Sunday, July 27, 2014

Stage Twenty-One

Early in the afternoon I realized the quiet road I was biking, along the fringe of the Massif Central, was only taking me through small villages, none large enough to have bars that would have a television for The Tour's final stage on the Champs Élysées.  I'd have to make a detour at some point to a larger town.

It was an early evening finish, around seven p.m., so at six p.m. I turned east to la Souterraine, six miles away.  I knew by the distant towering cathedral that it was large enough to have restaurants and bars.  None were open, though, on this Sunday evening in the center of the town.  I kept riding and hoping until I came to a kebab restaurant a few blocks further with a few occupied tables out front.  I ducked in and cheered at the sight of a television, and cheered again that it wasn't showing soccer, something that is not always easy to switch from.  It was only a music show and no one was watching.  

Thirty-two kilometers remained in The Race.  Richie Porte and two others were the token breakaway, twenty-three seconds ahead, no threat whatsoever.  They were easily gobbled up and the sprint trains began their torrid rush to the finish early in the final four mile lap that included the Arc de Triomphe and the ultimate of round-abouts. No bikes were dangling from it.

Kittel reminded everyone he was still in The Race, after being pretty much absent for more than two weeks, just barely overtaking Kristoff to win his third stage this year, in a much less dramatic fashion than last year when he propelled himself past Cavendish and Gripel, all three riding as if their hair was on fire.  Gripel again was a non-factor, finishing fourth.

The standings remained the same as after the time trial.  There was no shuffling of the Top Ten as a few years ago when Vinokourov attacked and moved up to sixth from seventh, overtaking the non-plussed Levi Leipheimer, caught off-guard by Vinokourov violating the gentleman's agreement that the final stage was ceremonial and just a final showcase for the sprinters.   Leipheirmer said he didn't care, seventh or sixth did not matter, only the podium slots.  But it was another example of the slippery and shady ways of Vinokourov.  

Being the front man for Nibali's Astana team does cast a shadow on his victory.  Vinokourov is notorious for doing whatever it takes to win, not unlike Lance.  He remains unrepentant over his two-year suspension for blood doping during The Tour in 2007. He was accused of paying off a breakaway companion to let him win Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  The story only came out when the rider who Vinokourov made the deal with leaked emails between the two of them when Vinokourov wouldn't send him the money he agreed to pay him.  Vinokourov has now so desperately wanted a Tour victory for Astana, he reportedly offered Nibali a million euro bonus for winning The Tour.  

Money does motivate.  Van Garderen said he was not disappointed withhold fifth place fifth even though he came into The Race with podium aspirations.  His teammates and team staff certainly had to be, as they would have shared in those winnings, as much as twenty-five thousand euros each if he had finished second.  One of Laurent Fignon's teammates admitted to wanting to wring Fignon's neck when Greg LeMond overcame a fifty second deficit on the final stage of the 1989 Tour knocking Fignon from first to second, costing him twenty-five thousand euros.  He had been excitedly to be able to buy his dream car, and then he couldn't.  

At least Van Garderen said he still wants to win The Tour, something he hopes to accomplish within the next ten years of his career. He did rebound significantly from last year when he was perhaps the year's biggest disappointment, falling considerably short of the promise he had shown the year before when he finished fifth and won the White Jersey.  A true competitor would have been saying that he was disappointed in not making the podium, or even winning The Race this year.  That would have been the fighting spirit of a Hinault or a Merckx.  

Neither he nor Talanksy have done much to capture the fancy of American race fans.  There were virtually none to be seen along The Tour route, unlike the Lance years when there were legions.  There was a three year dry spell, but when Lance made his comeback in 2009, they were back.  The Race experience is so sensational, attending shouldn't hinge on needing one's countryman to be contending, but that is the case.  The Australian contingent has dried up after hoards lined the race course when Evans was a factor.  The different flags flying along the course adds to the festivity.  There were a few Japanese the year there were two of their countrymen in The Race.  I didn't notice any Chinese flags this year to celebrate the first Chinese entrant ever.  He held on to the Lantern Rouge, though he did finish ahead of two others in the time trial.  Anyone who completes The Tour can be proud.  He must certainly feel so, though whether he will be celebrated in China, considering he finished last, is another question.

My usual fare for sitting and watching The Tour is the price of a menth a l'eau.  The kebab place served no such drink.  Instead, my item of purchase to sit and watch the television was some solid calories, if frites can be considered such, plus my choice of sauces--mayonnaise or ketchup.  The restaurant also had a self-serve cold water dispenser, the first I've encountered in France.  I drank glass after glass and felt lucky that none of the bars in the center of the city were open.  The food and drink and my final dose of The Tour kept me riding for two more hours until dark.  I felt as if I could have kept going all the way to Paris, two hundred miles further.  My minimal miles yesterday had rejuvenated my legs.  No worries about having the energy now to make my flight home.

1 comment:

Dud said...

Thank you, George. Sports crowds, and thus sports, are not to my taste. But seeing the Tour through your telescope / microscope (and google maps) made it very much more interesting for me. Best wishes, Dud.