Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stage Twelve

Today I learned a way to keep riding the course after it has been closed down, and even in that hour lull between the passing of the caravan and the arrival of the racers--one need only become a team owner.  About fifteen minutes after all the hoopla of the caravan had ended I was startled to see two cyclists speeding by me.  "How in the hell are they getting away with that?," was my immediate reaction.  Then it registered with me that they were decked out in full Tinkoff-Saxo kit and were being followed by a team car.  It was their madman owner Oleg at it again.  He must have been infuriating all the gendarmes who were conditioned to leap out in front of cyclists ordering them to a halt.

They have been particularly assertive this year.  Evidently an edict has been passed down not to let cyclists go through towns, as twice today, after it happening to me once before, I was told if I wanted to continue on the course I would have to take a detour around the town.  I wasn't even trusted to walk my bike though.  One of those dressed as a gendarme barely looked twenty.  I asked if he was an authentic gendarme.  He admitted he was in the military.  He was so ornery I asked him for his name.  He said he wasn't allowed to give it, nor would he allow me to take his photo.  This mercenary-wannabe with a pistol in his hip belonged in the French Foreign Legion or in Iraq, not at The Tour de France.

I had been resolved to simply have a three-hour break today.  It was in a tiny village of just a handful of families.  I was happy to have a quiet place in the shade and an opportunity to gather up a few madeleines and syrup packages without having to be quick to pounce.

The peloton began the stage passing the largest Yellow Jersey I've seen so far this year.  No surprise that Talansky's lingering injuries forced him to abandon.  Five of the twenty-two teams have lost their team leader.  Besides the high-profile Cavendish, Froome and Contador, the Swiss champion Matthias Fränk of the IAM also left The Race.

It proceeded through wine country for a good part of its day.  Wineries advertised themselves with human-sized bottles and clusters of purple balloons.

The terrain was largely up and down and it was a scorcher of a day.  The peloton flashed by me with a non-stop crackling of tires bursting bubbles of tar, a noise the caravan didn't create, nor even the many gendarmes on motorcycles that precede the racers.  It was a tough day.

I ended up in a classic neighborhood bar in the city of l'Abresle for the final hour of racing.  Half a dozen of its patrons were watching The Race on the least up-graded television I've encountered this year mounted up in a corner, but it was plenty adequate.  Everyone seemed to know each other and there was non-stop chatter.  When someone new joined us he shook everyone's hand, including mine.

There was great excitement when two French riders on the French Europcar team escaped the peloton and joined up with the last of the breakaway riders.  It looked like a bold move, but it was a futile effort, as they were all swallowed up well before the finish, by the lead group of  sixty riders of the 177 riders still in The Race.  Kristoff of Norway blasted from the bunch, looking like Cavendish and held off Sagan to earn his first Tour win ever.  He ecstatically beat his chest as he crossed the line.  The cameras did not catch whatever frustrated look Sagan might have had finishing second for the fourth time this year, still looking for a win after one last year and three the year before.  He may just have to be content with being the Green Jersey victor for The Tour, no small achievement.

When I paid for my menthe a l'eau, the bartender responded with a "Danke shoen."  It was the second time today I was taken for being German.  I hadn't even spent two full days with David, but he had managed to rub off on me, or else the prominence of the Germans in this year's Race makes people figure it had drawn German cyclists.


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