Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Stage Five

The weather had turned blustery towards the end of yesterday's cobbled stage and it was even blusterier today with stronger, gustier, colder winds and a low cloud cover that made it misty bordering on drizzly. The wind was against us, mostly from the west with some northerly.  And with an occasional hill our average speed hovered at ten miles per hour.  We had our work cut out for us to cover the fifty-five miles from our campsite to the stage finish by 2:30 when the roads would be closed.

But there was no regretting being on The Tour route.  We found energy from all the euphoria expressed by the towns along the way thrilled to be a part of this grand national event.

Some of the renderings of the bike could be a candidate for MOMA.

Whether an objet d'art worthy of a gallery or something thrown together by the farmer-next-door, they all gladden the heart.

Today's stage passed by quite a few WWI and WWII cemeteries including ones devoted to South Africa and Australia.  Vincent had visited the Australian one five years ago outside Villes-Brettonneux from WWI and was happy to pause and pay his respects once again.  He pointed out bullet holes in the distant tower from German soldiers in the second War.  Just inside was the copy of a most moving speech from an Australian prime minister dedicated to the Unknown Soldier.

Just before the twenty-five kilometers to the finish banner we saw The Devil's van parked along the road and a bit further The Devil himself in costume hanging out with a bunch of fans.  He leaped with delight when he saw us and waved his trident in greeting.  Though Vincent had met him a couple of times over the years, he had never had his picture taken with him and decided now was the time.  It had been a few years since I updated my Devil photo, so followed suit.

He was wearing his cold weather outfit.  He had missed last year's Tour due to a brain tumor, but was as frisky as ever.  He chased after me as we pushed off shouting "Allez, Allez," and gave me a gentle poke in the back with his trident, a benediction of a sort.

We reached the ten kilometer marker just after two.  If the gendarmes stuck to their policy of closing down the final stretch at 2:30, we had to pick up the pace to make it to the end.  But the wind continued to blast us and a slight incline held our speed down as well.  Just before the three kilometer marker we were halted by a gendarme in a car coming towards us.  The sidewalk was scattered with fans already and there were two gendarmes per block making sure we remained on foot. After a kilometer the route turned on to a main boulevard with a separated bike lane, so we could resume riding.  

We reached the Big Screen shortly before three.  The peloton was 100 kilometers from the finish, about two-and-half hours of riding time.  We couldn't afford to linger that long.  We sat and ate and rested and studied the map and I tapped out a few words while we soaked up the ambiance.  I've had a slow leak that requires pumping twice a day, but haven't had the time to repair.  I thought I might do it here, but we were 125 miles from Livarot, Stage Seven Ville Départ, which we wanted to reach by the next night.  If the head wind persisted that would be twelve hours of riding time.  Rather than sitting here for two-and-a-half hours, we allowed ourselves half an hour.  We would look for a bar to watch the end of the stage after an hour or so.  

It was a risk finding a town large enough with a bar, but we had two possibilities.  Satouel had none.  As we approached Quevauvilliers I searched the skyline for a church steeple, indicting a town of size.  There was none but better yet a small billboard advertising a Café de Sports.  We could see the neon sign of a bar down the road.  It was the Café de Sport, but it was also accompanied with a dreaded PMU sign, meaning that its TVs only showed horse racing.  We ducked in anyway, but there were two patrons watching the racing, so there was no hope.  

The next town was six miles further.  It was at a cross roads and big enough to promise several bars.  But it was just after five.  We had to push hard into the wind to make it and hope the peloton wasn't pushing harder than us and arriving before 5:30.  I wasn't sure if it was wise to be expending the extra energy that we would need the rest of the evening and the next day, but we pushed on. We reached a bar at 5:35.  Its TV was tuned to The Tour and the upper right hand corner showed the peloton was five kilometers from the finish.  Somehow we had managed to make it in time, just as the peloton always manages to catch the breakaway within kilometers of the finish.  We couldn't have been happier as we shared this experience with a lone patron and a bar tender with a classic gray mustache staring up at an old TV in this run-down bar.

The windy conditions hadn't significantly broken up the peloton, so it was a traditional sprint finish.  Cavendish lost his lead out man Renshaw and Griepel snatched his second win of The Race, while Sagan in the white jersey of the top young rider came scorching up the left side like Cavendish used to do, but didn't quite time it so finished second.

Though we didn't have course markers to guide us or to lift our spirits as we were off The Tour route, our spirits were lifted but our success and the extra miles we had gotten in thanks to the PMU bar.  We managed another thirty miles, calling it a day at 9:30.  By nightfall the sky had been clearing and wind diminishing, providing us hope for better conditions the next day.

No comments: