Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stage Fourteen

For two weeks and thirteen stages I have managed to stay ahead of the peloton, better than most years, but that came to an end on Stage Fourteen when the peloton sped out of Saint-Poircain-sur-Sioule at 12:30 as I stood at the roadside watching them head off in the distance at double the speed I could manage when I began my chase after them five minutes later once all the support vehicles had passed.

There was no short cut I could take this time as on Stage Ten to get back ahead of them.  I will simply have to take advantage of the Monday Rest Day to catch up, hopefully reaching the Stage Finish in Gap before they arrive on Tuesday.

I made it to Saint-Pourcain by ten am, not early enough to head down the course, as it was already closed down with the caravan set to head out at 10:30.  I was fortunate to complete the hilly 65-mile transfer between the 13th and 14th stages and make it to Saint-Pourcain by the time I did, as the gendarmes were itching to close down the road I was riding in on.  There was a sign saying it would be closed at ten and there were gendarmes at side roads all along it even though it wasn't part of the race course, just a main road leading into town.  It was the third morning in a row that I had to ride hard with a cut-off time hanging over my head, just as the riders have a time limit they have to ride under or they will be eliminated, as happened to the American Ted King on the fourth stage.  

Saint-Poucain was jammed with people coming from all over on this Saturday morning. Cars were parked on both sides of the road for over a mile leading into town.  I stopped at a supermarket on the outskirts, at first fearing it was closed as there were only a handful of cars in its parking lot.  But it was just that everyone was heading to The Race and not shopping.  I had its many aisles all to myself.  I had to buy two day's worth of food with tomorrow Bastille Day. 

I needed to add some juice to my iPad with it down to near empty, but it was more important to recharge my legs.  I was hoping I would be as lucky as I was in Albi where a bakery right beside the Giant  Screen was open and had a spare outlet that the iPad sucked for three hours nearly getting back to capacity.  I had no such luck in Saint-Pourcain and felt no urge to go look for one after I found a spot nearly a mile from the starting line where I could sit in the shade and eat and feel my legs reviving.  The iPad charging would just have to wait until the bar where I would watch the finish.

Thirty miles down the road, when I was ready to call a halt to the riding, I found a rare open library.  I charged and sent off the Stage Thirteen report, then went in search of a television. I had been able to keep abreast of The Race at and knew that a group of more than a dozen riders, much more than the usual four or five, had a better than six minute advantage and was working well together and would most likely hold off the peloton and the sprinters, who were conserving their energy for the next day's 150-mile stage, the longest of The Tour, with a finish atop Mont Ventoux, making it seem even longer.

I had seen several bars in the town and had no worries about finding a television, but the only one that had a television was a PMU bar and its bartender would not consider turning either of its TVs from the horse racing they were broadcasting.  It was too late to head to another town so it was back to the library and  I simply had to visualize the French rider Julien Simon breaking away from the breakaway group attempting to become the first French rider to win a stage this year.  He held on until a kilometer to go, overtaken by an Italian, Matteo Trentin, who claimed the first win for Italy in three years.  It was the fourth win for Cavendish's Belgium Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.  The team may be Belgian, but it has only one Belgian rider and riders from eight different countries, the most diverse of any team, perhaps explaining its lack of cohesion when it comes to supporting Cavendish.

Returning to the library had its advantages, as it had a display of bicycle racing books, some I hadn't seen, that I was happy to peruse.  One was a history of bicycle racing entitled "Le Velo de Papa," a French expression.  It had an introduction by Raymond Poulidour, whose autobiography was among those on offer.

Another of the day's bonuses following in the wake of the peloton was scavenging a course marker, my third of the year after two on Stage Ten.  I also picked up a couple of refrigerator magnets and several packets of fruit syrup to flavor my water.  But no water bottles, something I'm actually in need of with this hot weather and something I'd gladly trade a course marker for if I saw someone walking along clutching a bottle they'd scavenged.

I pushed on until nearly dark at ten, camping on the fringe of a corn field after a long climb.  I still lagged fifty miles behind the peloton's start the next day in Givors, south of Lyon.  No way I'll arrive in time to see them off, as they have an early 10:30 am start.

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