Thursday, July 11, 2013

Stage Eleven

It was back again to the unhappy task of riding a stage a day ahead of the peloton, a day of no crowd electricity.  And to further disengage me from all the uplifting sensations of The Tour, I had to complete an eighty mile transfer from the point where I left Stage Ten to where I picked up Stage Twelve.  It was a transfer I hadn't scouted out, as I wasn't sure where I would have to make it.  There was no easy, direct route from Renne to Laval.  I pieced together a hodgepodge of roads and had to resort to my GPS device for the first time in a while all too many times.  I probably added ten miles to my riding and squandered a good hour.

It made finally coming upon the course markers in Laval, knowing I had the way fully marked for the next one hundred miles, all that more joyous.  I had been hoping to regain the course early enough to encounter the aliens on their kick bikes, to see if they were still at it and if they were still six strong.  I wondered the same thing about the FDJ group.  But I was hours late for any hope of crossing paths with either of them.  

I continued along the course until four before stopping to allow myself the final ninety minutes of the time trial that had already been contested for four hours up along the English Channel to Mont-Saint-Michel.  I found a perfect bar with a wall-sized screen I had all to myself.  Tony Martin, the German Martin in the peloton along with Garmin's Irish Martin, held the best time by over a minute.  As the reigning world time trial champion that was somewhat expected, though there were concerns that he might still be suffering from an early crash that required quite a bit of bandaging.  As usual, all focus was on the Yellow Jersey, the last rider to ride the course that would take a little over half an hour of all-out effort.  Froome is a strong time trialist.  The question not only was whether he would win the time trial, but by how much he would extend his lead over his rivals, whether from one to three minutes.

Each of the riders was shown leaving the starting ramp with a final countdown of five to one fingers on the hand of an official beside them, at two, then three minute intervals for the final ten riders.  The camera occasionally showed Froome warming up on his bike up on rollers, head bowed wearing ear plugs and nose plugs.  What he was listening to and the purpose of the nose plugs I know not.  He was the only rider shown warming up.  

Cadel Evans, a strong time trialist, went off half an hour before Froome and had a chance to reassert himself.  He clearly wasn't focused when a mile into his ride he reached for his water bottle and swerved. Riders try not to drink at all during the ride, not wanting to lose their aerodynamic tuck.  Evidently he forgot to drink before starting.  And he had a bad time, though not as bad as Andy Schleck, who finished over 100 places down. 

Froome rode hard from the start bettering Martin's time checks by one second and then two seconds at the two time checks, but he faltered and Martin won by a little over ten seconds, becoming the third German to win a stage this year, more than any other nationality. But Froome added two minutes to his one minute overall lead on Valverde.  Froome's teammate Porte had the fourth best time, recovering from his horrendous second stage in the Pyrenees, indicating he still has plenty of power In his legs to assist Froome.

I then rode until nearly ten getting to within 65 miles of the finish of this 137-mile stage. There were many camped vans already parked along the route.  In one town the locals were up late putting the final touches on the decorations in their round-about.  I took an eating break to watch them debating how to do it, always fine entertainment, one of the bonuses of day-before stage riding.

The same town holds the record so far this year of having mounted the largest bike along the route.

It made another bike yet to be mounted look puny.

But nothing is more majestic than the simple beauty of a slightly decorated yellow bike with a round-about all to its own.

Another round-about was inhabited by a large furry creature on a bike.

Bikes and flowers always go well together.

Or simply bicycle wheels and flowers.  Behind the wall was my final source of water for the evening in a cemetery.


Robert Kennedy said...

Always a pleasure to follow your comments George.

The nose plugs used by time trialists contain eucalyptus oil, which supposedly opens the lungs and air passages, expanding the breathing capacity to the maximum.

GFonseca said...

I landed on site for the nose plugs question, but enjoyed your writing. I also happen to be flying tomorrow to be a spectator in couple stages, so love the "inside scoop".

One question, pls. You mentioned roads are closed prior to passing of Tour. Do you know how early do fans line up on the "prime" switchbacks? My family refuses to camp on the road for days...