Saturday, July 2, 2016

Stage One

Ralph and I had the option of three screens at the finish to watch the day's race.  The first and most obvious was the largest of the lot in a large field at the 200 meter mark to the finish.  When we arrived at noon there was loads of space.  The Race was fifty minutes from starting, but the broadcast had already begun with a succession of interviews as the riders gathered at the starting line under Mont Saint Michel.

The ground in the field was surprisingly dry with all the rain of the past few days including a few sprinkles this morning.  We were seeing blue sky now for the first time in several days, though threatening clouds were in all corners of the sky.  We couldn't believe our good fortune, as the forecast had been for more rain and cold.  It was still chilly, but there was no complaining.

We plopped down for the time being after locking our bikes together against some fencing.  An Englishmen we had met the day before at the tourist office when he overheard Ralph was going on about the absurdity of Brexit and apologized for laughing joined us.  He had his wife had been the since 9:30 and had secured a spot along the barriers at the 150 meter mark.  It wasn't his first Tour so he knew the importance of arriving early if one wanted a prime seat.

We watched the first half hour of the racing, long enough for a breakaway to establish itself and a German rider seize the lone points on offer for the King of the Mountain competition on the two early category four climbs.  Among the four in the breakaway was Alex Howes, one of five Americans in The Race, two more than last year, but just half of what it had been a few years ago.  There could have been six or seven if Andrew Talanksy had been a late scratch due to a virus and family issues or if Tyler Farrar had made Cavendish's team as he did last year.

We knew there wouldn't be much drama for the next three hours of racing so we headed over to the huge Utah Beach Museum right on the coast.  We paused for a few moments at a second screen 100 meters from the finish facing a set of bleachers for VIPs. We could peer at it over the barricade and have a closer vantage than in the big field and also be part of the Norwegian contingents, whose flags dominated all others.

We arrived at the museum just in time for the hourly English version of an award-winning movie on the D-Day landings.  It was rich with archival photographs and film of the thousands of soldiers who were part of this monumental operation.  More than 100,000 landed on five beaches along the Normandy coast the morning of July 6, 1944.  Less than a year later the Germans were defeated.  Utah Beach was a last minute addition at the insistence of General Eisenhower, as he wanted forces in closer range to Cherbourg, as that was a deep water port that he thought would be essential in the days to come.  But the Americans made Utah Beach their prime access point to France, with 830,000 eventually landing there.

Short videos throughout the museum showed more war footage and also featured soldiers recounting the war.  Along with weapons and many artefacts were landing vessels and tanks and even a plane.  We couldn't get a close look at the plane as it was surrounded by VIPs sitting at tables dining on fine fare.

When we left the museum all the team buses had arrived and were lined up along the beach embankment that were once pocked with German bunkers.

Nearby was the podium where all the jerseys would be awarded at the end of the stage.  It took had a television.  The field here was somewhat recessed and with barriers on one side where the many television trucks were parked, the wind was partially blocked.  Watching the large screen we had a strong, cold wind in our face.  Sitting here we would be somewhat protected from it and it would be on our back.  Plus we would make a quicker getaway from this vantage point, which was essential for me, so we decided to move our bikes here and watch the final hour of the stage on this smaller screen.

It turned out to be a great choice, as when Cavendish won the stage we were delighted to stick around and watch his donning of the Yellow Jersey.  And we were standing right along the entry point he had to pass to reach the podium.  He was one exultant dude.  Brits all round were delighted, particularly since it could be an omen for Froome that this will be a Tour for them as last year's was for the Germans.

The past weekend he had been defeated in a sprint at the Brtish national championships.  There were grave concerns that he no longer had it and wasn't in peak form as he had been training on the track for the Olympics as well. But he chased down Sagan, who began the sprint a little early, and then held off Kittel, the favorite, to win his career 27th Tour stage, closing in on the record of Merckx.  The other German sprinter, Greipel, who owned the sprints The Tour last year finished fourth.  There will be some exciting sprints in the days to come among these four.  

Cavendish said that wearing the Yellow Jersey was not one of his career objectives, but it was the lone significant jersey he had not worn.  Besides the World Championshio jersey he has worn the leader's jersey for the other two Grand Toirs--Italy and Spain.  Now if he can win a gold medal in Rio his career will be complete.

Ralph and I went our separate ways after the awards ceremony, Ralph to a hotel fifteen miles to the west and me 28 miles south to Saint-Lô and the start of the next day's stage.  We had only ridden the final eleven miles of today's stage together today.  The final town Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, three miles from the finish, was well-decorated.  Ralph modeled the two packs on his bike that have carried all his career during his past three weeks of biking around France.

It was less carrying capacity to contain the two day's worth of food I had.  The next day was a Sunday when it can be hard to find an open supermarket, so I had an 850 gram can of lentils and sausage and an 850 gram can of caussoulete for my two dinners along with a kilo bag of couscous for the week.  I had had a loaf of bread, cheese, pâté, madeleines, peanut butter, honey, nuts and a liter of mint syrup.  It's a lot of weight, but it leaves me worry-free when it comes to eating and will allow me to devote all my energy to pushing the pedals.  I biked until ten p.m. after the Fiirst Stage getting far enough down the Second Stage to be unconcerned about being ordered off the course before I reached the point I needed to get to where I will head to Stage Three after the peloton passes.  All good so far.

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