Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Stage Eleven

The three stages in the Pyrenees aren't cutting a swath through them such as the route that is known as The Raid that goes from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean over all the high peaks that cyclists attempt to do in one hundred hours.  Rather these stages are snaking in and out and around them, with each stage starting out in the flats and then ending up at a summit.  That's made it easy for me to connect with each stage without having to endure all the climbs and keep my mileage to under one hundred a day.

I left today's stage at its forty-eight mile mark after two Category Three  and one Category Four climbs, foregoing the Category One Aspin and Beyond Category Tourmalet, having ridden them both in previous Tours. If I stopped at Capvern I'd be just five miles from tomorrow's Ville Départ, Lannemezan.  I needed to reach Capvern by eleven-thirty, an hour before the caravan was due.   I started riding at 7:15 and rode with a mild sense of urgency pausing briefly just a couple of times.

The crowds once again weren't as thick as I'm accustomed to, but those that were out were certainly enjoying themselves. It mattered not that they might be sitting in a ditch for four hours, they were happy to be out in the beautiful countryside and participating in this storied event.

It is considerably warmer 450 miles south of northern France where the first nine stages took place, so hot that six riders abandoned today reducing the peloton to 177 from its original 198 riders.  I could feel the heat and heavy air the moment I stepped off the train in Pau right across the street from a park where a Tour event was taking place attended by former Tour winners Hinault, Thevenet, Roche and LeMond.  They were all on a stage with Christian Prudhomme and the mayor of Pau.  I stopped for a few moments before going in pursuit of the Course Markers and getting on down the road.

I've been stopping at nearly every cemetery and communal water outlet I come upon  to douse my head and soak my shirt.   I was fortunate to find a faucet in a park in Capvern while I waited for the caravan and ate my lunch.  I had enough privacy to soak my neckerchief and plop it on my back.  I'd remove it after a couple a minutes and soak it again.  It took nearly half an hour before the neckerchief wasn't scorchingly hot when I removed it to resoak it.

It took no effort to find the Départ in the moderate-sized Lannemezan.  There were color-coded signs for all the different groups that are part of The Tour entourage directing them to where to go.

The Départ was in the small town center.  Fencing was already set up to keep cars out.  A stage had been set up for a band that would be performing that evening, though it wasn't part of The Tour set up.  Non of that had arrived as it was still being disassembled in Pau, where the peloton had just left.  I just followed the course markers for a mile and then headed due west to Saint Gaudens and then north to Muret for the next stage start sixty miles away.  The terrain was table flat.

Saint Gaudens is a genuine city that has served as a Ville Étape many times and had bars aplenty.  I zoomed in on an outdoor cafe that had televisions inside and out.  Inside was actually cooler on this sweltering day.  It was so not that a woman brought her dog in for a bowl of water.

I arrived two hours before the finish in time to see the breakaway group of seven cresting the Col d'Aspin five minutes ahead of the peloton.  The half hour climb up the beastly Tourmalet followed.  There was no aggression among the contenders, as the finish remained twenty-five miles from its summit up a measly Category Three.  Quintana and Contador and the other threats to Froome were conserving their energy for the next day's summit finish up the Beyond Category Plateau de Beille.  Today was a semi-recovery day after yesterday's hard effort.  If Frooome showed any weakness they could capitalize better tomorrow than today.

They all still rode hard, but within their limits on the forty-minute climb up the Tourmalet.  The Yellow Jersey group had been whittled down to fifteen, including the top ten overall.  Other than the breakaway group, everyone else was strung out down the mountain.  Nibali was looked stronger today after yesterday's disastrous effort, showing his face up near the front with Froome.  He may have been inspired by his team director Alexander Vinokourov, a man who gave him a million euro bonus for winning The Tour last year, but was disenchanted with him ovef yesterday's poor showing and now said Jakob Fulsang was the team leader, even though he was two minutes behind Nibali in thirteenth place.  Fulsang wasn't inspired and finished nine minutes behind Nobali dropping to eighteenth.  Nibali waned on the final climb and lost another minute and fell from tenth to eleventh.

It was a day for others to reap some glory.  Contador's teammate, Rafal Majka of Poland, who won two stages last year and the Polka Dot Jersey,  was in the breakaway group and sped away a mile from the summit of the Tourmalet and held everyone off to take the victory.  Cannondale-Garmin's Dan Martin was the lone rider with enough energy to chase after him, taking second, his second of The Race, showing his team may have some say in The Race despite Talansky not having the form to be a factor.

I rode until 9:30 closing in to within ten miles of Muret where Lance Armstrong will be joing the One Day Ahead of the Tour group that I rode with on the Stage Two out of Utrecht.  If they don't leave too early to beat the heat I ought to be able to ride along with them again.  Even in the evening hours the shade of the plain trees was welcome.

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