Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stage Four

I was able to further put my conditioning to a test today.  After back-to-back one hundred plus mile days, I set my alarm for five a.m., limiting myself to less than six hours of sleep, so I could catch an early ferry and try to make it to The Tour route before the peloton, and maybe even the caravan, passed.

I didn't have the best of sleep, as in my search for a place to camp in the growing dark, I pushed through a thick patch of nettles failing in an attempt to find an open patch alongside a corn field for my tent and was left with stinging legs, about the worse case I've ever had to endure.  It took me more than an hour to fall asleep, also aggravated perhaps by drinking a liter of chocolate milk in the early evening out of my water bottle as I pedaled along.  Usually I only drink such high octane fuel in the morning.  It does give me good energy and I knew I would need plenty of that in the five-and-a-half hours of light remaining after London's stage finish.  

My legs still had a residual sting to them in the morning, but it soon passed.  I was eager, and felt fully refreshed, perhaps a little of mind over matter. It was extra glorious to be biking along at six a.m. with nary a complaint from my legs. The past month of riding hard was paying dividends.  Plus I might be able to thank the solid base of 2,500 miles I pedaled in February and March in the Philippines.  Wiggins in his book I was listening to firmly advocated good training miles in the winter.  There is no denying it makes a difference.

I knocked off the final twenty-five hilly miles to the ferry in two hours.  It wasn't immediately evident when I reached Dover which direction I should go for the ferries.  One was unloading a steady stream of eighteen-wheelers taking over the highway.  I noticed a stream of cyclists heading in the opposite direction I chose to go, so swerved around and followed them.  There were at least fifty or sixty of them at the ticket office when I arrived.  They were hoping to get on the next ferry at 8:55.  By the time I reached the counter we were being relegated to the 9:25.  It could have been worse.  

It was a ninety-minute crossing.  Arriving at eleven I would have time in Calais to reactivate the SIM care in my iPad and maybe even find a bike shop for a tire and pump.  I discovered the washers in my frame pump had worn out when someone asked to borrow it in London. I have a spare mini-pump, but didn't want to only rely on it.  I always carry a spare since my pump went bad on me in Morocco, not the easiest of places to find a presta valve pump.

It was thirty miles from Calais to St. Omer, the nearest where the peloton would pass.  It was due at 3:30 and the caravan an hour-and-a-half before it.  If I finished my business in Calais by noon, I would have a shot at both.  But I forgot to figure in the time change.  I would be losing an hour.  Then I lost nearly  another half hour when the couple dozen cyclists on my ferry were held back until all the trucks had emptied from our deck. It was absurd that we had to wait and stand in a corner like a bunch of peons with no rights, when we could have easily been the first ones off and on our way or just ridden out with the trucks.  When I urged the cluster of overly-obedient Brits to join with me en masse they howled a protest. I didn't have the guts to just go for it, and if I had I would have been held up at another bottleneck anyway.  This was a British ferry with British electrical outlets and one final British regulation to endure.  

I wouldn't miss those nor the horrid British traffic.  I would miss its fine library system and abundance of grocery stores open at all hours and meat pies and sausage rolls and affordable peanut butter and delightful exchanges with people I encountered along the way and finding coins on the road.  Hardly a day passed that I didn't find a coin, a rare occurrence in France.  And when one finds a pound, as I did twice, or even half a pound, one has found something that will purchase something of significance.

As truck after truck pulled out, I finally plopped down and read my book trying to keep the steam from coming out of my ears. When they let us out they held us again until a vehicle could lead us out of the labyrinth of the docks, even though there were clearly marked signs for the exit route.  It wasn't until 12:30 that I was finally on my way.  No time for any business other than getting to St. Omer. Fortunately it appeared to be a big enough city to have an Orange Telephone outlet to renew my Internet package and also a Decathlon sporting good store.

I could hardly be pissed in the sudden tranquility of France.  The minimum of traffic, partially due to its being lunch hour when most everything closes down, was too good to be true after the incessant hubbub of England.  A genuine calm and serenity hung over the land.  This was even more of paradise than I remembered.  And yes indeed, it is truly a kingdom of beautified round-abouts, something the English have yet to adopt, like leaving the walls in one's home blank.  Sometimes the round-about is decorated with something whimsical.

Or a tribute to someone.

Or just some embellished gardening. However they are enhanced, it certainly adds a little cheer when one goes by.

Nor were the round-abouts a battleground, as they so often are in England.  The English charge into them with an aggressive take-no-prisoners attitude.  The French enter gracefully and with consideration for others.  In France they are almost a refuge one doesn't care to leave.  I could circle around several times looking at its centerpiece from every angle.  In England the roundabouts are a hostile environment where one feels like a target.

I was speeding along most merrily to my first true date of the year with The Tour.  Though I didn't make my rendezvous in time for the carnival of the caravan, I could see its bounty of polka dot hats adorning many.

Young and old were patiently awaiting the second half of the day's offering.  At every intersection, even if its not much more than an alley, a gendarme is positioned.

It was a wonderful, wholesome gathering, with neighbors happy to see one another.  This hour's lull between the passing of the caravan and the arrival of the riders would be my favorite of my Tour experiences if there weren't so many others that were also my favorite.

I was stationed on a long straightaway.  When the helicopters started appearing in the distance, we knew the arrival of the breakaway was imminent.  

It was time to get to one's feet and ready the home-made signs.

And then there they were--French hero Tommy Voeckler with a French Cofidis rider on his wheel.

There lead was just two minutes.  Then came a flotilla of motorcycle gendarmes leading the remaining 194 riders.

Garmin was represented at the front.

They were by in seconds, followed by the long procession of team cars with spare bikes and other Tour cars.  Five minutes later everyone was on their way.  I went down the street where the peloton made a turn and nabbed a pair of course markers that pointed to the right, my first of the year, another thrilling moment.  Now my bike is fully anointed.  

Just off The Tour route were a pair of topiary bikes.

The finish in Lille was two hours away.  That gave me time to regain my Internet access before finding a bar.  The Orange shop had The Race playing on a television behind the service desk where I was being tended to as if they were awaiting me.  

There were three bars with outdoor seating in the town plaza in front of the Hotel de Ville, all with their televisions tuned to what I was looking for.  I choose the one where I could sit outside and watch the action.  Voeckler had shed his breakaway companion with less than an hour to the finish.  There was no chance of him holding off the peloton this time.  Kittel took care of business for the third time in four days, though coming from behind to win by just half a bike length, maybe trying not to look so dominant.  He didn't even raise his arms in triumph.  The only clear indication he won from the camera looking face on, came from the second place rider, Kristoff, one of the few riders who criticized Cavendish for being too aggressive in the first sprint, banging his handlebars in frustration.  It is cobbles tomorrow, giving someone else the chance to be first across the line.  

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