The weather behaved in typical fashion along the Normandy coast, a cold, fierce wind blowing off the English Channel one day and a soupy drizzle the next, as I previewed the 120-mile sixth stage of The Tour. I'll be bypassing this stage come July, saving myself one hundred miles by biking directly from the Stage Five finish in Amiens to the Stage Seven start in Livarot, rather than going north to pick up this stage. I was glad to have the opportunity to ride the stage, as it will be a dandy with challenging and spectacular terrain.
And the roadside already abounded with decorated bikes and signs of welcome.
Although there are only three category four climbs on the route, there is a considerable amount of climbing and the stage concludes with an uncategorized, steep half-mile climb to the finish that will shed the sprinters and have the likes of Nibali, Gilbert and Sagan licking their chops. If the wiind is a factor, fracturing the peloton into echelons, this could be one of the pivotal stages of The Tour, along with Stage Four and its seven stretches of pavé.
The organizers have designed a stage that is in the league of the Spring Classics. It ought to instigate a day of inspired racing that could make it one of those stages that is talked about for years to come. I could well imagine the fury of riders trying to stay away and others trying to catch up, as I pushed into the wind struggling to go ten miles per hour. But rather than bemoaning my lot, I could only marvel at the beauty all round me and congratulate The Tour organizers for finding such roads. It was a privilege to be riding them.
There were others out riding, some with panniers and some not, but none of The Tour riders, though I well knew that any of the cars passing me could contain representatives of the teams scouting out the route and making copious notes of its ups and downs and ins and outs, concocting strategies of places to attack or to be wary of attack.
Quite a few of the towns had tourist offices. I was happy to duck into them to warm up or dry out. Many offered WIFI. I would make use of it, more though for the opportunity to avail myself of their electricity and charge my iPad, than to take advantage of the Internet. With all the tourist offices, I've hardly needed to search out cathedrals for charging.
The town of Étretat, twenty miles from the finish, had scattered painted bikes along the road for several miles, each with a placard honoring a French rider from year's past as well as a few current ones. Most were painted the traditional yellow, green and red-polka dot of the preeminent leader jerseys, but there was the occasional white bike, the jersey color for the best young rider, also synonymous with ghost bikes marking the spot where a cyclist has been killed, though not the case here. The cyclist honored with this bike, Gilbert Duclos Lassalle, is still very much alive working as a commentator. He wasn't a Tour contender, but twice won Paris-Roubaix.
They were a pleasing site all,
no matter where they might have been placed.
A banner across the road the peloton will be riding embraced The Tour, referring to it as "our Tour," as the French so fondly regard it.
After the peloton enters Le Havre it will continue to its extensive docks and then make a 180-degree turn and ride through the center of the city past its City Hall and old cathedral before the steep climb to the finish on a ridge overlooking the city. It will be dramatic. I will be sitting in a bar with Vincent and David one hundred miles away imagining I was there and ready to head to the cemetery just beyond the finish to fill my water bottles. I will be glad, though, not to have to make the fifty mile transfer to the next day's start from there, especially as it includes riding for miles through the docks and then over a high bridge in a narrow bike lane on a superhighway crossing the Seine with a steady torrent of traffic. Instead the three of us will be riding late into the day trying to reconnect with the peloton as it heads into Brittany.
I'll be pushing on a couple more days now down the course before I must turn around and head 600 miles or so back to the start in Holland. The count down is now fifteen days until The Race start and thirteen days until the presentation of the twenty-one teams.