Saturday, July 13, 2013

Stage Thirteen

If it hadn't been necessary once again to keep riding when I reached the Stage Thirteen finish in Saint-Armond shortly after two to start in on the sixty-five mile jump to the start of Stage Fourteen, I would have had three hours of Giant Screen viewing pleasure and the camaraderie of hundreds of others.  Instead I ended up in a bar down the road and was treated to the animated commentary of the two French announcers.  They were besides themselves with glee at what an "exceptional" day of racing it was, especially since it was so unexpected on such on flat stage with only one ripple of a Category Four climb. 

But a strong cross wind made drafting tricky and separation of aggressive mini-pelotons possible.  And so to played out.  Riders who weren't attentive and lost contact could be in trouble, or big, big trouble as former second-placed Valverde can attest.  He suffered a flat and then couldn't regain contact with the lead group despite assistance from several teammates.  He lost a staggering nine minutes to Froome, falling to 16th, eliminated from any hopes for a podium placing.

Contador masterfully launched an attack with four of his teammates about twenty miles from the finish.   Nine others were strong and alert enough to join their move, but not Froome.  He lost a minute to Contador, but still retains a nearly three-minute lead.  He has two or three minutes in the bank with the final time trial in a week that includes two category two climbs, so he need not feel too worried, other than his team is not as strong as last year's nor as strong as everyone thought.

Cavendish was on full alert, not sulking over his spate of misfortune over the past three stages, including having a bottle of urine splashed on him during the time trial.  He attached himself to Contador's group.  Sagan was the only sprinter among them.  He is the strongest of the Big Four sprinters, but not the fastest.  Cavendish may have had the easiest of his 25 Tour wins in this "sprint," easily riding away from Sagan.  He was no less happy crossing the line than any of his wins.  He is a colorful personality who gives good, insightful interviews.  It was good to see him win, though it has to make Eddie Merckx wince, as Cavendish closes in on his career record of Tour stage wins.

It was a hot day again, after a couple of cooler days that helped me put in all the time I needed to on the bike to keep up.  I was glad to sit in the shade for half an hour in front of the Giant Screen before resuming my ride.  Just beyond the finish line was an Abominable Bicyclist.

One of the towns I passed had wooden cut-outs of bicyclists from one end to another.

Another town had hung similarly decorated bikes.

Someone in another town paid tribute to a local racer riding in The Tour.

I passed through another small town just as a parade of dressed-up locals was setting out.

For the first time ever I watched the stage finish at a PMU bar.  Ordinarily all its TVs broadcast horse racing and even though PMU is the sponsor for the green jersey, never has a PMU bar been willing to put on The Tour.  I presume it could be written in the bar's contract.  I have learned not to waste my time going into a PMU bar,  but it was the only bar in the town I was at and I didn't care to press on to the next town in the heat so gave it an attempt.  No one was in the bar except two older ladies playing cards.  One was the bar tender.  Horse racing was on, but she was willing to switch to The Tour, though she had to ask me what station it was on.  Eurosport Two of course.  The ladies couldn't help but pay attention to The Race with the announcers going so crazy.

The only bummer for the day is that the socket I had plugged my iPad into for recharging wasn't dispensing electricity, which I didn't discover until later that night in my tent when I discovered my battery was at only eight percent, when I had been expecting forty.  That meant no photos the next day, a great loss as the Ville D├ępart was exceptionally well-decorated with bright yellow bikes everywhere, even attached to the railing of the bridge the peloton would pass over.

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