Hardly anyone was out in the encampments of caravaners parked along the road. There was a steady wind that was mostly in my direction south and hopefully blowing away the inclement weather.
The occasional bike decorations reminded me I was on The Tour road if my mind wandered.
The terrain was mostly flat interspersed with just two categorized climbs, short fours of one and one-and-a-half miles of six per cent. The second was through a town that had had taken on a red-polka dot theme. At the entry to the town "Vive le Tour" was spelled out in red and white.
Half-way up the climb hung a large replica of the climber's jersey and beside it was one of the many bikes parked and hung along the way decorated in red and white. It was another wonderful outbreak of Tour Love.
I stopped two hours into my ride to finish off my liter of milk from yesterday with a bowl of corn flakes. Otherwise I'd been fueling myself with madeleins and chocolate chip cookies. I was hoping to spot a grocery store to grab a loaf a bread and some pate and the rest of my day's provisions, but there were none through the small villages right on the route and I didn't wish to spare the time to leave the route, hoping there'd be one ahead. After forty-five miles I was still going strong but feared I might suddenly bonk. If that happened I could always resort to the box of dry couscous I had in reserve and a can of causolette.
By ten a.m. Each intersection and side road had a lonely gendarme standing guard. Even though it was hours before they could evict me, I still felt a slight twinge of fear whenever I spotted one, a long-built up Pavlovian response knowing they could step out into the road and bar my way. I well remembered the last time The Tour finished a stage in Reims and I was stopped by the same motorcycle officer three times in the final stretch through the outskirts of the city. I was plenty early this time, arriving by 1:30, at least an hour before I needed to really worry.
I had to ride alongside the barriers the final two kilometers to the finish. Though the peloton wasn't due until after five the last 500 meters was already packed with fans who were rewarded with goodies of food and hats and newspapers from reps of sponsors with carts, some bicycle powered. One was dispensing peaches and another slices of bread. I located the best side to be on to watch the Big Screen less than one hundred meters from the finish and then went in search of food and electricity.
When I returned to the Big Screen it only took moments for me to spot David, my German alter-ego, a bicycle-messenger touring cyclist with a great love for The Tour, who also devours books on The Tour. He had recently read "Slaying the Badger," the Merckx biography "Half Man, Half Bike" and the latest Cavendish autobiography, as had I. He hadn't been messengering for over a year though, as he had had too much bird-watching work, all out in the North Sea at potential wind-farm sights,and greatly missed the messengering. He still looked plenty fit. I was surprised to see him in shoes, as on our previous three Tours together he'd only worn sandals.
He was perched on a barrier across from a screen smaller than the Big one to his left. He's the one in the red jersey.
He could be mighty happy with his fellow German Kittel having won three of the first five stages and then today Gripel finally coming through, helped in part with Kittel falling off the pace in the final stretch and not contesting the sprint. Griepel was so relieved to finally have been a presence in the final sprint, finishing no higher than sixth so far this year after three wins last year, he broke down in tears over his handlebars. It was a moving sight and another example of the great emotional investment the riders have in their sport.
The next stage would begin in Epernay, seventeen miles due south, but David, always looking for shortcuts, suggested we angle eastward and pick up the route forty miles into it. My preference is to stick to the route and enjoy the decorations along the way, especially those in a start city, but since the stage was nearly 150 miles long, it would be good to save some miles. It was fortuitous that we did, as after about twenty miles when we had stopped at a German military cemetery, another touring cyclist came along. It was Sean, an Englishman we had ridden with in the 2011 Tour. It was fabulous to see him, but he was very apologetic for being here. In his only other Tour appearance Wiggins had crashed out with a broken collarbone, so he was taking blame for Froome crashing out here as well. He had skipped the first three stages in England and had come over by ferry the day before I had. He was meeting up with a friend twenty miles down the road who awaited him in a campground, so after half an her of catching up sped off. With luck we'll meet up tomorrow on the route and be a merry Gang of Four.