Sunday, July 13, 2014

Stage Nine

Despite beginning the day with a seven-mile category two climb, this was the least strenuous day I've had since leaving England.  I was able to head directly to the finish in Mulhouse, rather than tallying in the Vosges getting in some extra climbing as did the peloton, shaving forty-six miles off the one hundred and six mile stage.  It enabled me to arrive four hours before the peloton, rather than four hours behind, as I had the previous two stages.

Nor did I have to bike until dark, as I've been doing every night since The Tour began.  Lucky that I didn't, as I was hit by a hard rain at eight p.m.  I was passing through a forest, so I was able to set up my tent relatively unscathed under the canopy of trees.  I had to bike a bit in the rain, though, before I could make my retreat to get beyond a gypsy encampment.

There was no need to pile up the miles after the stage finished, as the next stage looped back on itself in the Vosges.  This stage was like a gift from The Tour organizers to those following The Race by bike, somewhat making up for those early huge transfers in England--125 miles from Sheffield to Cambridge and eighty miles from London to the ferry in Dover and then another thirty miles to the course.  Rather than riding the route back north out of Mulhouse,I just rode the first few miles and then turned west towards its finish at a ski resort.  It will shake up the standings and make for an exciting Bastille Day.  It will be the first indication of who has the best climbing legs this year, as this finish did two years ago when Froome rode away from Wiggins and won the stage.

I'm happy with my legs.  There have been mornings when I'm not sure if they are sore, or just a little stiff.  So far, after a couple of miles they have been fine.  They've become quite attuned to gradients.  The first two miles of the first climb today were a somewhat demanding six per cent, gaining three hundred feet per mile.  The strain eased considerably when it backed off to five per cent the next two miles and then even less when it diminished to four per cent and almost leveled off to the summit at a ski resort.  It was cold and foggy at the top.  I added a couple of layers for the descent, but the cold still penetrated.  One reason I abbreviated the stage was to swing by Colmar, a large enough city to have a supermarket open on a Sunday morning.  I needed to stock up, as I wasn't likely to find anything open the next day, Bastille Day.

As I closed in on Mulhouse I regained the stage route packed with fans.  Before finishing off the final five miles I had the unsavory task once again of stopping at a McDonald's for some charging. When I return to Chicago I will go straight to Quick Release and have Joe build me a dynamo hub so I can charge as I'm pedaling.  I thought I could avoid that expense by acquiring a much stronger charging unit than I had last year, and even though it charges three times faster, that isn't quite enough to keep me ahead of the game during The Tour.  It had been more than adequate my first two months though, and I thought I'd be fine.  But taking photos and using the GPS drains it all too fast. 

That delay at McDonald's put me within an hour of the caravan's arrival, so for the third day in a row I was subject to police harassment.  At least when I was ordered off the course I was in an urban environment with alternate side roads so I could keep riding to the finish and the Big Screen.  As at Reims with David, I found a position where I had a choice of two screens to observe.  The largest, mounted on an eighteen-wheeler, carried the television broadcast cast.  (The pink jersey of the woman on the left read, "Catch me if you can.")

The other smaller screen in the VIP section carried a direct feed without commercial interruption.  The people in those stands looked down on the finish line.

There were more people speaking German around me than French, as Germany is just across the border.  The German influence is still strong in this Alsace region of France.  Many of the towns ended with "heim"--Wittenheim, Didenheim, Mayenheim...  It was only fitting that a German won the stage, and not one of the two sprinters that have already won stages, but time trial world champion Tony Martin, who time trialed away from his breakaway companion of over sixty miles to take the win by a couple of minutes.  When he crossed the line just to my right there were cheers all round.

His team director had the chance to pull alongside him in his car with a couple of miles to go to shake his hand.  The directors can be as excited about a stage win as the rider who wins it, as they are under so much pressure to get exposure for their sponsor.  A Tour stage win will put the sponsor not only on the sports pages, but on the front pages, of newspapers all across France.  

Or possibly not tomorrow, as the bigger story to the French is a French rider assumed the Yellow Jersey.  Tony Gallopin finished far enough ahead of the disinterested Yellow Jersey group, all saving themselves for tomorrow's climactic stage, to take over the coveted jersey.  All of France, or at least the 49 per cent who said they love The Tour de France in a recent poll, will be thrilled to have a Frenchman in yellow on Bastille Day, the second best thing to a French rider winning on the day.  Though he has a minute-and-a-half lead on former bearer of the jersey Nibali, its not likely he'll wear it more than a day.  It was generous of Nibali to allow him to have a day in glory that will immortalize him as a wearer of the Yellow Jersey.  Nibali's manager Vinokourov said it was a gift to the French people.  Vino may be from Kazakhstan, but he based himself in Nice during his racing career and was much loved by the French for his attacking style, at least until he was handed a two-year suspension for blood doping.  

At the other end of the standings, the American Ted King holds on to the Lantern Rouge by seven seconds over Cheng Ji, the first Chinese rider to compete in The Tour.

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