Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Stage Seventeen

Neither the lone old-style, one-man bike shop in Ugine, nor the three larger chain bike shops in Albertville had a freewheel with a ring larger than twenty-eight teeth. If I were more with the times and had a cassette, I could have found one with a monstrous thirty-six teeth.  But I remain faithful to the forty-eight spoke old-school tandem hub that I've been using for over thirty years with hardly a broken spoke and only one broken axle.  

Fortunately my legs are at optimum strength with nearly 5,000 miles of riding the past three months, so I only had to grimace with a little more determination when the grades approached ten per cent on my nineteen-mile climb from Ugine to Mégeve this morning.  When they stuck to the customary five and six per cent the twenty-eight was perfectly adequate.  After a marginal "rest day" of just twenty-five mostly flat miles, my legs felt fresh and uncomplaining.  If my knees felt as if they were going to give out, I was prepared to return to Ugine and wait for the peloton to pass through on Friday, and then head to Albertville for my train to Paris Saturday night. But all was well and I'll be in the thick of The Tour the next three days.

I didn't mind the detour to Albertville yesterday, as it had added some nifty bike sculptures since my visit last month scouting out this departure city for the Nineteenth Stage.  Besides the above contraption, it had two very minimalist versions of the bicycle.

If one didn't know better one set could have been mistaken for spectacles.

Mégeve had gone in the opposite direction, mounting a pair of topiary cyclists in a park just a block from the finish for tomorrow's time trial.

The ski town was already throbbing with early arrivals for tomorrow's stage. The bar where I watched today's action just over a mountain ridge in Switzerland was filled with fans chattering away in Italian, German, Spanish and even some French.  Fortunately there were no Colombians, as they would have been making a scene urging on Pantano in a two-rider break on the final Beyond Category climb to the finish to win his second stage of The Tour.  And they would have been exasperated at Quintana's failure again today.  The headlines have been harsh on this two-time second place finisher in The Tour, who does not look like he is ready to improve upon that.  One headline called him a "Spectator" and another "Not in the Match."   While his compatriot fell off and finished second to the Russian Ilnur Zakarin, Quintana was distanced by Froome and Porte and Yates.  Not only is winning The Race an improbability for Quintana, the podium is now in doubt as well.

While Quintana could contend he was saving himself for tomorrow's time trial, Zakarin had no such concerns and could squeeze every drop of energy out of himself.  He was so spent he didn't have the energy to fully zip up his jersey at the finish or the strength to sit upright to maximize exposure for his sponsor, only taking one hand off his handlebar to shake his fist in triumph.  He gave up on his first attempt to zip his jury as he approached the finish and then tried again, just getting it started.

The worst day honors though go to Van Garderen, who finished eighteen minutes behind Froome and Porte and plummeted from eighth to seventeenth, with all hopes of a podium or even top ten finish out the window.  His teammate Porte though is now breathing down the neck of Quintana, just a minute behind, and looking stronger and stronger.  He'll be motivated for a strong time trial, while Quintana could well have a sleepless night, dreading the further catastrophe that awaits him.

Second-placed Mollema struggled today, losing thirty-two seconds to Yates, leading him now by only twenty-six seconds.  With the Dutch rider faltering and the Aussie Porte ascending, an all-⎌English speaking podium is a possibility.  That would be a first and a greater affront to the European traditionalists than Brexit.  While Froome seems to have ended any suspense as to who will win The Race, there is plenty of suspense on the places behind him.  That will make for three more days of intense racing before the ceremonial ride into Paris on Sunday.

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