I had biked seventy-five miles from Dubai, fifty-three less than the peloton would ride. I had left at daybreak at seven and it was now 2:30. It had been a good ride. Many of the people in the tent said they had driven past me and hadn't expected me to arrive in time for the finish. A tail wind had helped and the climbing had been imperceptible until the last few kilometers and then the final coup de grace. I had avoided a loop the peloton took that included a serious of series climbs that I was now watching on television. The action was fast and furious. The Spanish Moviestar team was forcing the pace, hoping to set up its ace Alejandro Valverde, who had been the number-one ranked rider last year and specialized in uphill finishes.
On the route, for the first time in three stages I encountered a course marker. It came in a roundabout about halfway to Hatta, the stage finish. Otherwise there wasn't much evidence that a pack of 128-riders, including some of the best in the world, was about to come charging down this road. A few police cars had already taken up position at various intersections. And there were three or four cars with Westerners parked along the road for a gander at the racers.
The course marker wasn't long and narrow like those of most races, but it did have the traditional arrow indicating the way. There were only two more along the route, one at another roundabout and the other at the five kilometer to go mark. It would have been nice if there were a few more beyond Hatta to the finish above the town at its dam, as I had to stop and ask a shop owner which way to go at one intersection. There was no race traffic to follow or fans along the route to ask, even though I was closing in on the finish. The race barriers lining both sides of the roads started less than a kilometer from the finish.
Though I didn't gather any course markers as souvenirs as I do every year from The Tour de France, I did score a huge water bottle bonanza, just as I anticipated with so few fans to compete against. Today's route included a ten mile stretch that the peloton had ridden the day before and all the discarded bottles remained. There were four or five bottles per mile, though about half of them had been run over and were useless other than as a memento if I were desperate for one. It was my greatest bounty ever, twenty-five bottles in all, representing thirteen of the sixteen teams at the race, including most of The Tour biggies--Sky, Astana, Tinkoff-Saxo, Lampre, Moviestar, Elixx-Quick Step, Katusha, Giant-Alpecin. Its a good year at The Tour if I find five bottles over the twenty stages of The Race. This was five or six years worth in one day. At ten dollars a pop, they represented one-third of my airfare.
About half the bottles had a dot or symbol on their tops indicating something other than water.
It took great ingenuity to find room for them all on my bike. Nine went into my largely-empty day-back lashed atop my tent and sleeping bag. I could stuff two in each of my rear panniers and one in each of my front panniers. Another four were strapped under my bungee chords holding the tent, sleeping bag and day-back over the rear panniers. That accounted for nineteen of them. The remaining six I was able to strap atop my panniers, one each on the front and two each on the back. That meant I had twelve of them on display. With water bottles lashed everywhere, along with the three I had mounted on my bike, I looked as if I were heading into the desert for weeks.
The desert was all around me.
The scenery wasn't all so picturesque. The dunes alternated with straggly brush and trees and rugged, rocky terrain. Still it was largely barren. It made it easy to spot the water bottles, just waiting to be plucked.
If motorists had been attuned to them, or if the locals had any water bottle-consciousness, they would have all been harvested the day before. The bottle-laden bike added to my celebrity. Just about anyone with a camera wanted a photo, including a row of white-robed photographers who motioned me over.
The VIP tent overlooked the finish line. I slipped out to hang over the railing as the peloton came charging at not much more than half speed up the steep incline. John Delgenkolb of Germany and the rebranded Giant-Alepcin had a several length lead that no one could overcome.
Valverde was clearly giving it his all, but had to settle for second with his teammate right there with him.
Cavendish was ten seconds behind and relinquished the leaders jersey to Delgenkolb by four seconds. Tomorrow's final short 77-mile stage will be confined to Dubai and will once again be a test for the sprinters. If Cav can win the time bonus would give him the overall victory. I won't be around for it. I will be in Oman, ten days before its six-stage Tour commences a week from Tuesday, giving me ample time to scout it out. I'll be able to be highly selective in the water bottles I gather there, concentrating on the most prized, including some from BMC and AGR2, the only high profile teams whose bottles eluded me today.
Oman was only six miles from Hatta, but I camped a couple miles from the border, fearing customs might take a while and not leave me much light. I had a small canyon all to myself.