Sunday, June 30, 2013

Stage One

Skippi and I were stationed at the 25-meters marker from the finish line of Stage One across from a screen broadcasting all the action out on the course when all of a sudden the most dramatic action of the day was happening just to our left when the late-arriving team bus for the Australian Orica GreenEdge  team became lodged under the finish line.  The peloton was less than fifteen minutes away riding furiously.  Gendarmes and Tour officials were sprinting frantically in front of us to the bus and then back towards us.

After several minutes a couple of gendarmes came to where we were standing and told everyone to back away so they could remove the barriers in front of us and evacuate the bus from the course there.  Still the bus hadn't budged.  I was in a panic fearing an imminent catastrophe.  If the bus weren't moved, at what point would the racers barreling pell-mell towards it notice the road was blocked and start braking causing everyone behind them to crash into them, or would it be possible to communicate to the racers that the road was blocked and the finish line moved up.  This was a tension-packed Hollywood production, except it was real and being played out in real time before my very eyes.  It was a bomb about to explode that could wipe out the peloton if it weren't defused post haste. 

Skippi took off to tell somebody to let the air out of the tires of the bus to lower it enough to pass under the barrier.  There may not have been time for that, but there was so much at stake here it wouldn't have been out of order for gendarmes to take out their guns and fill the tires with bullet holes to deflate them.  At last the bus began moving backwards towards us.  The driver had a stricken, nervous expression as he passed us, as he still had a tricky maneuver to extricate the huge bus through the narrow passage opened to him with the seconds ticking all too fast.  The gendarmes guiding him wore similar expressions.  But they succeeded with only moments to spare.

Meanwhile out of the course the peloton had suffered several crashes in the final three kilometers as the road narrowed and it had to negotiate several sharp turns.  Three of the top sprinters, Mark Cavendish, André Griepel and Peter Sagan, had all been taken out.  That left only Marcel Kittel of the heavy-hitters in the field, and he came through to win his first Tour stage ever, calling it the greatest day of his life.  He also said he knew nothing about the drama being played out at the finish line with the bus.

The riders of the peloton weren't the only ones nursing injuries from all the crashes.  Skippi was too as a car had side-swiped him earlier in the day, cracking his helmet and leaving his left shoulder and elbow bruised.  He knew who did it and had witnesses to the accident.  After the finish he headed to the local police department in the village where it happened.  We were able to ride together for half an hour down the route the peloton would follow the next day, not yet open to traffic and guarded by gendarmes, some of whom didn't want us riding the course, forcing us up on the sidewalk, the one bane of following The Tour.

Still it had been a great day.  There weren't a great many fans out early along the race course as there will be back on the main land, but there were huge numbers at the finish line.  There were also some fine decorations out along the course, some with a distinct Corsican flavor.

Others too incorporated the Corsican emblem in their tributes to The Tour.

When I stopped at this house, the owner was out and about.

A pizza restaurant also incorporated the national emblem in its banner.

I was able to watch the entire broadcast of the stage, including the crash of Chris Froome at the very start in the neutralized zone, as I arrived at the finish line before the peloton set out from Porto Vecchio.  I had ridden all but the final thirty miles of the stage the day before, a leisurely ride along the flat east coast of the island through an agricultural belt and series of beaches.  I couldn't go swimming as it was a rainy day.  

On my way out of Porto Vecchio before the rain I was passed by Christian finishing up his day's training ride.  "The team hotel is just ahead," he said. "Follow me.  You need a new jersey."  The one I was wearing was three years old, but still had plenty of wear in it.  I rather liked wearing an old team jersey, showing I was a long-time fan of the team, though I did much prefer the bright blue of the current jersey, compared to the mostly white of the one I had been wearing.

I had a couple of books I'd finished that I was waiting to give to someone who did me a favor.  I was delighted to contribute them to the Garmin team library. They both bore the title "French Lessons," and were books on French culture, one the memoir of an American professor of  French and the other a collection of essays on French food.  Christian at first was worried they were books about learning to speak French, and was relieved that they weren't.

Christian modeling my new jersey standing in front of the team bus holding the books I'd given him.

He confirmed that this was his last Tour, his eleventh, one more than me.  That is a noteworthy achievement.  Not even one in a hundred of those who have ridden the one hundred editions of The Tour have ridden that many.  Christian didn't realize that Eddie Merckx only rode seven, Bernard Hinault and Jaques Anquetil eight.  He said though that he is most proud to have ridden twenty-one of the three-week Grand Tours.  

He's looking forward to defending his title at the week-long Colorado race in August.  He won't be battling the retired Levi Leipheimer, who he finished second to two years ago and just beat last year, but he was excited to say that his former teammate Bradley Wiggins may compete in it this year.

1 comment:

Vanessa Hall said...

Christian sounds like a nice guy. I'm always routing for him.