Saturday, July 26, 2014

Stage Nineteen

It was the wettest day so far of a very wet Tour, but it was still a most glorious day.  Though it was overcast and threatening from the start, I began my day in great spirits knowing I was only forty miles from the finish and could ride at an unstressed pace, unconcerned about having the course slammed shut on me.  The first of many downpours hit just after I'd been cycling an hour and had stopped at a supermarket for my day's food.  I could wait it out as I had a second breakfast.

By the time I resumed riding the final twenty-five miles of the course, the roadside was filling with locals already lining the road despite the rain and the peloton not due for over six hours.  But that is the French tradition, devoting one's day to the Tour and making it family outing.  One of the many sounds I associate with The Tour is the pounding of stakes, as people erect awnings and other shelters, usually to provide shade from the sun, but today, it was for protection from the rain.  Besides setting up their encampments and picnic sites, many people were putting the final touches on their Tour decorations.

They is always in extra abundance in the final miles when people know they are assured air time.  A  town hall just off the course adorned itself with huge swaths of yellow to honor the passing of the peloton.

The course marker crew must have been under quota when they reached a roundabout in the closing miles of the stage.

Just as I reached Bergerac and the finish I was hit by another deluge.  I took shelter at a bakery after already being thoroughly soaked.  This onslaught included pebble-sized hail.  As I dripped water I also dissipated body heat and felt quite chilled.  When it finally subsided to a mere drizzle I finished off the stage, which ended at a large sporting complex on the outskirts of the city.  Then I headed to the city center.  From my May reconnaissance I knew that's where I could find the library.  It was 12:30, so no doubt closed for lunch, but nearby was the city's large cathedral right where the next day's time trial would start.  The library was just two blocks from it.  I confirmed it was open today, but not until two.  

It was still raining.  I had noticed a crowd of people taking shelter at the entry to the cathedral, so I joined them and went inside where others were not only keeping dry, but also warming up.  Usually the cathedrals offer cool on hot day, but today that cool was actually warmer than how cold it had become outside.  A janitor was circulating around the cathedral mopping up water that was dripping from its high roof.  He did not object to my plugging in my iPad and checking on the start of the stage 130 miles away.  It was dry there, but they knew they were headed into rain.

There was a lull in the rain when I headed to the library.  It was too early to return to the finish line and the Big Screen, so I spent an hour  drying and warming up some more and glancing at the local newspaper Tour coverage, all speculating on the next day's time trial starting right there in Bergerac--a rare Ville Arriveé and Ville Départ. The rain was still holding off at three when I joined a tide of people walking and biking to the course over a mile away.

A few scattered drops began falling, but that discouraged no one.  Umbrellas were up as people looked up at the Big Screen and lined the race course. 

It was a pleasure just to wander around and be amongst the throngs who wouldn't let a little rain deny them their Tour de France ritual.

Not only did they bring chairs and umbrellas, but also canines.

And some identified their nationality with their flag, most notably the Norwegians, though they hardly needed do to so as their Nordic features were so distinguishing. 

Before long the few drops turned into a bunch and many retreated under a large open-sided complex.  It was quite a ways from the Big Screen, but it is so huge, we could could keep up with the action, other than reading the small print telling us how many kilometers to the finish and the time the breakaway had on the peloton.

And that's where I saw Garmin steal a stage from the sprinters with a brilliantly executed plan of placing one of their two Dutch riders, Tom-Jelte Slagter, in the day's five-man breakaway group and then breaking away from them and then having his Lithuanian teammate Ramunas Navardauskas, a time trial specialist,  bridge up to him on the stage's lone categorized climb eight miles from the finish and then launch himself alone for the rest of the way, holding off the peloton by seven seconds, aided by some blocking by his teammates and a crash caused by Sagan with less than two miles to the finish.  

Since I was in no rush to get to the next stage start, since it was just a mile away, or plagued by the usual necessity of being in a rush to get started on the next day's stage, since it was a mere thirty-four mile time trial, I could linger.  I headed over to the team buses.  There was a crush of reporters at the Garmin bus interviewing riders, though not the winner as he had podium duties first.  The Belgian Johan Van Summeren had a cluster of microphones in his face.

His American teammate Alex Howes was beaming into the cameras.

I could have popped a question myself.  Riders were still streaming in behind us after their long day in the rain looking quite done in.  One rider was asked how tired he felt on a scale of one to ten.  He said "twelve."  I can related, but it is still a fabulous joy to be doing this.  I'd had a good five hour break in the middle of the day and felt fully energized to knock off the time trial course before dark.  I knew it was exactly thirty-four miles.  There is no neutralized zone of an indeterminate number of miles tacked on to the stage.  The riders 

The course was a hive of activity, with all the Tour followers in their camping vans seeking a spot along the course for the night.  There were a handful of large open fields for parking along with the stretches wide enough for parking right along the road.  Three small town cemeteries were on the route.  Decorations and banners lined the course.  

Nearly every home had a tribute to The Tour.

It was like passing through one of those neighborhoods at Christmas-time where everyone one goes overboard lavishing their homes with lights and decorations.

I reached the finish in the center of Perigueux at nine p.m.  A huge crew was already at work with detailed plans in hand of setting up the vast finishing complex.  Then I headed out on Rue Victor Hugo to the outskirts of the city where I found a place to camp in a wooded sea beside a golf course.  For the first time in weeks I could sleep in.  Tomorrow I would spend all day in one place, though once the stage ended I would immediately begin riding back to Paris.

No comments: