Monday, July 7, 2014

Stage Two

I was sitting outside a Lidl grocery store eating a bowl of corn flakes during my first break of the day when a guy gave me the news that Cavendish's shoulder injury had forced him to bow out of The Race.

"I know how he feels," he said.  "I just had to close down my photography business of twenty-two years.  Things are tough around here.  You can see everyone walking around looking glum.  Hardly anyone ever shopped at these small discount grocery stores.  Now they're packed."

He was another of the many ultra-friendly folk I have encountered in England who threatened to talk my ears off.  I didn't have the time for it this morning, as I was trying to type out a report, wolf down my cereal and be on my way.  I wasn't wearing my hat with "Press" on it so he didn't realize I was a working journalist filing a report. Conversation was not on my agenda, no matter how informative it might be, if I wished to bike 125 miles today and take a quick peek at three Carnegie libraries that unexpectedly happened to be on my route and find a bar with a television to watch the final hour of the day's stage.

But he kept talking and talking.  "I'm driving a lorry now, but only three days a week.  That's all I can take.  Its hard working for someone else when you've been your own boss for years. I'll tell you though, it was exciting to be on the road Friday.   I was driving up from London and every other vehicle was a car with bikes on it.  I've never seen anything like it.  It was as if half of London was heading up to Yorkshire for The Tour de France."

He told me he'd been to America once, Disney World in Florida, and would love to come to Chicago, as he likes the Blues. He pointed out my front tire needed replacing and gave me advice on roads to take and invited me to his house nearby to fill my water bottles.  I really needed to be on my way. 

I was happy about the forty miles I had ridden the evening before after watching Stage One.  My route through Sheffield before I found a place to camp had included a brief spell of following the Stage Two route right up to the final ten per cent climb three miles from the finish.  There was a home-made sign just before the climb saying, "Sorry for all the climbs in Yorkshire," as there had been nine categorized climbs on the day's route.  I didn't have to endure that brutal final ascent as it was on the outskirts of the city and in the opposite direction I was headed.  

Earlier in the evening shortly after Leeds I passed through Wakefield for the second time in three days.  I had come up through the town to see its Carnegie.  It was being converted into thirty-four artist studios and was covered in scaffolding.

The new library had a display in its foyer paying tribute to Barry Hoban, a local who is one of Great Britain's greatest cyclists.  He competed in The Tour more times than any other Brit, twelve times from 1965 to 1978. His eight stages wins were the most by a British cyclist until Cavendish obliterated his record.  The display did not mention that he married Tom Simpson's wife after his death on Mont Ventoux in 1967.

If I hadn't searched out the Carnegie on Thursday, I wouldn't have taken the time to do it this evening, but I couldn't help myself the next day when I discovered my route south would take me through three towns within fifteen miles of each other with Carnegies.  They wouldn't necessarily add more than a mile or two to my day, as the Carnegies are always near the main route through a town's center, but I would be sacrificing some time in trying to find them.  It was well worth it, as all three proudly identified themselves as Carnegies on their facades and were fine, noble buildings that gave me the usual jolt of joy upon finding them and would leave me with a life-long lasting memory.  Plus one was actually open on this Sunday, so it could be my recharging spot for the day.

The first in Ilkeston faced out on the town plaza.  Two cab drivers out front were also lamenting how bad things were.  Thankfully they didn't draw me into their conversation.

I had to do a little extra asking to find the Carnegie in Stapleford as it no longer served as the town library, but rather as town offices.  It was off on a side street and even though it had Carnegie Free Library boldly carved into its stone front several people I asked couldn't tell me where the old library was.

I feared the Carnegie in the large city of Loughborough would also have been severely outgrown.  It had been, but it was a rare Carnegie in Britain that had been expanded.   It faced out on Queen's Park. Of the thirty-eight Carnegies I've seen on the trip, twenty-eight are still being used as libraries, a higher percentage than America.  With these additional three I made it to nearly all the Carnegies in the southern half of England.  I sacrificed an hour there recharging my legs and my iPad and getting the first reports on the already started Stage.

An hour later I was in Leicester trying to find a bar with a television.  Even though this was a truly large city with a huge downtown largely restricted to pedestrians, it was no easy task.  When I finally did find one its two televisions were tuned to tennis and car racing.  There was no chance of switching from the men's final at Wimbledon, but after some cajoling I convinced the manager of the bar to put on The Tour.  The peloton was in tact and was fast closing in on that last climb. When they hit it all the prime contenders for the overall title were at the front hoping to make a statement and also ensure they didn't lose any time, as the peloton was sure to fracture on this climb.  Contador took the lead and kept looking back.  Everyone was sticking with him, but he evidently kept hoping he could shed them.  

After the summit it was a couple miles to the finish.  They all came together, and then Nibali managed to surge away.  Though he'd finished third in The Tour two years ago and is one of the top threats again this year, none of the other contenders wished to chase after him, and let him have the win by just two seconds.  Having to defend the Yellow Jersey will somewhat deplete his team's energy in the days to come, so it wasn't a bad tactical decision by the others.  It was another spectacular end to a stage.  Liggett was gushing that the day's stage with the tens of thousands on the route will go down in history as one of the greatest in Tour history.  I doubt the French announcers were saying the same thing, even though they are even more given to hyperbole.  I can't wait to hear their commentary when I'm back in France for Stage Four.  I have an outside chance to catch a glimpse of it as it will pass within thirty miles of the ferry in Calais.  So even if I don't make the ferry Monday night, if I can catch an early morning ferry the next day I will have that pleasure.  

I will be extra motivated, eager to reunite with riding companions from year's past--Skippi, the legendary Australian, and David, the professional bird-watcher from Germany.  They both passed on the Yorkshire start.  Skippi is boycotting England for its buses being belligerent towards cyclists.  David has been doing more bird-watching than bicycle-messengering and is not in the best of shape.  He said he wouldn't be wearing his La Vie Claire jersey as it is too tight on him with his increased weight.  It will be good to see them both and will make me miss Vincent the Australia, who has shared three Tours with me, all the more, and Andrew of Sydney, from the past two years as well.

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