Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Hell On Wheels"

The Tour ended just as a heat wave with temperatures in the mid-90s descended upon France, turning it into an inferno.  If the racers had had to contend with this escalated heat, The Tour would have become a true "Hell on Wheels," as a German documentary from 2004 termed it for the suffering it inflicts upon those riding it.  It was a fine portrayal of The Race, other than inexplicably neglecting to include that Tour fixture, the German Didi Senf, who dresses as The Devil.

The Race is undeniably an ordeal for the racers from the pressure and stress and all-out effort demanded of them.  It is unrelenting for three weeks.  Andrew Talansky told a reporter just after he had beaten Contador on Stage Twenty and clinched a tenth place overall position that The Tour was not fun.  He couldn't forget all the suffering he had endured even at that moment and exhilarate in his great achievement of jumping from twelfth to tenth.  His quote was, "This is what I love to do, but there is nothing fun about the Tour de France.  The Tour of Colorado, now that will be fun."

Being selected to ride in The Tour is the pinnacle in racing, the dream of every racer, but it isn't necessarily something that riders welcome.  They certainly deserve the non-stop applause they receive every day from all along the race course.

It is not hell by any means to tag along with The Race, but it is certainly demanding.  And scorching temperatures make it all the more so.  Fortunately there was only a limited amount of that during The Race, as it saps me more than anything.  It made for a long six-day ride back to Paris.  I was hoping to do it in five days to have a day in Paris, but I could only average 75 miles a day, arriving at my airport wild-camping spot less than twelve hours before I was due at the airport the next morning for my least quiet of camp spots.  I was slowed not only by needing more time off the bike, but by roads turned soft by the heat.  Tar bubbled up through the asphalt on some of the lesser quality secondary roads and provided a symphony of popping as I passed over them.

I was using cathedrals not only to inject electricity into my iPad, but also as cooling centers.  For the three weeks of The Tour most of my iPad recharging was done in bars, as may have been reflected in the tone of the writing.  Now its back to cathedrals and the occasional railroad station and rare supermarket that has an outlet just inside or outside its entrance.  I always leave a centime for every per cent increase in my battery in the cathedral's donation box where it sells condles for a euro.  I generally gain between ten and twenty per cent.  And lately I've been tossing in an extra five centimes for the cool air.

With the hot temperatures I have switched from yogurt drinks to liters of chocolate milk.  I never drink them all at once, but rather ration them out over an hour or so to enable my system to more easily absorb them.  If I put the chocolate milk in one of my darker water bottles on my bike, before long it has turned into hot chocolate and is still quite palatable.  It almost seems to provide more energy warmed up.

Yesterday evening I passed through Montereau-Fault-Yonne, the final Départ Ville Étape in the 2009 Tour. It had finely decorated its round-abouts then and no less so now.  At its entry was a huge global sculpture.

In the middle of the town was a topiary of a monster squirrel similar to some of this year's bike sculptures.

The next morning along D471 after Melun I passed a string of white van bordellos scattered along a ten-mile stretch through a forest.  Prostitution is legal in France, but solicitation is not.  In year's past there would be a scantily clad, beckoning woman or two outside each van.  Now one most slow and peer in through a window to survey the merchandise.  But otherwise these anonymous white vans are accepted and understood.  It had been a while since I had seen any, as they are only found near large metropolitan areas.

And thus ends my summer of yo-yoing down and up France, six times in all.  The first was in May from  Paris to Cannes and the Mediterranean.  Then it was up to Mont-Saint-Michel and the English Channel scouting out The Tour route with Andrew.  After Andrew made his return to Australia it was back down to the Mediterranean and Corsica for the start of The Tour.  I followed The Tour north back to the top of the country and then down to the Alps, not quite to the bottom.  The final yo-yo brought me back to Paris.  It totaled five thousand miles.  I had only one flat and that was a fluke when I pushed my bike over a barbed wire one morning from my campsite in a farmer's field.

My final ride from O'Hare will be highlighted by meeting up with Janina on her bike, the best welcome home I could ask for. 


Jose Abreu said...

Congratulations George on your 6th tour. It's a delight to read your posts. You give us a fresh and different look of the french countryside, the french culture and the tour. You are a keen observer.
Keep on riding and writing!

george christensen said...

Jose: Thanks for reading. It is a pleasure to share the view from trenches. It is always a fantastic experience following The Tour. This was actually my tenth Tour de France. I certainly plan to be back next year when it starts in Great Britain.

Regards, George

Stuart said...

Thanks for some interesting coverage of the Tour and Cannes Film Festival. France is a wonderful country!