Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Stage Three

My prime objective today was to ride, ride, ride and get as close as I could to Dover, 150 miles away, and the ferry to France.  I began the day just south of Bedford, camped in a freshly-cut wheat field, seventy miles north of London and the finish of the day's stage.  The peloton would be coming in from the northeast, starting in Cambridge. I didn't know if our paths would intersect.  I hoped to be arriving in the city before the peloton did.  If I was going good and arrived more than an hour ahead of them, I would keep riding and find a bar to watch the sprint finish.  But if I was much less than an hour I would go to Buckingham Palace near the finish and find the Big Screen.

I was sailing along on a series of roads only having to check my GPS a couple of times to find my way.  The roads were mostly just two lanes wide, though they occasionally turned into a dual carriageway, the English term for a four-lane divided highway.  Just once in the past two hundred miles were bicycles forbidden on a dual carriageway stretch.  There's usually not much of a shoulder on any of these roads and they can be dangerous with traffic flying by at seventy miles per hour, but it is the constant noise that frazzled my nerves more than anything else.  I will be celebrating when I return to France and escape the non-stop frenzied traffic.  It barely relents in the evening hours.  After seven p.m. in France I have the roads to my self.  Here it is mind-numbingly relentless.  

I knew it was getting to me when I had a shouting match with a motorist in the middle of a roundabout who had blasted his horn at me after nearly slamming into me.  I stopped and blocked his way so I could give him a piece of my mind and make him cool his jets.  There have been two prominent stories in the news of pedophilia.  One involved the disappearance of cases of evidence against government officials.  "Are you one of those pedophiles about to get busted?" I yelled at him. 

"Get off the road you faggot, before I run you down?"

"Still in a rage over your pathetic football team?  Couldn't even beat Costa Rica.  What a joke?"

Thems were fighting words.  As he started to open his door to come at me the backed-up traffic clogging the roundabout began a cacophony of car toots.  I wanted to hear the sound of a car bashing into another, but I stepped aside and let him be on his way.

I reached a town with a library at 10:15, just what I needed for some charging and a break.  Unfortunately it didn't open until eleven.  I certainly couldn't wait for that, so it had too be a McDonald's.  At least I could stock up on ketchup for my sausage rolls.

I had a most tolerable entry into London on the A5 just as I had had two weeks ago from Oxford on a similar road with traffic driving at moderate speeds with stop lights every few blocks past small businesses and pedestrians strolling the sidewalks.  What they were doing there I don't know.  They should have all been in the downtown lining the race route.  I had no cyclists to tag along with until I came to within a mile or so of Buckingham Palace at 3:30, half an hour before the peloton was due.  The Big Screen was off in the corner of a park beside the Palace.  The lawn was packed.

I was able to slip into the front and gaze up at the giant screen and have the full audio of the Liggett-Sherwen commentary.

The lone breakaway rider was about to be caught after an uneventful flat stage without a single categorized climb.  But the tension mounted in the all-out charge to the finish the last few kilometers.  Would the two Germans Greipel and Kittel duel it out as they had at last year's Tour with Cavendish or could Sagan mix it out with them or would Cavendish's lead-out man Renzel emerge as a force or anyone else.  Greipel was a non-factor, as on the first stage, and Kittel made it look easy for his second stage win and sixth of his Tour career.  Without Cavendish he might have six more in this Tour alone.  Liggett lamented there was "absolutely no challenge" in the sprint.  If this continues, the sprints will lose all their luster.

I had no time to stick around for the post-race commentary of David Millar and Ned Boulting, whose book I was reading.  I joined in with a critical mass of cyclists heading towards the Vauxhall Bridge over the Thames.  I was shortly on the A2, methodically biking past all the backed up traffic.  There were signs for Dover already, seventy-five miles.  After three or four miles it opened up.  A squadron of fifty or saw French gendarmes on motorcycles heading to the ferry zoomed by.  And then for the next hour or so all the official Tour vehicles and then the team buses and cars with bikes on top began passing me. 

By now A2 had widened to a dual carriageway and the traffic was flying past me.  My Garmin jersey elicited a horn toot from the team bus.  The Trek and Cofidis bus also acknowledged me.  I felt as if I was truly apart of The Tour now.  There was a wide shoulder for a spell that any on them could have pulled over on and offered me a ride.  This was an occasion when I would have accepted one.  I nearly waved down the Broom Wagon white van.  Its driver would have had stories aplenty of devastated riders who had abandoned The Race and ignominiously climbed aboard. 

The roar of traffic was actually paining my right ear. It was a relief when A2 merged with M2, a true motorway that bicycles aren't allowed on.  A2 became a two lane road with roundabouts through towns.  There was still a fair bit of zooming traffic, but I could return to the audio book I had been listening to, Bradley Wiggins' "My Time," recounting his 2012 Tour win.  He emphasizes all the work and attention to detail that went in to it.  He hired a private jet at his own expense to fly him to The Race start in Liege.  He flew in just moments after Cadel Evans had arrived in a private jet as well. A Sky representative awaited Wiggins.  Evans was steaming that no one from his BMC team was there yet for him.  Wiggins divulged that he is so careful about not overly exerting himself that he has his wife load his fifty pound suit case in and out of his car.  

He and Cavendish have had their spats over the years, but he considers him a beloved younger brother.  He goes so far as not to name him as the teammate who was enraged that the Sky team director Sean Yates did not assist him in regaining the peloton after a flat tire on a stage in that Tour.  He brought up the story to illustrate how committed Yates was to him winning the Yellow Jersey and that he was such a standup guy that he explained to the entire team why he had done what he did, though Cavendish greatly resented it.

Listening to the book made the miles fly by and further immersed me in The Tour.  I had been pedaling for over nine hours of the thirteen since I had broken camp and was holding steady.  It had been the same yesterday.  I was relieved that my break in Ireland hadn't diminished my conditioning. The moon was several days from being full, not quite full enough to provide enough illumination to be biking after dark, so I had to call it a day at ten, less than twenty-five miles from the ferry.  I was in fine shape to make an early ferry the next morning and intercept The Tour when it passed St. Omer, thirty miles from Calais, at 3:30.  It had been Another Great Day on the Bike in every respect.


Jeff Mease said...

Wonderful day! Thanks for sharing George.--JM

vincent carter said...

George are you becoming a grumpy old man, and useing the P word , the most inflamitory insult.
Also the devil pictured at the Tour of Austria and TDF on the same day is that possible ? stat safe vincent