Saturday, July 18, 2015

Stage Thirteen

There were several strong contenders for the day's most original bike sculpture. In the category of most inventive use of material specific to the business that displayed the work was an elongated bike with rubber tubing to form the bike's wheels in front of a hardware store.

A bike pyramid with a Siamese yellow bike at its apex with two bikes sharing a front wheel in a round-about was something I'd never seen before.

But the most startlingly original bike art was a trio of wiry figures emulating the skeletal cyclists on wiry bikes hung on a cliff wall.  This was art that should have had a placard identifying the artist.  But perhaps that wasn't necessary for the people in the region, who might instantly recognize the person responsible for these visionary pieces.

These emaciated figures were particularly fitting on another scorchingly hot day.  I arrived at the Big Screen by 1:30, well in advance of any road closures, letting me ride at a reasonable pace and appreciate all the road had to offer. Yesterday featured a gigantic polka dot jersey.  Today included one of yellow.

Three categorized climbs tested the peloton in the last forty miles, the final one coming twenty miles from the finish.  I expected to see The Devil along the climb as he generally stations himself as close to the finish as he can on a climb when there is one.  He must have been familiar with this route as he had set up shop on a final two-mile climb out of a gorge that wasn't identified on the route sheet.  He was sitting in the shade of a camper's awning, but lept to his feet with an "Allez, Allez," as I passed.

The route plunged back down along side a river on the outskirts of Rodez making several sharps turns on roads that narrowed.  It looked very perilous, something a rider's union might have protested, but they are such incredible bike handlers they flew with not an ounce of hesitation.  Almost as astounding is the skill of the gendarmes on motorcycles leading the race and their ability to stay ahead of the racers when they plunge down deep descents.  I marveled at their dexterity on roads that had me most cautious and restrained as I watched the action in a bar ten miles down the next day's course.  The peloton was chasing the last two members of the day's breakaway.  I didn't think they had a chance of catching them when they were still nine seconds behind with a kilometer to go, figuring the duo would be able to much better negotiate the tricky turns than the hoard behind them.  

But there is no underestimating how voracious and merciless the chasers are when the riders ahead are in sight.  They are like sharks who have smelled blood.  They gobbled up the two just a couple hundred meters from the finish.  It was all thrills as Sagan in the Green Jersey battled Greg Van Avermaet of BMC throwing everything they had into their pedals.  It was a nail-biter to the last centimeter and that's all that separated them. Sagan is on his way to a record number of second places at The Tour and he added another to his bagful, the fourth this year and fifteenth overall.  As they mount, he becomes more and more frustrated. BMC notched its third stage victory of this Tour.  They are having almost as impressive of a Tour as Sky.

I was watching the action in the comfort of a hotel sitting room.  I was drawn to the hotel by the sign for a bar.  The bar was small and without a television.  I savored my menthe รก l'eau as never before sitting in a comfortable padded chair.  It touched taste buds on the back of my throat I didn't even know I had, perhaps made more sensitive by how dry and dehydrated my mouth was.  And I supplemented it with my water bottle filled with the frigid water that comes out of every bar tap in France, another of the ultimate pleasures of this country.  I only had to be careful not to guzzle and drink too much.  There have been some legendary such cases of Tour riders doing that in the early years of The Race.  I was just disappointed when I left that the socket I had plugged my iPad into for charging wasn't operative.  I was still over fifty percent but I would have liked the cushion of being close to one hundred.

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