Friday, July 11, 2014

Stage Seven

I never cease to marvel at David's impeccable English fluency and also the breadth of his knowledge of American  culture. After he read my blog entry of visiting Penny Lane in Liverpool a couple of weeks ago, he said he couldn't get the lyrics of the song out of his head and then gave a brief rendition.  Occasionally though I am able to stump him with some word.  This morning when I commented after emerging from my tent, "It looks like another murky day,"  I had to explain "murky," though all I needed to do was gesture at the low-hanging clouds.  We had wet tents to pack away and the outlook of another wet day.  But we were spared, as by late morning, the gloom lifted and some blue sky actually appeared above.

David likes to begin his day with a cup of coffee and "L'Equipe."  Though he carries a stove and cooks dinner, he prefers coffee from the small bar/tabac stores that open early and where he can also pick up a copy of France's daily sports newspaper with six or seven pages devoted to The Tour.  We have settled into a routine over the years of David breaking camp quick and heading down the road for his morning ritual, while I take my time.  He invariably finds a place for his needs no more than half an hour away right on the road so I can easily spot his  bike and often him sitting out front at a table.

When I caught up with David this morning, he came bounding to the road with his copy of "L'Equipe" to show me a chart of wins by English cyclists at The Tour in the past few years.  At the very top was Cavendish with twenty-five.  That was bad news for me, as the day before I had made a wager with David that he had twenty-eight wins, while David, who had just read his autobiography maintained it was twenty-five.  I had inadvertently calculated his total including the number of wins I anticipated he'd have this year.  David said he didn't want my euro, just my permission to have another coffee before heading out.  He knows I am always eager to be biking, while he's prone to wanting another coffee or cigarette.  It was a hard choice to make, but as my impulse is always to say we need to keep going when he wants a five-minute cigarette break, I have to say yes every once in a while.

Just as we were ready to set out a few minutes later, a guy asked us if we were following The Tour.  When we confirmed that we were, he told us he was with the French television station broadcasting The Tour and invited us to be guests on the pre-Race show this morning.  They were doing a segment at a village three miles down the road that had signs all through it of each Tour victor.  The only problem was we'd have to wait there for three hours to do the show live.  We were too devoted to getting down the road, we couldn't sacrifice such a hunk of time, especially on this 146-mile stage.  As it was, we were one hundred miles from the finish and would be pushing it to reach the finish before dark.

Today was actually David's last stage, as he's been having leg and bike problems and with the next stage set to include the first serious climbing of The Race, he knew he wouldn't be able to handle it.  The producer asked if I'd be interested in appearing on one of the post-stage shows later in The Race.  I was agreeable to that, even though I am always eager to get riding immediately after the stage finish.  He said I would be able to go into the VIP area before the stage finished, where there is an abundance of food and easy viewing of The Race.

I almost wished we hadn't known about the row of signs as we approached the village, as it would have made it extra thrilling to be surprised by this remarkable expenditure of effort, constructing and mounting the over fifty signs.  That is one of the great allures of riding The Tour route, coming upon the great variety of tributes to The Tour.  This was a particularly heart-warming effort, especially since the signs were so basic, just an unfinished strip of wood and the name of each Tour winner other than Armstrong  stenciled on it.

David kept seeing one after another he wanted to pose with--Coppi, Zootemelk, LeMond, Walkowiak...   But not Ullrich, his fellow countryman.

But the prize of the lot was a sign for Raymond Poulidor right in the middle of the bunch.  He was the only one not to have won The Tour, or even to have spend a day in Yellow despite finishing second several times in classic battles with Anquetil that divided the French into one camp or the other.  He's in Yellow here though. the only one not stenciled in black. He is part of The Tour entourage every year, riding in a car with his picture,many remains the most popular of French racers, even moreso than Hinault who won The Race five times.

The route went past a few more war cemeteries and memorials today, including the ultimate one at Verdun. It has all been in recognition of the seventieth anniversary of D-Day.  French president Hollande even accompanied Tour director Christian Prudhomme in his car for the final forty miles of yesterday's stage as part of the commemoration  The Verdun monument was so spectacular David decided to end his Tour here, letting it be his viewing point of the peloton and then heading into the city to take the train back to Bremen.  I could keep riding another hour before the course would be closed down, and absolutely had to if I cared to keep up.  But the vast cemetery and huge monument is another of those  sights I see along the Tour route every year that I will return to for a thorough look.

I was ordered off my bike at 15:50 by two gendarmes on motorcycles out in the middle of nowhere, a perfectly fine place to spend the next two hours and twenty minutes.  I had room a plenty to spread all my wet gear to dry.  David would have been very happy with the spot as a family nearby offered me a cup of coffee.  All I wanted was water, which they had some to spare.  

This was my first encounter with the caravan.  

I had a fine haul of a few things I could use and a lot that I would redistribute.  I was most happy with four packages of madeleins, three to a package, and sixty-eight calories per madelein.  I could also make use of a package of detergent and a pen and a packet of drink syrup.  And I am always happy to add a refrigerator magnet to my Tour collection.  I had no use for the six key chains I scavenged, including one from the ferry that The Tour used to cross the channel, nor the hat.  I missed out on the "Aujoirdhui" newspaper and a few other food items that I could have used.

There was an hour lull after the caravan passed until the riders whooshed past in a great rush of wind.

There were no gendarmes along this isolated stretch so I could immediately remount my bike and continue the final fifty-five miles to the finish after the last of the team cars and official vehicles passed. I followed the course for about ten miles and then continued on a main road to Toul, also on the route.  At 4:30 I began looking for a bar to watch the last half hour or so of the stage.  Neither small town in the next half hour had a bar.  I had only a few minutes left in my battery for the iPad, which was my last resort for following the final few miles.  The cathedral was locked in the first town.  The next was on The Tour route and a cluster of people were disassembling a small concession stand they had set up selling ice cream and barbecued sausages.  There was an extension cord to the freezer where the ice cream was stored.  I asked if I might plug in my iPad.  One of those there was the town mayor.  He said I could go to the town hall, as there was a outlet right by the door.

I plugged in and accessed cyclingnews just in time for the thrilling final five kilometers of the stage. It ended in a photo finish, so I didn't miss out on a victory celebration from the winner.  Matteo Tretin beat  Sagan by a millimeter or two.  It was Sagan's third second place.  He has impressively finished no lower than fifth on any of these first seven stages, something last accomplished in 1930. That will change tomorrow with two category two climbs and a steep finish.  He'll easily keep his Green Jersey all the way to Paris, but could well lose the White Jersey for best rider under twenty-five tomorrow.  But he is a great talent.  I'd like to see him win a stage to see if he has matured enough not to give some silly, showboating celebration as he has dome in the past.

I lingered at the Marie to add some  more juice to the iPad and some food to my stomach.  I still had thirty miles to Nancy and the end of the stage.  My route took me through Toul, a city with a stupendously large cathedral, the equal in size of any in France.  For my purposes though I was more impressed that it had a hypermarket with food open until nine.  Most grocery stores close at 7:30 and I didn't come upon one all day until 7:45 on the outskirts of Toul and it was closed.  It was a rare French grocery store with accessible dumpsters, so I was able to scavenge a couple of deli sandwiches sealed in plastic and two bags of whole wheat rolls, and some plums, enough to meet my needs.  But when I came upon the open supermarket fifteen minutes later, I availed myself of some more food.

I descended into Nancy at 9:30.  It was surprisingly quiet for a big city on a Friday night with The Tour in town.  The next day's stage start was just across the la Meurth River in Tomblaine, the shortest transfer of The Tour, other than the handful of cities where the next day's stage started at the one it ended at.  I needed to check my GPS several times to find my way through Nancy, though I knew I just needed to head east to the river and get across it.  Someone told me just to follow the tram line through the city.  That was the secret I needed. It was near dark when I reached the stage start where crews were busy erecting structures and barriers.  I followed the course markers until I came to a large warehouse with grass around it.  And that's where I camped, still in the neutral zone, a mile from the official start. It concluded my day of scrounging for electricity, food and camping, my three essentials, but it had been most fruitful and satisfying scrounging. I set my alarm for six and ate for an hour after Another Great Day on the Bike, eager to be back at it in a few hours.

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