Is it ever going to stop raining? It's been a week now and there's no let up in sight. Europe is drowning in water. The Seine has swollen to near record levels. The Louvre is closed for one of the rare times in its history. I'm still in the Alps, more than 250 miles from Paris. All the rain falling here is draining into the rivers penetrating the rest of the country. The mountains have been smothered by clouds. Towards the end of the day, when there is a break in the rain and I have a chance to dry out a bit, I start looking for a place to camp. I can enjoy the patter of rain on my tent when I'm not dripping wet. I somewhat feel as if I've won the latest round. But I do face the dread of putting on damp socks and wet shoes in the morning.
My friend from Tours past, Skippy, tried to find me a place to sleep indoors last night in Morzine, not that I was all that interested unless it happened to be with him. We met up earlier in the day, both drawn to nearby Les Gets for the start of the Critérium du Dauphiné, an eight-day stage race and final tune up for The Tour de France for many of its contenders. This will be Skippy's eighteenth Tour, five more than me. He has connections all over Europe, including one in Morzine who had a small spare bedroom for him. I was perfectly content with a hot shower and then back to the cozy comfort of my tent, but not before catching up with Skippy. It'd been a while since we'd seen each other, as he missed last year's Tour. He'd moved back to Australia this past winter after living in Austria for quite a few years and had just returned to Europe for the final week of the Giro.
The Australian Orica-Green Edge team could have had its greatest triumph if it's director Matt White, who Skippy has known since his days as a teammate of Armstrong, had only paid attention to Skippy's advice before the penultimate stage when it's Colombian rider Estaban Chaves was in first place by 44 seconds over Nibali. They needed to set a killing pace, Skippy told White, even if it meant half the team ended up in the broom wagon, to prevent anyone getting up the road. They failed to do that, allowing a teammate of Nibali into a breakaway. Nibali eventually linked up with him and erased his deficit and won the race.
Skippy was shown on the Australian telecast of the race holding a sign that read "Stop Killing Cyclists."
Skippy has long been an advocate for the Parraolympics and handicapped athletes. He's advanced his campaign to trying to prevent accidents, most particularly motorists hitting cyclists. He's advocating laws in every country for motorists to cede at least one-and-a half meters to cyclists when they pass. One can follow his campaign on Facebook at Vision-Zero-Innsbruck2018. Innsbruck will be hosting the cycling World Championships in 2018. It is Skippy's goal to have no cycling deaths between now and then.
He's hoping to place a sign for his movement in the back window of every official vehicle following the Dauphiné, as well as The Tour. He is tireless in his efforts. There is a European soccer tournament in Morzine this weekend. When we happened upon a team official Skippy told him of his efforts and suggested that he advise any of his team members to raise the issue of motorists passing too closely to cyclists whenever they are interviewed, as they no doubt are cyclists themselves and wouldn't want to be injured or paralyzed. The guy politely listened and said it was a good idea.
Before we stopped by Skippy's room in an old farmhouse we stopped by the hotel with the teams of the top two riders in the race--Froome on Sky and Contador on Tinkoff. There was no disguising the fact as the huge team buses and trucks and cars filled the small parking lot out front. Mechanics were working on bikes. The teams had returned from their training rides. Their water bottles were still on their bikes. They are never reused with the fear of germs. Skippy with his connections was able to procure a Sky bottle for each of us, just what I needed, as the nozzle on one of my bottles had gone kaput. It had caused a mess in my tent the night before when it fell over and sweet and sticky menthe á l'eau gathered in a pool.
I have been passing through one ski town after another. There are 111 ski resorts in this section of the Alps. Chalets of all sizes clutter the mountainsides like an out of control fungus. Two of the biggest ski towns, on a par with L'Alpe d'Huez, (Megeve and Morzine), will be the start and finish for what could be the deciding stage of The Race, the last stage before the final ceremonial stage onto the Champs Elysees. It will also serve as the annual Étape du Tour that gives 15,000 cyclists an opportunity to ride what is generally comsidered the year's premier stage on closed off roads. It includes four high passes, the final of which is the Col de Joux Plane, where Armstrong once bonked. It will be held nearly two weeks before the actual stage, a bit early this year. It is a hugely popular event that quickly sells out. It will be a boon for both towns.
Megeve's promotional poster featured a cyclist made from topographical lines intercut with the blank image of another cyclist to form its head and arm. There is no end to the renderings of a cyclist, though it will be hard to top that made by the rearrangement of the continents to form a cyclist from a past Tour poster.
The bike art in Megeve and Morzine were greatly outdone, however, by Sallanches, start for a ten-mile up-hill time trial that will end in Megeve, another crucial stage. The town, down in a valley between Megeve and Morzine, was filled with banners and murals and bike cut-outs.
It's main plaza, where the riders will commence their race against the clock, faced a large mural.
The lamp posts along it were all adorned with banners.
The tourist office offered book marks and post cards and stamps of the banner.
Up the street near the town cathedral three colorfully designed bikes dotted a hill.
The large city of Albertville, just thirty miles away, but separated by three passes, presented the only jumbo jersey in the thirteen Ville Étapes I've visited so far. It faced the city hall from where the peloton will set out for Mont Blanc.
While in Albertville I purchased my train ticket to Paris for the conclusion of The Tour. It was well that I had, as all space for bicycles was filled on the day I preferred to go. Rather than leaving Sunday morning, I'll depart Saturday evening, arriving in Paris on the TGV about an hour before dark, hopefully enough time to bike to the start of the final stage in the suburb of Chantilly north of Paris.
My campsite on a level spot on a mountainside outside of Morzine.