A couple hours later my sleep was interrupted again by leaves falling on the tent. I awoke in a panic thinking that it was rain, but I could still see stars through the forest canopy, and realized I had no need for alarm. A strong wind had blown up and the rustling of the tree limbs was knocking off a few stray leaves. I couldn't tell what direction the wind was from, but I was hoping it was from the north, cooling the temperatures and giving me a tail wind.
The wind had lost none of its strength when I awoke for good several hours later. When I emerged from the forest I had the disheartening news that the wind was lashing up from the south and it was no gentle breeze. It had the full fury of a gale. My legs were weary to begin with after several days of lots of climbing. I put it in my lowest gear and pushed into this monster. Though it was from the south it cooled the temperatures enough that I needed my long sleeve short, its sole consolation. It had to be part of a huge upheaval in the weather, as Janina reported she too was woken in the night by the wind 250 miles away.
I also opted for my cyclometer that is set to kilometers that I ordinarily only use for riding The Tour course, as the route sheets are all in kilometers. I knew I would be going painfully slow today and I didn't want to be further discouraged by looking at my cyclometer and seeing I was only managing 4.5 miles per hour. With the kilometer cyclometer I could look down and see a seven and not feel so bad. And my distance traveled would add up to a larger number as well. As it measures distance to the hundredth, that last digit when it kilometers doesn't remain the same for long, even when I'm plodding along as if I were half-lame.
I needed all the motivation I could find. I couldn't remember the last time I had experienced such a wind, maybe not since Iceland. It was gusty and had me struggling to stay on the road and to maintain a straight line. Motorists were regularly tooting their horn at me, either to get off the road or out of sympathy and encouragement.
It was howling so loud in my ears I couldn't distract myself by finishing off the book I had been listening to, "Mud, Sweat and Gears, Cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats via the Pub" by Ellie Bennett. She and a male companion, somewhat novice cyclists whose previous longest trip had been 250 miles, about a quarter of what this trip would be, undertake the British equivalent of Americans biking coast-to-coast across their country. It is written with a self-deprecating sense of humor and has many interesting side stories. She recounts their trip day by day, ending each day with the stats for the day--miles traveled, beers drunk, hills they pushed their bikes up, and a few odd miscellaneous stats such as number of times she cries, cereal bars pilfered from bed and breakfasts, unrequited love affairs. It was pleasantly diverting.
But without that to transport me from my day's hard labor, my day was largely spent with head down plowing into the unrelenting wind. I had to keep my breaks short to do the mileage I needed to do to meet up with the peloton the next day. By noon I had scratched out thirty-seven kilometers, a measly twenty-three miles. Not long afterwards I crested a 4,000 foot pass and descended to more forested terrain that somewhat blunted the wind. The hay rolls and forest offered the ultimate in camping but I had to push on.
I could only allow myself the final half hour of the day's stage. I timed it just right arriving in a town at five p.m. large enough I presumed to have a bar with a television. It was a close call, as neither bar in the town had a television, but one adjoined a hotel and it had a tea salon with a television. No one was using it, preferring to sit out in the outdoor cafe. But once word spread that the guy on the loaded bike had asked to watch The Tour, I was soon joined by a handful of others.
There wasn't much to cheer about as the riders rode steadily up the final seven-mile climb to the finish. No one seemed to care to take on Nibali, who was riding with the least stressed face of anyone, And Nibali seemed willing to let the lone rider less than a minute up the road, Rafal Majka of Poland and the Tinkoff-Saxo team, have the victory. But with two miles to the summit, Nibali had had enough of the prevailing non-aggression pact and powered up the road. Only Peraud, one of the three French contenders, could stay with him. Nibali didn't catch Majka, but he extended his lead over Valverde to a nearly insurmountable four-and-a-half minutes.
And Valverde showed himself to be vulnerable, unable to keep up with Van Garderen and several others, just narrowly holding on to second place. Back-to-back summit finishes were tougher on his older legs than those of his younger competitors. The second through sixth riders are all now within ninety seconds of one another. Van Garderen is by far the strongest time trialist. He could take two or three minutes out of any of them on the lone time trial of this year's race on the penultimate stage. He looks now to be a good bet for second overall, improving on his fifth place finish two years ago. And Porte continued his slide backwards. Last year he likewise plummeted dramatically in the standing when he was second to Froome early on and looked as if Sky could have back-to-back years with the top two racers. Brailsford has to being having second thoughts now about his exclusion of Wiggins, whether or not he chooses to admit it.