We began our day with a long, steep climb that would have been a Category Four if it had been on The Tour route. Vincent had been lagging on the climbs, but even moreso on this one. When he reached the summit, he said, "I think I'm going to call it George. I'm done in."
This didn't come as a complete surprise, as we had been putting in long days of nine and ten hours on the bike, arising before seven and not quitting until ten p.m., but he had been keeping to the pace with nary a complaint, always seemingly eager for more. This was his fourth Tour de France with me and first after a three year layoff. He had greatly missed being here, though well knowing how demanding it would be. He arrived with the best legs he's ever had, intent on making it through the first nine stages across the top of France and then returning to Australia. Five was still a commendable accomplishment. And possibly there will be one more. Hopefully he'll take the train from Rouen to Vannes, the Ville Départ for the ninth stage team time trial, and ride its seventeen miles and meet up at the Big Screen.
I'll certainly miss his enthusiasm and his mellow Crocodile Dundee accident, much easier on the ears than David's cranky, grating Werner Herzog English and his refrain of "Argh, do you really want to do that?" and his twin mantras "I want to stop for a cigarette" and "Do you mind if I stop for a coffee?" It was a shame that Vincent hit his limit, as today was warm and sunny and, best of all, calm. It was back to relatively effortless pedaling, other than on the climbs. It only could have been better if there had been course markers to guide me, but I was off route, making a 140 mile transfer from the end of Stage Five to the start of Stage Seven, skipping Stage Six which required a jump too far north for my legs, although I had ridden it last month as part of my 2,500 miles in five weeks preparing for The Tour.
Today's biggest hurdle was getting through Rouen. I would have liked to have avoided this sprawling city on the Seine, but passing through it was the most direct route to Livarot. It was easy reaching the city center, but getting through its southern sprawl was the challenge. I had come up through it a couple of weeks ago and was continually stymied. The tourist office suggested a bike route that followed the Seine going slightly to the east, a bit out of my way. That seemed the solution except that the bike route wasn't well marked and alternately between a path and secondary roads. I did go astray but it got me the fifteen miles I needed to go to pick up the westerly route I needed. There were significant towns regularly spaced, so finding a bar was no challenge. I just couldn't sacrifice too much time in front of a television.
When I stopped at 4:54 there was 43 kilometers remaining in the stage. A there man breakaway was an insignificant minute-and-a-half ahead. The were riding in bright sunshine with no significant wind buffeting them off the Channel keeping everything tame unfortunately. The only excitement came in the final kilometer when Tony Martin in Yellow veered to his right and caused a crash that left him with a broken shoulder and some anger from Nibali who was among those knocked over. He thought Frrome had caused it and gave him a tongue-lashing. Froome made the rare act of going to Nibali's team bus and sorting it out.
The finish was a climb that Nibali and Froome and the other top riders would have contested, but since they were all put out of the action the Czech Zdenek Stybar was able to slip away and claim the victory. He is coincidentally a teammate of Martin's and was unaware of his misfortune. His teammate Cavendish was the first to greet him with a huge hug coming in behind him. Sagan was second once again, putting him within three points of the Green Jersey.
It was twenty-five miles to Livarot. I arrived by 8:30. I had planned to take a half hour break charging my iPad at the cathedral, as I wasn't able to at the bar. Just five minutes after I'd started charging someone came to lock up the cathedral as I sat outside making pâté sandwiches and preparing my couscous for dinner later in my tent. It was lucky I heard the clang of the large door and was able to retrieve my iPad.
Next I went to the tourist office to make use of its WIFI, as I had a couple weeks ago, and make a call to Janina. But I couldn't connect through its windows. As I attempted a ten-year old boy and his mother wandered by. The boy asked if I was an American. He was from Seattle and was visiting his French grandmother who lived here. Why he thought I was an American I do not know unless he thought only Americans toured by bicycle. He was thrilled to meet someone following The Tour. He wanted to know if I had gotten any autographs, as he hoped to tomorrow. I told him to go to the team buses and he could get as many as he wanted.
There is often a festive community party in an open space in a Ville Départ the evening before the big event. It was held at the cheese factory here, limiting the numbers so I wasn't lured into lingering and could begin the 120-mile stage. I skipped a loop I had ridden before, and was able to get twenty miles down the course before camping behind a corridor of trees beside a pasture. Not long after I had retreated to my tent I could hear the cows in the field coming over to check me out. I was more exhilarated than tired after a 115-mile day and ate for an hour before turning in.