We weren't able to hear "Vande Velde" roll off the tongues of the French TV announcers with the extra fervor they give all Tour riders during the third stage as the Cuban bar where we were watching it had loud tropical music playing in the background. We had unwisely declined the bartender's offer to turn off the music and turn on the TV volume, not realizing what drama lay ahead during the final hour of the stage.
Christian was along with a large group of riders caught behind a crash in the final half hour of the stage and was forced to chase back with all his might and that of five of his teammates. He was the highest placed rider in the large group at a most commendable 15th overall, lurking as a dark house for the podium. The peloton was charging full speed itself chasing down a four-rider break a minute up the road. Voeckler was in Christian's group and as the rider most important to the French audience the TV graphic showing the time between the three sets of riders referred to the crash victims as the "Voeckler group" until Voeckler could no longer keep up and was dropped. Then the graphics identified it as the "Vande Velde group" with the fourth group behind now the "Voeckler group." There were several category three and four climbs in that final half hour of racing; Christian as the strongest rider took charge on the climbs with the motorcycle cameraman in his face and Christian's face filling the screen.
Unfortunately the broadcast was more preoccupied with the peloton chasing down the leaders for the final climb to the finish, so they neglected Christian's chase. It wasn't until later that night at our campsite in the woods when Andrew made use of his I-Phone that we learned that Christian hadn't been able to fight his way back and lost two minutes. Now he's back relegated to full domestique duties for Hesjedal.
For the second time in three stages we had to see the 22-year old Czech rider Sagan win the stage celebrating with a clownish arm waving prance. He is the new phenom of the peloton. Hopefully his elder Italian teammates on the Liquigas team will reign him in. The day before Cavendish showed that his reign has not come to an end, tho Sagan threatens it, by winning the sprint into Tournai. Andrew and I were on a hillside overlooking the finish line and the Giant Screen broadcasting all the action. We were joined by David the German, who I cycled with the first week of last year's Tour. He was the leader of a four man posse of Bremen messengers.
David looked resplendent in a La Vie Claire jersey, the dominant team of the mid-80s with Hinault and LeMond. As we caught up with one another a fair-haired lad wearing a Sky jersey joined us hearing our English. He was following The Tour with his thumb, a most ambitious undertaking for a 20-year old from the UK. He had done the same last year. He had yet to cross paths with Skippy, who is always looking for someone to drive his car. They could be a perfect match. We have yet to cross paths with Skippy. David hadn't seen him either. As we discussed our experiences so far we were all bursting with Tour euphoria gazing upon the thousands lining the course in front of us.
We considered joining up with David's group, but they were lingering and we were eager to get down the road. We'll no doubt see them in the days to come. We thought we might see them as we rode the first 50 miles of the third Stage the next day but didn't. After watching the peloton pass at a little after one we headed to Lens 20 miles to the south to watch the finish on TV and also to pay our respects to the grave of Maurice Garin, the first winner of The Tour in 1903.
We waited until after the stage to search his grave out. The most helpful lady at the tourist office called over to the cemetery to find the exact location of the grave for us. We also stopped by the city's velodrome named in his honor. It is closed and soon to be torn down. I had to climb over a high fence to get a view of a plaque placed in his honor on the 100th anniversary of The Tour. Andrew has photos of that as well as David and much more at http://fatseas.com/
I've now visited the graves of five Tour winners--Garin, Bobet, Fignon, Coppi and Pantani. Who is next I know not, but I will track them all down.
Much more to report but not the time.