Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stage Ten

The scorching heat extended all the way to Brittany, but it couldn't prevent me from completing my killer 430-mile transfer from Albi to Saint-Gildas-des-Bois in three days, thanks in no small part  to the ninety mile lift I received from Yvon at the very start of it.  The seven hours of rest I received, being able to watch the Albi stage finish rather than keep riding, was as beneficial as the miles I was saved.  I would have still managed to make the transfer, but I would have arrived in Saint-Gildas around the time the peloton was setting out on Stage Ten Tuesday, rather than the evening before.  And I would have been forced to guzzle coke to keep going and would have been bicycling into the night.  

When I arrived in Saint-Gildas Monday evening still with plenty of energy, it seemed as if everyone in the town of 3,400 people, this year's smallest Ville √Čtape, was flocking to a large field on the outskirts of the village, where a band was giving a free concert and the field was surrounded by tents of vendors selling food and drink.  It was a most festive atmosphere.  The main street leaving the village was thronged with pedestrians and bicyclists.  Barricades prevented any motorized vehicles.  It was the same road the peloton would be leaving on the next day.  The course markers were in place, just what I was looking for.

It was nearly nine pm and I'd had another long, hot one hundred mile day, so I just biked five miles into the route to the first turn where a banner would greet the peloton honoring the Tour's first multiple winner Petit Breton in 1907 and 1908, whose birth place was just down the road.

It wasn't the first large scale banner on the stage route.  A business had  mounted a large banner on its roof for the helicopters, even though it was so early in the stage it would not make the broadcast.

Even before I reached Saint-Gildas, towns that race followers would have to pass through on their way from Nantes, forty miles away, had put out displays of bikes.

I camped close enough to the road that I awoke to passing bicyclists before seven getting an early start down the route.  I started the day strong, my legs energized by the fans along the route, some in camping vans who had spent the night there.  I caught myself remaining in my middle chain ring pushing hard on a climb, when I should have eased off and dropped to my small chain ring.  I realized I hadn't used my small chain ring yet, I was so caught up in Race Day euphoria emanating from all. The bike art continued all down the route.  There were more of the over-sized bikes.

And there were simple displays featuring The Tour jerseys.

An always popular sign is "Vive Le Tour."  The locals don't necessarily have a favorite team or rider, but they are fully committed to The Tour.

The Tour is an inextricable strand of the national psyche.  It showcases and honors the country.  The young are indoctrinated at an early age.  There are babies in strollers and children of all ages out for the day at roadside.  There is no mistaking the look of enthrallment on their faces, the pre-teens in particular, their faces shining with delight, sitting on the edges of their lawns chairs, eyes wide open with excited expectation, eagerly attentive to everything going by.   They haven't been dragged along by dads who like bike racing, but are equal partners in this joyful family outing. 

It is come one, come all. Those without children bring their childhood memories. They line the road shoulder to shoulder, standing or sitting, for hours. And when the racers pass everyone applauds.  There is hardly a better way to spend a few hours than biking past legions and legions of young and old who are enjoying a day of such pleasure.

The race route is closed down for three hours to all but official Tour traffic.  I was able to bike until noon, getting fifty miles down the road before I was ordered off my bike.  I managed to get a little further down the road past the cut-off time, as many of the intersections were monitored by volunteer locals, rather than the tyrannical gendarmes who are quick and eager to exert their authority.   I was stopped in the cool of the forest so I didn't need to drink more than one of my five bottles of water in the three hours I was marooned there.  After the peloton passed I biked an hour and then stopped to watch the final hour of the race, which ended up being two hours, as the heat reduced the pace of the peloton.  That was five hours off the bike for me in six hours, much more than I wanted, but it made the day somewhat of a recovery day for me, if ninety miles can be considered a recovery day.

The race boiled down to the standard sprint and once again it was contested by the top four sprinters. It was Germans one and two, Kittel  and Griepel with Cavendish a frustrated third and Sagan fourth.  Kittel becomes the first of the sprinters to gain a second win.  Cavendish crossed the line looking sheepishly and somewhat guiltily over his shoulder to see what carnage he had left behind after bumping into one of Kittel's lead-out men causing him to crash.  Miraculously he didn't bring down anyone else.  It wasn't clear if Cavendish might have been guilty of a misdeed.  He could have been disqualified or even kicked out of The Race, but the commissaries ruled him innocent.

I wasn't back on the bike until six.  Rennes was thirty miles away.  It took me a while to clear its sprawl before I found a place to camp shortly before dark near an illegal dump site.  While I was still eating dinner a pick-up truck pulled up dump some refuse, but turned away upon spotting me, the watch man.

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