He'd written to tell me of his decision. We figured we'd meet under the Big Screen at Oyonnax and watch the final couple hours of the stage together. But I was delayed in Besançon trying to find new tires, so David actually started riding the stage before I did after his noon arrival. He was eating a snack about fifteen miles into the stage at a picnic table in the forest hidden to me as I sped by, but he saw me and called out a hearty "George." He was as exuberant as ever already having had a couple of those genuine Tour moments one can only experience by riding the course.
We had both passed the Tinkoff-Saxo team returning to Besançon after a light, limbering-up ride. Even though they were down two riders, including Contador after yesterday's crash, there were more than the seven remaining team members in full uniform riding along. One of them was the flamboyant team owner, the former Russian racer, now billionaire, Oleg Tinkov. The team was bunched together, all wearing tights, followed by a team car. The only other team we saw on the course, was the new Swiss IAM team, and they were strung out riding individually with the team car at the front clearing the way. It was the second time we had encountered them. Several of the team riders passed us on the way to their hotel after the stage finish in Reims as we were headed out of town. They still had their race numbers on, but none had a water bottle left.
As David and I cycled along on a series of quiet rural roads winding through pastures of grains and pockets of trees, David commented that just as hour of this idyllic riding made his return worth the effort, words that he was to remember a few hours later. The fields were dotted with lone and rows of trees in gulches, a great asset to the aviary world, David pointed out. One doesn't see such things in Germany, making France much more suitable for birds. The terrain was gently rolling as we gradually gained altitude approaching the Juras. How fortunate the peloton was to have a Rest Day here, enabling the riders to gaze about a bit as they rode on their off day and appreciate how wonderful it was to cycle in France. What climbing there was didn't provide much resistance, though several could have qualified as category fours. The organizers passed on giving them such a designation, showing mercy for those who must mount structures for the categorized climbs, limiting them to just four on this stage towards its finish. Fours hardly matter anyway, offering up just one point to the first rider over.
The small towns in this lightly settled region put out an abundance of decorated bikes and other Tour tributes. One mounted a fine mural honoring Poulidor and had rows of wooden cut-out mini-racers.
Down the street was a mad scientist's concoction of a bicycle from an array of parts, complete with a bird perched upon it and a chain that would take considerable leg strength to power.
We were happy to be riding the stage a day ahead of time so we could pause and fully appreciate all the art along the way, that we would otherwise on Race Day have to speed past. Though I did end up riding nearly ninety miles for the day, it was a rest day of a sort, being able to ride without pressure of getting down the road before it was declared off limits.
It was our first warm and sunny day and for the first time we were able to douse ourselves at a cemetery faucet, made easy with a short hose attached, one of those touring cyclist pleasures.
All was fine until late in the day when David experienced a pronounced shimmer as we descended. His light-weight bike never did descend well, but this was worse than ever. We pulled over at a side road to give it a check. All was right with the fork and the bottom bracket and and the hubs. He hadn't redistributed the weight on his bike to effect its handling. Could it possibly be a broken frame, we wondered. As we inspected it we discovered a fracture in a tube just beyond the weld below his handlebars. This was a major catastrophe. The nearest town was twenty miles away and it was 7:30. He couldn't dare to continue riding. The frame was cracked through and could collapse at any moment.
How could it have happened? The road had been smooth. Maybe he damaged it when he demonstrated how Sagan bunny hops over curbs through round-abouts. We had been discussing if that was a wise thing to do, whether he risked crashing or damaging his bike or expending extra energy jerking his bike up. He's not the only one to do it, but he seems to take any opportunity to demonstrate his acrobatic skills on the bike. David demonstrated how easy it was to hop up on one's bike, even with a load, lofting his bike up a few inches as we sped along.
As we contemplated our options, David collapsed beside his bike and mourned its demise.
All there was to do was to hitchhike to the next largest town off The Tour route. With luck he would find a shop that could weld his bike or have a coupler to enforce it or a frame compatible to the parts on his present bike. None were likely, but he could only hope. If not, it was back home. And then he will have to battle even more severe pangs of Tour withdrawal. I may not have seen the last of David yet.