When this sextet of riders passed Glenn and I while we were taking a break early on the stage route out of Aix-en-Provence, we weren't sure what we had just seen. I thought maybe it was a stunt dreamed up by David Letterman or Saturday Night Live, but they had no accompanying camera crew. They were so strangely perplexing, I next listened for sirens of men coming with nets to capture these strange creatures.
Glenn and I quickly wrapped up our break and sped after them. They were maintaining a decent speed and it took us a couple miles to catch them. We lingered behind trying to hear how they might be communicating, but the only sound they were emitting was their shoes pushing off on the pavement, three times with one leg and then three times with the other. They weren't quite synchronized, but nearly so.
A while after we passed them we came upon two support vehicles awaiting them along the road, one a car with German license plates and the other a van with Czech plates and a map of France with the route of The Tour on its backside and above it the words "Kick France."
I realized that Skippi and I had spoken with one of these guys on the ferry. He told us they were riding something they called "kick bikes." Skippi asked if they had any sponsor or if they were doing it to promote something or for a cause. He didn't seem to understand the question. He just said they were filing regular reports for Czech public radio. Skippi asked him if he would mention that the Czech para-Olympians need support, as they receive very little funding.
This wasn't the only group riding The Tour route one day ahead of the peloton. There is also an entourage of twenty guys riding under the sponsorship of FDJ, one of the French Tour de France teams. They were preceded by two motorcycles and followed by several support vehicles. The cyclists were riding double file at twenty miles per hour. They were taking up a long stretch of road and had quite a back-up of vehicles behind them trying to get around.
I felt sorry for both of these groups, as they were hardly experiencing The Tour de France, even though they may be riding its route. There may be a few banners and decorations up and barriers and bales of hay waiting to be put in place the next day and course markers in place, but without the roadside filled with picnicking fans this wasn't what The Tour is. The excitement and enthusiam of the thousands of fans all along the route truly electrifies the event. It is a day they greatly look forward to and that they will always remember.
I tried not to dwell too much on what I was missing having to ride a day ahead of the peloton for several days. Instead I could share many of my memories with Glenn and also visualize the peloton as they were speeding along well behind us and look forward to watching the end of the day's stage on television.
We thought we might seek out a bar when we reached Nimes, but we arrived at three, a little too early to stop riding, pressed as we were to maximize our time on the bikes needing to ride one hundred miles or more a day. But after Nimes there was just a series of villages for over twenty miles that were somewhat iffy whether they'd have a bar. The first we tried at 4:30 was a maze of medieval streets. Glenn and I managed to get separated. I found a bar that was also a tobacco and newspaper store. It had one lone table out front and no television. But they had the good news that there was a bar in a town five kilometers up the road in the direction we were headed. I told the proprietor I had a companion that could turn up and to tell him where I had gone. First I made a quick swing back to the small town center, but still no Glenn.
There was no time to lose, with the stage most likely ending in less than twenty minutes. I easily found the modern, glassy bar in the next village, but it wasn't open that afternoon. This looked like it would be just the fourth time in my ten years of following The Tour that I had missed watching its finish. At least I had an iPad. I went to the cyclingnews website for its minute-by-minutes updates. It had the startling news that the peloton was still 25 kilometers from the finish. Evidently they'd had headwinds or just weren't riding as hard as usual. I hopped back on my bike and made a dash for the next village. Like the other two it was a half mile off the highway. At the intersection was a bar/restaurant. There were no cars out front, but inside the bar tender was sitting on a bar stool watching The Race, a veritable miracle. The peloton was ten kilometers, less than fifteen minutes, from the finish. I left my bike on prominent display out front for Glenn to spot and settled in for the inevitable sprint. And as anticipated Mark Cavendish notched his first win of this year 's Tour, blasting by his lead-out man and making it look easy.
Glenn and I had set a goal of 110 miles for the day. I continued riding until I reached our goal, a little ways beyond Ganges, where an abandoned quarry made for a nice quiet camp site. Glenn wasn't there yet, nor did he arrive later. I learned later that he decided to head towards Montpelier rather than continue on with me to Albi. We'd only intended on one more day together, as I'll be heading up to Brittany on my bike, while Glenn will take the train a couple days later.
We'll no doubt meet up there or somewhere else along the route. It looks like he may have it in his legs to do it. He certainly didn't lag at all in our two days together. If anything, he may have been over exerting himself, expending energy he may need later. But he's gained the confidence that he can last for two-and-a-half more weeks of hours and hours on the bike. "I think I prepared pretty well," he said. "There's a saying, 'If you fail to prepare, be prepared to fail."