Saturday, July 6, 2013

Stage Eight

The Tour isn't such a national obsession that in the month of July every television in every bar is tuned to The Race and has a cluster of locals glued to the sets cheering all the action as I hoped would be the case when I first came to France to bike The Tour ten years ago.  I'm told that would only happen if a French rider was contending for the title, an event that last occurred nearly thirty years ago during the days of Hinault.

The second bar I attempted today in Montpon after the first one had no television was showing women's tennis from Wimbldon.  A group of guys playing pool didn't seem to be paying any attention, but when I asked if the set could be tuned to The Tour, they said not until the match was over. What kind of men are these, I wondered.  I was glad to get out of that bar.  Luckily Montpon was a three-bar town and the third bar was empty save for the bartender and he happily put on The Tour. It was the place to be, as he only charged me one euro for my menthe à l'eau, which is usually 1.60 or higher.  The bar tender on the day I lost Glenn frowned at me for wanting to use his electricity to charge my iPad, charged me 2.50.  Never before have I been charged more than two. 

There were only thirty-five kilometers left in the stage, but most of those were climbing miles.  The peloton was half-way up the Col de Pailheres, a beyond category climb, and then had a descent and then a climb to the finish at the ski resort of Ax 3 Domaines.  Riders were strewn all along the course, so it took a little while to figure out who stood where, other than that a pack of Sky riders with team leader Froome safely tucked in was speeding after a string of break away riders.  On the final climb they were all caught and Sky could get down to business with Froome's climbing specialist teammate, Richie Porte, one of the eleven Australian riders in the field making his presence felt, leading the way.  Riders were now dropping left and right.  Evans and Schleck were gone and so was the Garmin contingent.  The announcers kept waiting for Contador to be next, repeating time after time that he looked like he was in trouble.  

Three miles from the summit, Froome finally launched his attack, coming off Porte's wheel.  No one could respond.  As he flew up the slope the announcers were hyperventilating at his efforts.  "He's a machine," one gushed.  Porte kept going strong, finishing second 51 seconds behind Froome and ending the day second overall with Froome taking over the Yellow Jersey that he will no doubt hold for the next two weeks until Paris.  And Porte was impressive enough that it may be another Sky one-two Tour domination as last year with Wiggins and Froome.

Evans is no longer relevant finishing over four minutes down, now in 23rd.  It had to be a glum dinner table at the BMC hotel last night, as Van Gardener, the American who finished fifth last year, had a disastrous day losing over twelve minutes.  The great American hope was at the Garmin dinner table last night, the rookie Talanksy who sits in 12th place just ahead of his Irish teammate Martin, both within three minutes of Froome, and good threats to crack the top ten.  

It will be another exciting stage tomorrow through a series of category one climbs.  It will further sort out the standings.  The racing will be full-tilt and hell-bent, as the next day is a rest day.  No one will have to save himself, as they might have been today.

I was among those who didn't have as good a day as I would have liked.  I need to average 110 miles the next three days to meet up with the peloton after its rest day.  I only managed 102 miles, thwarted by fifty miles of unrelenting hills.  I got off to an encouraging start, able to glide along with minimal effort on relatively flat terrain.  I had visions of a 120-mile day, but after fifty miles the terrain turned harshly hilly.  The town names, a series of Monts (Montpon, Montguyon, Montrendre) gave a clue as to what I was up against. My average speed plummeted and my energy expenditure soared. 

I only managed to put in eight-and-a-half hours on the bike when I had hoped for at least nine, hitting the road  at 7:30 and riding until nine. I could have ridden until dark and met my goals, but the ninety degree heat and riding directly into the setting sun the last couple of hours made me decide to save myself for the next two days. I also lost time  in a jammed supermarket.  When I walked in and saw the typical Saturday shopping mob lined up at the cash registers, I wanted to walk out.  But it was nearly noon and it was the first supermarket I had come to.  I was late in getting my 850-ml yogurt drink into me, also effecting my riding efficiency.  

 At least I can be happy that I don't have to average 130 miles a day, a near impossibility, as I would have had I not gotten a lift from Yvon out of Albi.  As we sped along I marveled that even entombed in a car, the countryside was enchantingly beautiful.  We were driving the same roads Andrew and I had biked a month ago.  All the familiar sites gave me a jolt of joy--the spot across some railroad tracks just off the main road alongside a creek where we took a half hour break and only two cars drove past,  the cemetery with a water faucet in a far corner that took some exploring to find, the turn we missed just after a tunnel,  looking down on our campsite in a striking gorge and on and on.  And the familiar memories keep coming as I retrace our route trying to do in three days what took us four-and-a-half.

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