For the first time in days I began paying attention to the altimeter on my watch as the terrain turned sharply undulating after Limoges with climbs and descents of five and six hundred feet and more. The effort slowed me enough that the peloton beat me to Montauban by two-and-half hours. It would have been closer if I hadn't gone slightly astray a couple of times, a little out of practice of finding my own way off The Tour route. But if I hadn't lost that time I would have upped my pace and possibly gone into the red zone, especially in the ninety-degree heat, the first hot day of The Tour. I could feel myself going faint on some of the longer, steeper climbs and needed to retreat to the shade from time to time. I even rode on the left side of the lightly travelled roads I was on when it was shadier than the right side. That made a significant difference.
I would have been even later to Montauban if I had found a bar to watch the finish. I was on a direct road that bypassed towns. I detoured into one small village that offered nothing and tried two restaurants along the road to no avail, so I reduced to envisioning the sprint as I relied on the commentary provided by the cyclingnews website. And Cavendish did it again, his third win after just one the past two years--a stunning and unexpected resurrection. After no wins two years ago his Belgian team gave up on him, then signed Kittel a year later, causing them no end of conaternation. When Kittel was denied on the first sprint at Utah Beach, German journalists asked his team director if he was panicking. He said he doesn't panic and that if their country hadn't panicked they wouldn't have lost the war, the most controversial quote to come out of this year's Tour so far.
Cavendish now has twenty-nine stage wins since his first set of four in 2008, passing Hinault and putting him in second place of all time. Merckx can start feeling nervous once again. His lead is down to five. It had been looking secure the past two years after looking very much in jeopardy when Cavendish won twenty stages in four years. But he knows it could come to an end any time.
I didn't rejoin The Tour route until eight miles from the finish in Montauban after nearly two days absence. The course markers were long gone, but the red bails of hay strapped to hazards and the occasional barrier beside a side road it had blocked assured I was on the route. There was no betraying litter aside from the large official trash bags The Tour affixes to posts that had yet to be collected. The fans were long gone other than a rowdy cluster under a tent beside a "Vive Pou Pou" banner, who is celebrating his 80th birthday this year following The Tour wearing a yellow shirt at all Tour appearances even though he never wore it during his years of battling Anquetil. They shouted for me to join them for a drink. That would have been extremely inviting if I hadn't just filled my bottles with cold water at a cemetery and time of the essence.
Shortly after I passed them the route turned off onto a small county road. It was stenciled every hundred feet with a large yellow announcement that this was The Tour route, the best marking I'd ever come upon. It continued for several miles. Too bad the entire 2,000 miles isn't so emblazoned.
It was no easy task navigating through the large city of Montauban on the Tarn River. The highlight was the large set of Tour jerseys hung from one of the bridges over the river. By the time I found my way to the river it was going on nine and I had nearly forty miles to ride to the start of the next day's stage in L'Isle Jourdain, a first time Ville Étape east of Toulouse. It was a shorter stage, just over one hundred miles, though presenting the first Category One climb as the peloton begins its three-day foray into the Pyrenees. With the shorter distance, the peloton wasn't setting out until one, giving me ample time to arrive before their departure, especially since I wouldn't be following them, knowing I could no longer keep up at this point. Instead I'll give my legs a break the next three days as I meander to the the end of stage ten in Revel and then down to Carcassone for the start of stage eleven.