Monday, July 1, 2013

Stage Two

Just as Marcel Kittel called winning Stage One and earning the Yellow Jersey the greatest day of his life, Stage Two winner Jan Bakelants and new claimant to that most coveted raiment in all of sports, called his victory "the most beautiful day in my life," though amending it with an "as a cyclist," perhaps in deference to a wedding day or birth of a child.  Still, they were both fully unrestrained in gushing over the honor they had gained in this most supreme of bicycle races.

Unlike Kittel, who burst from the pack at the stage finish to take the win, Bakelants held off the fast-charging pack after slipping away with five others on the final short climb to win by a second.  It was another exciting, tension-packed finish, especially with Garmin's David Millar in the mix.  If the peloton had closed down that one-second gap, Millar would have assumed the Yellow Jersey by virtue of his fourth place finish the day before and being  ahead of those three preceding him beginning the day's stage.

I watched the last two-and-a-half hours of the race, including all four of its categorized climbs, in a bar in Ponte Leccia shortly after witnessing the peloton pass on the road .

I found a relatively deserted stretch of road two miles out of town so I'd have no competition in gathering trinkets from the caravan.  That is almost impossible to find in France proper, as the hundred plus miles of every day's route is always packed with fans.  That has not been the case in Corsica with its limited population and lack of Tour heritage.  A four-man breakaway group preceded the peloton by a couple of minutes. It judiciously stuck to the shady side of the road when they passed me.

I was able to gather a near full sampling of everything the caravan of sponsors had to offer--three hats, three key chains, four packs of snacks, two refrigerator magnets, a magnetic picture frame, an inflatable pillow, a mask, two newspapers, and some coupons.  This year's oddity is a hard plastic, foldable, pocket-sized ashtray from Bic, for depositing cigarette butts.  This new product is designed to appeal to the French sense of not littering.  I am always astounded when I ride the race course after the peloton has passed by how there is virtually no evidence that the road had just been lined by thousands of fans who had spent hours awaiting its arrival.  They and all their litter disappear almost instantly after the peloton has passed.

I did come upon two discarded team water bottles as I biked back into Ponte Leccia, though both had been run over and the tops were damaged.  The body of the bottles seemed okay. Since they weren't ones I had in my collection, I picked them up with hope of finding tops for them.  I thought I might also me able to add a course marker or two to my collection, but they had all been snatched.

I was somewhat in need of a water bottle, as one of my bottles has a slight cut in it.  It still holds water, but I can't squeeze it without water coming out of the cut.  Later in the day after the completion of the stage, while I was making the twenty-five mile ride to Ile Rousse,  Skippi came to my rescue.  He drove past me on a long climb and was awaiting me at the summit with the back hatch of his car open revealing a bounty of water bottles.  He had gathered three earlier in the day to go with all the others he had recently accumulated.  He said I could have any I wanted other than a RadioShack  bottle.  Skippi used my iPad to check if he had received a response from the gendarme who promised to pursue the driver who had run him off the road the day before.  He hadn't, this being a Sunday, but he did have an email from our good friend Vincent in Melbourne, who had ridden three Tours with us and who we were greatly missing.

Stage Two was a virtual rest day for me, as I had biked to within a mile of Ponte Leccia the night before, twenty-five miles into the course and at the intersection to Ile Rousse, where I would head to after the day's stage to catch the ferry to Nice the next day. When I finished off that final mile into  Ponte Leccia the next morning, arriving at 8:30, six hours before the peloton was due, the locals were putting the final touches on their round-about, many taking photos of it along with me.

With loads of time on my hands I meandered about town looking for water and electricity, my two essentials.  The cemetery just beyond the town limits provided the water and the train station waiting room on the opposite side of town provided the electricity.  I didn't charge to 100%, as I knew I could do that the next day on the ferry and perhaps also in the bar where I would watch The Race.  I juiced up enough so that I could have a couple of hours of Internet time if I wished before the peloton arrived and also for later that evening.  I then checked to see which of the handful of bars in Ponte Leccia had the best television.  Not all of them had one, and they weren't all of the same size.  Thankfully I wasn't desperate for electricity, so that wasn't among my criteria, though it could be in the future.

I camped much closer to Ponte Leccia than I intended, as shortly after I parted from Skippi on my way out of Bastia I was joined by another cyclist, Pavel from the Czech Republic.  He was such a fascinating character that I lost track of time.  He wasn't following the entire Tour,  just the first two stages in Corsica and then taking a ferry to Sardinia and then another to Tunisia.  He was an adventurer extraordinaire, the youngest Czech to have climbed Mount Everest and an ardent kite-surfer who had been to 120 countries.  He was fluent in seven languages.  His English was impeccable, as he had attended college in Wisconsin.  While in the US he traveled to every state except Hawaii.

When we stopped for a photo in front of a course marker he chattered away in French for fifteen minutes with the young woman who took our photo.  Above us was a rare road sign with the French name of the local town blackened out by Corsican separatists.

Pavel was traveling very light with no panniers, just a small frame pack and what he could stuff in his jersey pockets.  He was staying in hotels, though had been forced to camp a couple of times.  This was his first significant bike tour and he was loving it.  I greatly regretted that there was a town within his range and that we wouldn't be camping together, as there seemed no end to his tales.  He'd been all over West Africa when he worked for the World Bank while based in Senegal.  Before I told him of my bike messengering, he said he had worked as a messenger in London.  He'd also won a recent Alley Cat race in his home town.  His latest project was a business organizing budget ski trips.  

After an hour of being regaled, an English cyclist, also on an unburdened bike, caught up to us.  He had been in Bastia for The Tour and was riding hard to reach the same town that was Pavel's destination for the night fifteen miles away.  Night was approaching, so they decided to combine forces and ride at a faster pace than I could before they were caught by dark. Our parting was as abrupt and ethereal as our meeting.

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