Monday, July 6, 2015

Stage Two

Vincent and I finished off the final ten miles of Stage Two at 8:30 Sunday morning, nearly nine hours before the peloton was due.  We planned to keep on riding across the causeway where the finish had been placed  to Antwerp and start in on the Third Stage while the peloton was riding the Second.   David wasn't so ambitious.  He was going to hang out at the Stage Two finish all day and skip riding stages three and four and have another couple of leisurely days riding to Cambrai for the Stage Four finish.

But our plans went kaput when we were told we couldn't take our bikes beyond the One Kilometer To Go Marker and through the narrow stretch where crews were busily setting up stands and pavilions and boutiques and announcing booths.  This was another unique, original Tour finish on a small island on Holland's perimeter in the North Sea.  The decision had been made that bikes wouldn't be allowed in this confined space, nor would anyone be allowed to pass through with their bikes.  But there were bikes beyond the gate we were halted at that had entered from the other side. That made no difference to the security guards.  There was no reasoning with them to let us through at this early hour so we could continue on our way.  They were "only doing their job."  

Vincent and I left our bikes at the barrier and went in pursuit of some authority who might overrule this edict and be sympathetic to our cause.  The first person we tried, an older official-looking guy in a white shirt agreed that we ought to be able to pass through, but he couldn't help us.  He told us to ask someone in a green shirt, the uniform of the ASO officials, the organizers of The Tour.  The first we asked barely had time to listen to us and told us it was impossible.  We next tried a cluster of four, who didn't speak much English between them, and weren't entirely sure what we wanted.

Then I thought of seeking out Christian Vande Velde, once again announcing The Tour for NBC.  If he were around he might say that he was doing a story on us and needed our bikes at the NBC trailer for the interview.  It was easy to find their grand two-story broadcasting booth.  The lone NBC person already there said Christian wasn't due for a couple of hours. We were ready to give up when we saw two white-shirted guys who had epaulets on their shoulders.  They were with the local fire department.  They looked amiable enough to do us a favor and official enough to convince the guards to let us bring our bikes through.  They were very sympathetic, but didn't care to contravene an  ASO edict.  They suggested that we bike over to another bridge fifteen miles away that crossed this same body of water and proceed to Antwerp from there.  They said the distance wouldn't be much more than crossing the causeway we were stranded on.  As we studied the map, it seemed to be the solution to our problem.  

Antwerp was over sixty miles away.  We might not get there in time for the end of the stage, but we could find a bar to watch it somewhere else.  It was unfortunate that no one mentioned this earlier, as we had squandered over an hour trying to be let through here, an hour that could make a big difference.  But our biggest misfortune was the time we had squandered the day before so David could stay out of the sun for two hours.  If we had kept it to one hour we would have made it to the bridge that night and camped beyond this bottleneck and been halfway to Antwerp by now.

But then we might have missed a trio of bike sculptures a few kilometers from the stage finish.

The French flag adorned the Eiffel Tower replica and the Dutch flag the windmill contraption.

As the evening, before the wind was blowing from the north off the sea, though with none of its ferocity this early. Rather than a cross wind it was now our friend on our backs as we turned south.  The bike path to the bridge followed along and atop the high dikes confining the huge body of water that the two mile bridge passed over.  A few kilometers beyond the bride we arrived in the large town of Goes shortly before one.  There was a large crowd outside the Jumbo supermarket, a joint sponsor of the Dutch Lotto-Jumbo team in The Tour.  It was our supermarket of choice.  It was just preparing to open, opposite to the opening hours of the French supermarkets on Sunday, 8:30 to 12:30.  

Vincent and I both bought a final two-pound tub of mashed potatoes and liter of chocolate milk before leaving Holland.  We would miss them, but not the Dutch policy of cyclists sticking to paths.  Whenever we ventured on to a road the Dutch would hoot their horns and point at the path along the road.  If it happened to be to the right side, drivers would stick there arm out their window at a ninety degree angle pointing to the right.  We were eager to get to Belgium and France, where we could ride on the road and not worry about getting lost on paths that didn't always parallel the road we were following. 

We crossed into Belgium after forty miles.  Then we wound through miles and miles of docks and wharves, dead quiet on Sunday.  At one point we were joined by an executive and his wife.  He had had to make an emergency visit to his office and was now on his way home.  They led us along a huge canal for several miles and then gave us directions the rest of the way into Antwerp.  It was four o'clock, time for us to start looking for a bar with a television.  There were none until we reached the centrum and had passed the happy site of a course marker for the next day's stage.  

We stopped at three bars within two blocks of each other before finding one with a television broadcasting The Race.  The lead group was 23.8 kilometers from the finish, about half an hour.  We had been hoping to see the last hour of the action, but we were happy with this.  The roads were wet from rain, but the wind didn't look like it was a factor.  A group of twenty-six with Froome, Van Garderen, Contador, Cavendish, Sagan, Griepl and Cancellera were a minute ahead of the Yellow Jersey group with Nibali and Quintana.  The peloton had been fractured, as the organizers had hoped would happen, adding significance and excitement to The Race.

The lead group held its advantage setting up a perfect sprint for the top sprinters in The Race.  Cavendish had three teammates leading him out.  Renshaw, his main man, delivered him to the 200 meter to go marker with the lead, just where he wanted to be.  But Griepel came around him and so did Sagan, leaving Cavendish crestfallen, letting up to finish fourth with Grielpel just holding off Sagan.  

Cancellera snuck in before Cavendish and assumed the Yellow Jersey, a garment he is much accustomed to.  He holds the distinction of wearing the jersey more days than any rider other than those who have won The Tour.

We filled our water bottles and rode a block over to the course marker and started following them out of the city.  The neutralized zone went on for eight miles, more than usual, to beyond the urban sprawl.  We continued on for twenty-five miles and disappeared into a forest for the night after 113 miles for the day.  A tent with a band playing classic Rock was nearby, but we were too exhausted to let it keep is from dropping to sleep.  We didn't have to get up too early as we only needed to bike forty miles by one to the point where the Stage Three route intersected with the next day's route 110 miles from its finish in Cambrai.  We'd watch the caravan go by at two and then start in on Stage Four.  We'd stop to watch the finish on the  nineteen per cent Mur de Huy and then ride for a few more hours, hopefully putting us within sixty miles of Cambrai.  Our race to keep up with The Race is on and we couldn't be happier.  

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