Saturday, July 16, 2016

Stage Fourteen

I had a prize-winning, as they all are, wind-protected campsite on a grassy strip between a forest and a cornfield. I drifted off to sleep torn between wanting the winds to desist and not wanting them to let up, as they could lead to a day of memorable racing. The strong crosswind I had battled all day forced me to ride in the middle of the road to insure I wouldn't be blowin off the road, particularly when it was accompanied by a deep ditch.  If the peloton had to contend with such winds, it would be broken into rows and rows of echelons and a team with the strength of Sky could get out in front and cause havoc. Panic would be raging in the peloton.  The helicopter shots would be fantastic.

But the wind had slackened to a mere strong breeze and it was mostly from the north, a direct headwind for the peloton, keeping it in file rather than strung across the road.  Still the wind was hearty enough that the start time was moved up fifteen minutes to help the peloton to arrive at the finish around 5:15 to accommodate television.  But that wasn't enough, as they still arrived half an hour late after a day of restrained racing.  

A four-man breakaway was allowed to set the pace for the day with the peloton hanging back within a few minutes until it was time to gobble it up and let the sprinters get down to business. The last two in the break were swallowed up with three kilometers to go.  The two comrades for the day clasped hands as their time in front came to an end.  The television announcers gave them a "Merci" for being the day's sacrificial lambs.  

No one really wanted to extend themselves on this relatively flat stage with just three Category Four climbs, as all would need whatever energy they could muster for the next day's stage in the Juras, cousin to the Alps, with their most climbing yet--one Beyond Category, two Category Ones, one Category Two and two Category Three climbs.  It will make a fine day of Sunday viewing for racing fans.  I'll be at the finish by noon, taking a shortcut and avoiding all the climbs, so I can sit on the grass and watch all the excitement on the Big Screen, something I haven't been able to do since Stage One at Utah Beach.

Making it to tomorrow's finish before the peloton would have been iffy if I hadn't been deterred by the winds from reaching the end of today's stage.  I fell forty miles short, only managing the first eighty miles.  Since the next day's route swung back down to the finish in Culoz, I was just sixty-five miles away. If I had made it all the way to the end, I would have had a much longer ride, and I would have ridden some of the stage route and its climbs.  By cutting across I missed out on the route the peloton would take, and those delightful decorations that always make riding it such an incomparable experience.

I was halted on the outskirts of the small town of Cour-et-Buis by a pair of gendarmes as I rode today's route.  I immediately plopped down in the shade of an auto repair shop to eat before walking my bike into the town center.  As I ate, a fan from the other side of the road came over to tell me he did some touring himself and offed a glass of wine.  He gave me a smile of approval when I told him I was loyal to menthe รก l'eau, and opened my water bottle to show him it was filled with the green minty drink.  

Though fans were strung along both sides of the road into and out of and through the town, they were spread out enough that I had my best haul from the caravan yet, including some items I could truly use.  The best were two packets of detergent, as the bar of soap I was using to wash my clothes was down to a sliver.  Now I don't have to worry about replacing it during my last eight days in France.  I also nabbed a three-pack of Bic pens and five madeleines.  I dropped a fold-up frisbee and an inflatable pillow on the small pile of items a little girl had neatly arranged on a piece of cloth and she gave me an appreciative "Merci."

Rather than lingering for ninety minutes awaiting the blur of the racers, I took a side road out of town east towards Culoz.  After riding under pressure all morning it was a pleasure to ride carefree, at least for a few miles until I had to start feeling concern about finding a bar with a television. I was sure to find one in the large city of Bourgoin-Jallieu twenty miles away.  I didn't have to go deep into the city before I came upon a bar with its television tuned to the Race and a handful of men watching it on this Saturday afternoon. 

With the peloton slowed by the wind and its own insertion I had nearly an hour to peruse "L'Equipe" and a couple of the local newspapers.  They were all filled with commentary on the Bastiille Day terror in Nice.  No one disagreed with the decision not to cancel the next day's stage.  Only the two World Wars have caused a disruption in The Tour.  

As soon as Cavendish won for the fourth time this year everyone in the bar got up and left.  Kittel was so frustrated when Cavenish came up from behind him to take another victory he thought would be his, he raised his hand in protest claiming that Cavendish had nudged him as he passed, a most uncharacteristic gesture from this normally gentlemanly German.  With a possible two sprinting stages left Cavendish has a chance to equal his best Tour performance of six wins.  That would almost be a bigger story than Froome winning it for the third time, though Froome has insured he is the story with the panache he has exhibited so far.  And tomorrow ought to be another day of glory for him.

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