As I watched the early part of the day's action in a bike shop in Nice, the English-speaking owner commented, "Wow, it's more beautiful, than the Grand Canyon."
"I wouldn't go that far," I replied. "I biked that road last week and I was thinking it was the most spectacular coastal road I've ever ridden. And I've ridden along the Grand Canyon too and nothing compares to it."
"You might be right about that," he agreed, "But the Grand Canyon doesn't have a road through it."
"True enough," I said.
We were watching the racing on the shop computer as I replaced my rear tire. I was eager to be done with it so I could find a bar with a large television to truly appreciate the majesty of the scenery and the racing. Before I could be on my way an English cyclist showed up who had just ferried over from Corsica as well. He was trying to follow The Tour but had broken four spokes on his first day in Corsica and couldn't find a shop open on the weekend in Corsica to repair his wheel. Broken spokes also derailed the rookie efforts of Vincent the Australian and David the German, who I have shared three Tours with and whose company I am missing. This young, stocky English fellow was like many I've met over the years attempting to follow The Tour, very naive in the effort it will take and the training necessary to do it. He has little touring experience even wearing a backpack along with his rear panniers. I hope to see him down the road, but he is certain to be an early withdrawal. But he was thrilled by what he had seen of The Tour and was most excited to be doing something he had dreamed of doing.
The bike shop owner couldn't recommend a bar to watch The Race. It took me a little longer to find one than I expected as I biked down a main boulevard towards the Mediterranean. When I saw a sign for the railroad station I turned off towards it though it wasn't the direction I needed to be going. I was soon surrounded by cheap hotels, Internet cafes and small ethnic restaurants. The first two small bars I stopped at didn't have televisions. At the second one I was directed to a bar two blocks up and one block over that had just what I needed, a nice-sized wall-mounted flat screen. The Tour wasn't on, but no one was paying attention to the music videos being shown. A group of men were playing cards under the television, but they didn't bother me and The Tour didn't bother them.
Then I had two hours of racing bliss. As on the first two stages the peloton was chasing a small break of riders, each grim-faced with the effort they were giving dreaming of having the greatest day of their life if they could hold off the peloton and shed their breakaway companions. They were not simply racing, but committed to giving the greatest effort of their life for the greatest glory they could imagine. But the RadioShack teammates of the Yellow Jersey were equally committed to retaining the jersey and kept up a hard, steady pace leading the peloton. They all came together at the end allowing for a new hero for the day, the veteran Australian Simon Gerrans who managed to just barely hold off the Slovak prodigy Peter Sagan. The other top sprinters had all been shed much earlier in the day on the demanding climbs of the stage.
The conditions were so perfect for racing the stage ended nearly half an hour before the usual five o'clock finishing time. It allowed me to get a slight head start on the rush hour traffic out of Nice. I rode along the next day's team time trial route to the Mediterranean and then along the beautiful coastal route it would follow already marked with yellow course markers. Then I continued on to Cagnes-sur-Mer, a large coastal resort town just beyond Nice that would host the start of Stage Five after the team time trial. No course makers were in place yet, but the start at the Hippodrome not far from the Mediterranean was decorated with poster-sized photos of dramatic Tour moments capturing its essence.
The Tour is equal parts the racers, the beautiful French countryside and the passion of the fans. The fans often express as much thrill as the effort the racers are putting forth.
Not only to they urge on the racers physically but they also express their passion and commitment with the signs they write, something that has been a part of The Race since its inception.
This year's peloton will have a few more coastal miles to ride at the start of Stage Five and then will head inland and make a climb up a steep, but short Category Three before Grasse, perfume capital of the world, a city that overlooks Cannes. Having been idle all day I rode past Grasse until just before dark.
Before Valbonne on the route I passed a sculptural monstrosity in a round-about that may or may not be related to The Tour.
In the thick of The Tour my legs are generally well-fatigued at day's end as I try to get as much out of them as I can. With my negligible miles the past few days my legs weren't tired at all and wished to keep going. I'll be riding a day ahead of the peloton for the next three stages, not meeting up with it again until Albi on Friday as I position myself for my biggest challenge this year of making the 400 mile transfer to Brittany in three days. I'll have the pleasure the next three days of watching the action in some small French bar, not a bad way at all to experience this icon of French culture. And for the rest of the day I will have the even greater pleasure of biking through its fabulous countryside.