It felt good to be biking without any sense of urgency, not needing to push as far down the road as I could before it became the private domain of The Tour de France. But I didn't totally avoid a road closure as the city of Belfort had barriers up in its central district for a Bastille Day parade. I wasn't gendarmes guarding the intersections itching to jump down my throat, but rather citizen volunteers wearing reflective vests. I passed through well before the parade was to start, so none needed to assert themselves.
This day honoring the French Revolution reminds all of its mantra that can be seen on town halls and elsewhere, a constant reminder to the French of the bedrock of their values. The English Tour de France organizers were selling a t-shirt with a variation on the slogan--Fraternité, Équalité, Velocité.
Pedaling along on quiet rural roads I was able to complete listening to Bradley Wiggins' post-Tour victory book, "My Time." Written two years ago, he wasn't sure if he'd ever wish to make the supreme sacrifices to compete in a Grand Tour again. He thought instead he might like a new challenge, such as competing in the 2016 Olympics as a rower. Its not a totally far-fetched notion, as rowers rely one leg power as well as arm power. But its not something he has seemed to consider since, hoping now to go to Rio back on the track.
I made a first attempt on a bar a little early at three o'clock today in a town with a hive of activity around a Vide Grenier. The town's lone bar had a television, but it was out of order. It was fifteen miles to the next town and it looked like I was out of luck there too. It was a much bigger town, but was dead quiet. The first three bars I passed were all closed, along with every other business, until I came to a take-out pizza place. I asked if there were a bar around with a television to watch The Tour de France, with the hope it might have a television itself, either out front or back in the kitchen, which I have on occasion been offered. The owner broke the news with the gravity as if he were telling me of an assassination attempt on the president that Contador had crashed and had abandoned. But he also had some good news that there was a bar down the street about three hundred meters away that ought to be open and that it had a television.
I was relieved to see its door was open as I approached. No one was inside though. It was a family- run establishment with the proprietor's quarters through an open door beside the bar. There was a large-screen television in a corner, but it was blank. Before I could call out a "Bonjour," an older woman emerged from the open door. Yes, she could put on The Tour. There was still twenty-five miles of racing over three climbs, taking well over an hour. The peloton had broken up into fragments. There was a breakaway of two up the road with last year's third-place winner Rodriguez gobbling up King of the Mountain points. Nibali and the main contenders were two minutes behind. Over a minute back was the Yellow Jersey group. And much further back were the also-rans. I could only steal momentary looks at the newspaper in the bar celebrating the French rider who won the Yellow Jersey yesterday, the first time a French rider had worn it since Voeckler three years ago.
As expected, it didn't get fully serious until the final three-and-a-half mile, 8.5 per cent climb to the finish. Nibali had been holding back until a couple miles to go. Then he attacked with panache as seemingly only Froome and Contador can do of this generation of riders. Nibali had never been able to keep up with them. He had been training extra hard in the Canary Islands on the same mountain that Froome and the Sky team train on to improve his climbing. Whether he had achieved the level of Froome and Contador one can't say for sure with their absence, but he greatly out-classed everyone else left in The Race. It is now his if he can avoid disaster. He chased down Rodriguez, who was a minute up the road, in no time, and won the stage in dramatic fashion, as Lance used to do. He looks like a champion, and might have been even with Froome and Contador still in The Race.
The focus will now be on who can finish second. There are a handful of worthy contenders. Porte moved up to second, but he finished a few seconds behind Van Garderen on the stage. It was a fine effort by Van Garderen, putting an American back in the top ten, jumping up to seventh. He is a definite threat for the podium. So is the Spaniard Valverde, who moved up to third today and is a veteran rider who thinks he can win it all, and so does his team. They have enough faith in him that they chose him over last year's second place sensation, the Colombian Quintana, to be their Tour contender, sending Quintana to the Giro instead, which he won. Its a great tragedy to lose Contador, but The Race will still be a thriller.
The other big loser for the day was Talansky. He finished ten minutes behind Nibali and falls to 26th, all his hopes for improving on his tenth place last year virtually gone. Worse off though is his fellow American Ted King, who began the day in last and dropped out. The Chinese rider now claims last place and has a fourteen minute cushion on his closest competitor. Horner had a commendable day assisting his team leader Costa, eighth overall, and moved up four places to seventeenth. He always gets stronger in the long tours, so could make the top ten, as he did serving Lance in his last Tour. Though the French didn't have a winner on Bastille Day, they can be pleased to have three riders finish in the top five and had Voeckler out front for a while collecting King of the Mountain points just behind Rodriguez, who takes over the jersey.