloton had earlier threatened a slowdown on Bastille Day to protest dangerous roads, but fortunately they didn't go through with it, so the stage ended right on time at five pm. I watched the peloton pass twenty miles away a couple of hours earlier and then bid them farewell until next Saturday's climatic time trial in Chartres, just outside of Paris. I will now start heading north and bypass the Pyrenees to make it there in time. Then I will have the thrill for the first time of seeing the finish on the Champs Elysees and also riding the course into Paris on Sunday morning via Versailles with the way marked with the yellow course markers. The route will also go by The Tour headquarters. It will be worth sacrificing the next five stages.
And I'm able to send out a Bastille Day report thanks to Craig and Onni, who live just ten miles from Ganges. Not only did they provide me with Internet and a fine dinner and a shower, but Craig also miraculously fixed four broken zippers on my tent and rain coat with a technique he recently learned about of squeezing the sliding mechanism tight with a pair of pliers.
Its my first firework-free Bastille Day in eight years in their quiet isolated village of Notre Dame de Rouviere in the Cevannes. Tomorrow I hope to track down a memorial about 25 miles from here to the French racer Roger Rivere where he crashed in the 1960 Tour de France ending his career.