Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stage Sixteen

It was an early 10:45 a.m. start for the peloton this morning for the year's longest stage, just under 150 miles. It was about an hour too early for me to make it in to Carcassone to see their departure for the Pyrenees. Although I spent the night just fifteen miles to the north in the tiny village of  Labastide Esparbairenque up in the mountains, where Janina has spent the past three weeks at an artist's retreat, I didn't arrive until eight p.m. the night before and couldn't exactly leave first thing in the morning after not having seen Janina in nearly a month.  

She had a group outing at 10:30, so that made for my departure time, arriving in Carcassone while various Race festivities were still going on, even though the peloton was long gone.  Before I bid farewell to Janina we managed a short hike in the rugged terrain of her remote location to a lookout point down into Carcassone.  If we'd had a telescope we could have spied on the racers getting ready for their day of labor.

Janina's retreat was truly in an idyllic setting with no distractions, enabling her and the handful of other residents to concentrate on their work in a collegial atmosphere.  The village was too small to have a bakery or a store.  It was a two mile walk to the next village with a store providing bare essentials.  It was like going back several centuries in time.  The town mayor greeted Janina with kisses on both cheeks whenever they met.

Janina had been enticed to La Muse by an ad she had seen in the "London Review of Books" several years ago.  It was all she could hope for.  Most had rooms in a magnificent stone building constructed in 1630, and had been there previously, a poet from Ireland, painters from Finland and Germany, an opera singer from Holland, two working working on novels, a Belgian and an American.  The American, Artis Henderson, had written a good portion of her well-received book "Unremarried Widow," about losing her husband in Iraq, at La Muse a couple of years ago.  It can be found at the Chicago Public Library.

The region, Montagne Noire, is a rare little visited nook of France.  It provided refuge for the Cathars, whose forts can still be seen, in the 1200s, and also for the Resistance during WWII.  It had been an arduous ten-mile climb, then a steep thirteen per cent descent to reach La Muse from Mazamet, fifteen miles to the north. I had made a special trip to Mazamet several years ago, as it is home of retired cycling star Laurent Jalabert. That climb out of Mazamet had to have been one of his favorite training rides, making it more pleasant than it might otherwise have been.  Jalabert is presently one of the television announcers covering The Tour.  He missed last year's Race as just before it started he was implicated in the avalanche of doping scandals after the Armstrong revelations, and he didn't want to address the issue.  But Mazamet is still proud to claim him.  The plaza behind the town hall is named for him.

There is also a banner of him over the main street leading into the city.

I only followed the peloton's route out of Carcassone a few miles, turning away from the Pyrenees.  No water bottles were to be found discarded this early in the stage.  This is the first Tour where I have yet to scavenge one.  I'm doing fine on course markers though, having reached my quota of six a while ago.  

I easily found a bar in the town plaza of Castelnaudany with The Tour on its television.  The peloton had reached the day's prime obstacle, the Beyond Category climb up the Port de Bal├ęs before a long descent to the finish.  Nibali had let a large breakaway group get well up the road allowing them to battle for the stage win.  He and those contending for the overall were nearly ten minutes back.  Tinkoff-Saxo had the strongest rider in the group, former world time trial champion Michael Rogers of Australia.  He powered away from Voeckler, who is having a noteworthy Tour after a disappointing one last year, after the descent to easily take the win.  It was an emotional win, as he collapsed over his handlebars in tears at the end.  It was his first Tour stage victory, even though he is s veteran and early in his career was thought to be a potential contender for the Yellow Jersey.  Its the second mountain stage victory for Tinkoff-Saxo, showing how strongly the team would have been able to support Contador if he hadn't crashed out.

Though the stage followed a Rest Day, Van Garderen did not have the strength of those he is competing with for the second spot on the podium, losing over three minutes to his rivals and dropping to sixth.  He has his work cut out for him the next two days in the mountains if he wishes to overcome the four minutes between him and third place and improve on his fifth place finish of two years ago.  The French trio vying for the podium all held firm and are now third through fifth, just behind Valverde.  The French papers are bursting with stories on this French resurgence.

1 comment:

Dud said...

Mountains of mountains: