An electronic message board across from the grand City Hall in the large city of Limoges was already counting down the days until The Tour de France would make its arrival at that very corner come July. It read 64. It may be more than two months before that highly anticipated event, but the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) was already festooned with banners celebrating The Tour. Four second floor windows were blocked out with the colors of the jerseys the riders in the peloton will be vying for--yellow, green, red polka dot and white.
It was a spectacular sight and fully justified taking a less than direct route to Cannes. It will be even more spectacular when I'm back in July, but it is an image I will be happy to hold in the weeks to come. Right beside the Hotel de Ville on Avenue Georges Dumas stood a marker identifying the finish line of that fourth stage of the 103rd Tour. Millions of eyes from all over the world will be upon it.
Happily this is one of the rare stages without a transfer for the start of the next stage, but no one at the tourist office knew where in the city the start would be, nor what route the peloton would follow to Le Lorian the Ville Arrivée for the fifth stage, so I just had to find my own way, denying me my mission of scouting out places where I might be able to fill my water bottles or get food or make a short cut. It won't be an easy stage, as it will be a sucession of climbs up on to the Massif Central, a lightly settled, thickly forested region which The Tour doesn't always visit.
The hilly terrain began leading in to Limoges. It allowed me to play with my new toy with even more zest than I had the previous four days since arriving in Paris--my 38 and 46 tooth chain rings replacing the 42/52 that my Trek came with. For twelve years since I added it to my arsenal of bikes I had rarely used that 52. The biggest advantage of the 38 was that it made the shift down to my 26 much easier. Before it had been not much more than a 50-50 proposition, which discouraged me from using it. Now it was a positive joy to drop inito my "granny."
A further bonus to my new configuration was that the smaller circumference of my middle chain ring allowed me to use four rings on my freewheel, rather than three when I was on my 26, as the angle of the chain no longer rubbed on it. It was fantastic to have that extra gear and not have to make a double shift to achieve it and then dread dropping back down to the 26. I had Joe of Quick Release to thank for acquiring the rings and have been cheering him with each joyous shift into the 26.
It is less strain on the legs not having to stay in the middle chain ring longer than I'd care to and a great time safer and hygienic advantage as well, not having to stop and get my hands all greasy putting the chain back on. I used to accept it as an opportunity to rest my legs, as it only happened when I was climbing, but it was an embarrassment when the roads were lined with fans during The Tour. The only equipment-related stopping I had to do was to administer some oil to my chain to pacify its squeaking after the wet roads of the day before.
The hilly stretch inito Limoges slowed me down and had me worrying that I wouldn't reach its tourist office before 12:30 when it closed for lunch. I made it with fifteen minutes to spare, but it hardly mattere, as the tourist office had no information on The Tour other than the good news that the various Ville Ètapes will be hosting a Fête du Tour once again on June 4 with a ride of a portion of The Tour route leading into or out of their town. My rush wasn't necessary even more so as Limoges was large enough and so well staffed that it remained open during the ninety minutes that most close, allowing me more time to charge my iPad. I had to settle for a mere electrical outlet, unlike at the tourist office in Blois, a popular tourist chateau town on the Loire. It provided a charging station with multiple attachments that one could plug into phones or tablets.
I shared this marvelous device with a Belgian cyclist following the pilgrim's route to Compestella. He'd been on the road for nine days and was a bit she'll-shocked by the cold weather. He'd endured snow, sleet and hail. He was making this trip partially because he could no longer endure the harsh weather of Belgium. He'd worked for a spell in the Canary Islands and appreciated the Spanish culture and climate so much, he was making this trip to Spain to relocate there. He'd stopped at the Blois Tourist office to have his Compostella passport stamped as verification that he'd travelled the entire route. He hadn't encountered any fellow pilgrims. He wasn't surprised, as he won't reach the main route until he crosses into Spain in a couple of weeks for the final few hundred mile stretch across the top of Spain to Compestella. Then it will be thick with pilgrims, most on foot, but the occasional cyclist as well. From Blois he was following the Loire west, while I was heading due south, so we couldn't ride together.
I've been in France five days and have yet to indulge in two of my favorite treats--madeleines and menthe à l'eau. It's been so chilly I haven't needed the mint syrup to flavor my water to make it more drinkable, plus I didn't care to add the weight of a one-liter bottle to my gear just yet. And I've had no need the of the madeleines as I brought a stock of fig and breakfast bars that I have yet to exhaust. But my taste buds know I am in France and are asking what's going on. Otherwise it is France as I know it. The only shock to my system was at DeGaulle airport when directions on the monorail connecting terminals were given in Chinese as well as French and English.