The surprise of the day was being passed by the Sky team bus shortly after nine this morning as I was closing in on St. Girona. The stage start was back the other way. Froome and company couldn't be aboard the bus. It must have been sent on a mission to pick up some goods or needed mechanical attention. Not long afterwards the Katusha bus zipped by and then BMC and the rest of them. Evidently I was on the "off course" route to the finish line. Later, studying the map, I could tell they had all gone to Foix and then climbed up to Andorra and the stage finish.
If I hadn't lingered in L'Isle-Jourdain yesterday morning, I might have accomplished the same thing. But I'd seen a stage finish in Andorra in a previous Tour, so there was no great incentive to suffer up the big climb to it again. Instead I was happy to watch the last two hours and three climbs of the stage in a bar in Foix, fifty miles down the road from where I had camped outside St. Gaudens. Lucky I did, as a deluge with hail hit the finish line about thirty minutes before the racers started arriving. The rain would have felt good on this beastly hot day, but I wouldn't have wanted to make the descent on wet roads. As it was, I was baked in an ovenish bar with no air circulation while I watched the racers getting baked until the rain hit on the final Beyond Category climb. I had my choice of several bars in this sizeable town that is an occasional Ville Étape. The first two were insufferably hot. Air-conditioning is not known. Most people prefer to sit outdoors in front of the bars. The third I checked out wasn't as hot as the others and it was the only one with others watching The Race. As the finish neared, more and more people joined us.
When I began my viewing, Froome and the contenders had let a large break of more than twenty riders up the road, unlike yesterday. When it's advantage had grown to over eight minutes it was clear no one with Froome was interested in a stage victory, only trying to wrest the Yellow Jersey from Froome. By the time this group was more than half-way up the final climb, about when Froome might have launched his attack as he did last year flying away from everyone, the rain had set in. That shouldn't have deterred anyone too much on an ascent, but when Froome and the others made their accelerations, no one could escape free, though it thinned their ranks to just Froome, Quintana, Porte, Martin and Yates.
Up the road Dutchman Tom Dumoulin had made his own escape and took the win. Back down the road the Froome group remained a merry group of five and finished together. Whether the rain was to blame for the lack of separation or just the fact that not much separates these five remains to be seen. But it does make Froome's bold attack on the descent yesterday all the more significant. Maybe he's confident he will dominate the two time trials, both of which are climbers' delights, and they will secure his victory. With nothing definitive coming out of today's stage, there will be loads of speculation on tomorrow's rest day and over the following two flat stages until the summit finish on Ventoux Thursday the 14th. That now looms as the most significant test of The Tour since today's stage didn't live up to its billing as the Queen Stage. Eleven riders are within a minute of Froome with two other English speakers in second and third, the Brit Adam Yates 16 seconds behind and the Irishman Dan Martin at 19 seconds with Quinta four seconds back. That is tight.
There will be one less contender, as Contador dropped out early in the stage, as he came down with a fever in the night to go along with his ailments from his Stage One crash. Three others bowed out as well, including one of Cavendish's lead out men, Mark Renshaw. There was concern the heat and mountains might be too much for Cavendish himself, but he persevered, just clinging to the Green Jersey after Sagan won the day's intermediate sprint and closed in on him. The question remains whether Cavendish will take his leave before the Alps and rest up for the Olympics, or whether the motivation to win on the Champs Elysées will keep him in The Race.
When I left the bar, clouds had moved in and somewhat blunted the heat of the sun. Ominously dark clouds hung over the Pyrenees and Andorra to the south. I would continue my skirt of the mountains to Lavelenet, seventeen miles to the east, and then pick up Tuesday's Stage Ten route heading to the stage finish in Revel, fifty miles north. It would continue my streak of riding some portion of The Tour route for the past nine days and even longer pre-Tour. There were camper vans already stationed along the route, nearly forty-eight hours before the peloton would pass.
I had a slight downhill from the Pyrenees, and though I didn't need to ride late into the evening, the riding was so blissful I couldn't stop. After nine the traffic went dead, as that's when the championship soccer game between France and Portugal began. That had even more interest than The Tour, what with no French riders contending, though Pinot did take over the Climber's Jersey today. The front page of a paper I read in the bar was taken over by the game with the headline "It Is Good for Moral" and a sub-headline of "The Bleus have seduced France. Nothing is better for the recovery of optimism." If I had come upon a campground I would have opted for it if it included a television room, but no temptation offered itself so I had another ideal campsite in a field of large rolls of hay. I could follow the game on my iPad. The French I would have watched the game with would not have been celebrating, as they fell 1-0. The next day's headline was "It Was Not Our Year."