Friday, July 18, 2014

Stage Thirteen

The peloton headed east today out of St. Etienne into the Alps, opposite to the direction it will be going in two days across the bottom of France to the Pyrenees.  Rather than having to double back, I elected to begin that southern westward trek immediately, letting the peloton be for two days before joining back up on the stage into Nimes on Sunday.

It will allow be a couple of tranquil days out of the frantic whirlwind that is The Tour de France swallowing up all is it makes its swath around the country.  The local newspapers of each region 
The Tour passes through treat its arrival as the greatest event of the year, which it may well be.  The papers are particularly agog over three French riders in the top ten, asking "Why Not a French Victory?"  Even the curmudgeonly five-time winner Hinault, who for years has bemoaned the passivity of the French riders, is excited about what he sees as a new attacking mentality this year. Maybe that's why the bar I watched The Tour in yesterday had such avid interest.

Today I had the television all to myself in a much smaller town bar/cafe up on the Massif Central.  The only others patronizing the bar sat outside sipping cold fruit drinks, their treat for the day on this hot day.  The cafe was somewhat of a community gathering place with notices of local events, including its Vide Grenier, posted under the television.

All the newspapers since the Rest Day on have had features on Richie Porte, sitting second to Nibali.  Tomorrow's papers will all be carrying his obituary, as he was the day's big loser, totally falling out of contention to sixteenth place, just behind Horner.  He was woeful on the eleven-mile climb to the finish.  When he began fading off the back of the Yellow Jersey group containing all the contenders three miles into the climb, the announcers politely said he was in difficulty.  As he began losing hunks of time, it was as if he was going backwards.  He finished nine minutes behind Nibali, who easily won his third stage and further put his stamp of authority on The Race.  He barely smiled as he crossed the line, an uncharacteristically stoical Italian, just taking care of business.  Froome and Contador were missed more than ever today.  There was no one else to make a battle of it.  Valverde tried attacking, but Nibali was right there with him and then off on his own. Valverde may have shown enough strength to put a permanent claim on second place, which he took over today after Porte's abdication. 

The battle for the final podium spot will be between three French riders, a Belgian, and the American Van Garderen, who is a solid fifth, less than a minute from third. He lagged behind Nibali and Valverde, but still had a strong showing.  Here too Talansky is missed.  He's a great battler on the long climbs and would have certainly enlivened the racing.  Another mountain top finish tomorrow will further sort out matters, all the contenders hoping they don't have a Richie Porte day.

The Race enters its third week tomorrow.  I must be looking a bit haggard as I've had three people offer me food in the last twenty-four hours.  The first was a young couple last night while I sat on the sidewalk down from their house having a snack before my final push before dark.  They walked over to me and said they were about to leave on a vacation and had some food they didn't need--half a loaf of home made chocolate bread and some cookies.  I gladly accepted them, and also let them fill my water bottles.

Today while I sat outside a cathedral eating a cheese sandwich, a white-haired lady offered me a tomato, a perfect supplement to my sandwich.  And late in the afternoon outside the bar where I had just watched The Tour, as I inflated my tires, a gentleman said he had just bought a bag of cookies at the bakery and wondered if I'd like a few.  Such is how it is how in small-town France, la France Profonde.  The people are as homespun as the scenery is pristine. I hardly missed the euphoria of being on The Tour route.  I will be riding hard though to rejoin it on Sunday, and then even harder to meet up with Janina just north of Carcassone, the stage start after Nimes, a long Rest Day transfer.

1 comment:

Dud said...

G'Day George,

Perhaps you appear a little more thin (haggard?) than the locals are used to.

To be expected that you would loose fat and / or water with your focus and exertions.

A tape measure shimmied around to find and measure the smallest circumference around your middle will most reproducibly (~ +/-1%) indicate your leanness and / or hydration. As good or better than a weighing scale and itself weighing about 15 g.