Monday, July 18, 2016

Stage Sixteen

As invigorating and uplifting and exciting as it is to be on The Tour route, it is so straved with stress, continually pressed to getting as far down the road as possible, that when I make a departure from the route the cycling becomes so tranquil I almost wonder why I subject myself to the intense, all-consuming focus riding it takes.  I likewise wonder how the riders survive it, even with all their needs tended to.  They must ride with near all-out effort for hours each day, and if they waver and fall outside each day's time limit, they are eliminated. I at least don't have that hanging over my head, just the gendarmes ordering me off the course for a few hours.

But The Tour has such grandeur and aura of excitement, being part of it redeems it all.  I am happy though for my brief breaks to recover physically and mentally.  Even if I still have to ride big miles and many hours, it is at least on my own terms other than finding a bar to watch the end of the stage.  It is a huge relief to be freed of the tyranny of the gendarmes.

My travails at least haven't included the ignominy inflicted upon Skippy ten days ago when he was hit by the van hauling the monstrous cyclist of sponsor Credit Lyonnaise that leads the caravan.  It was being towed to the start of the next stage.  Skippy was knocked in the back by its extended mirror as they were both negotiating a round-about.   It wasn't an "accident" Skippy said, but rather "TRAFFIC VIOLENCE."  The driver kept driving, either not realizing he had clipped Skippy or choosing to ignore it.  Skippy chased after him to find out.  He caught up about a kilometer later when it was halted by a red light.  

The driver didn't care to admit he did anything wrong nor engage with Skippy in any manner except with a middle finger.  Skippy was having none of such attitude and stood in front of the vehicle to prevent it from driving away before he achieved some resolution.  That didn't matter to the driver, as he nudged into Skippy, knocking him and his bike over.  Skippy leapt to his feet, leaving his bike in front of the vehicle, and started pounding on the driver's window gesturing him to pull over.   Skippy created enough of a scene that the driver stayed put until several sets of Tour officials arrived urging Skippy to let it go even though he was bleeding in several places and had ripped shorts and a damaged bike.  It was more than an hour before a police officer finally arrived, who after talking to all parties sent the driver on and summoned an ambulance for Skippy.  He spent the night in a hospitable and returned to his base in Innsburck to nurse his wounds and contemplate if he's had enough of the all-powerful, above-the-law attitude of those who administer The Tour.  It's heady stuff for them taking over the country for three weeks every July.

Even when I haven't disappeared into the vortex of The Tour and am just leisurely touring around France, I am relatively free of the maelstrom of worldly events.  With no television bombarding me with the horrific images of Nice and Turkey and Dallas and Baton Rouge or wherever, nor commentators going on and on about the latest calamity, I'm not riled to a sense of rage and despair and can live in my little bubble enjoying my biking and the anticipation of where it will take me almost thinking that all is well in the world.

Today I had a fabulous ride along the brilliant blue waters of Lake Annecy on the road that the peloton will be riding Friday from Albertville to Mont Blanc.  It's towering glacier-covered hulk could be seen in the distance.  The lake was full of swimmers and boaters, all seemingly without a care.

I wasn't as worry-free as I could have been,  as all the bike shops in Annecy were closed, it being a Monday, which meant I wasn't able to acquire a freewheel with a few more teeth.  I could drop down to Albertville tomorrow, as it will have a well-stocked bike shop or two, if I can't find one in Ugine on my way to Megeve, which will be intersected by the final three stages in the Alps beginning with Thursday's time trial.  I have plenty of time to get there, as tomorrow is a rest day and Wednesday the peloton will be in the Swiss Alps, while I remain in France.

Annecy did at least provide me with a selection of bars to watch today's stage.  I passed on the glitzy tourist bars in the town center and found one more to my liking by the train station, though no one else was interested in The Race, preferring to sit outside along the sidewalk.  Today's breakaway was a rare pair of teammates, the strong time trialist Tony Martin of Germany and the French Tour of California winner Julien Alaphilippe who ride for the Belgian Etixx-Quickstep team.  It might be argued that they were forcing the sprinting teams to chase them and tire themselves out making it easier for their teammate Kittel to win the sprint, but Kittel couldn't keep up and wasn't a factor in the sprint after the duo were inevitably caught.  

Nor was Cavendish, opening the door for Sagan to win his third stage, but by the narrowest of margins over the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff riding for the Russian Katusha team, who actually thought he had won.  Sagan is as much of a star of this year's Tour as Cavendish and Froome.  As the French would say, they all deserve our thanks for their sterling efforts.  They have been putting on quite a show making things happen.  Local hero Cancellera, whose home is just two miles from the finish in the Swiss capital of Bern,  surged to the front at one point, but he was no factor in the sprint, so there was no fairy-tale end to the stage.

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