Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Stage Ten

Thanks to the rest day I could leisurely inspect Revel, the Stage Ten Ville Arrivée, the afternoon before the peloton came storming in.  Masses of trucks were congregated around the already blockaded finishing stretch a few blocks from the town center.  No one was in a great hurry to start erecting the many structures that would line it.  The huge staff that sets up and dismantles The Tour villages at each stage start and finish and all the paraphernalia along the route welcome the two rest days during this 23-day event as much as the riders do.  

A most pleasing display of enlarged photos from previous Tour visits to Revel hung under a large rustic wooden gazebo that housed the tourist office in the central plaza.  Tables were being set for some affair that evening or the next day.  A photo from 1960 captured a young Poulidor fan with his back to his hero surrounded by others.  Most were of the racers in action, including Anquetil and Merckx.  Each conveyed the drama and intensity and poignancy of the sport. Cycling is as much a friend of the photographer as any sport.

My route to the next stage in Carcassone, thirty miles away, overlapped for a couple of miles with the end of the stage into Revel, including a steep mile climb that could thwart the sprinters.  My route continued to climb another five miles, gaining over 1,500 feet.  I was lucky I wasn't doing it immediately after the stage and under pressure to be riding as many miles as I could before dark.  Being a day ahead, I could be relaxed and enjoy the climb and its views into the valley below.  I was also fortunate that the temperatures had cooled considerably since the hail storm that hit Andorra the day before.  It was like someone had turned on the air conditioning.

Carcassone had been a Ville Départ two years ago as well, but it wasn't using the same departure point, as then the peloton headied out towards the Pyrenees, rather than the Alps as it is this time.  The Départ was near the World Heritage Canal du Midi, which the peloton would follow for a spell before Prudhomme waved them into action.  

The one hundred mile route to Montpelier was dominated by vineyards.

It's always possible to camp amongst them, but the rocky soil isn't the most pleasant.  But I didn't have much choice in the matter.

I didn't need to get an early start, but I was awoken at 6:30 by someone on a special narrow tractor who had come to plow the furrows between the rows of plants.  I was far enough away from where he started to be able to be on my way before he reached me.  I'm not even sure if he was aware of me as the plants were higher than my tent.

I didn't mind the early start as I was curious to see if there were any special groups riding the stages a day ahead as there have been in year's past.  I haven't heard of any this year or encountered any on the occasions when I was riding a stage a day ahead.  The only other coordinated group of cyclists I have met were a group of young girls wearing matching pink jerseys and riding double file.  But they didn't have a support vehicle as groups riding the entire Tour do, so they evidently weren't doing the whole thing.  I was also hoping to catch the crew that puts up the course markers in action.  They have zipped by me in years past, but I have never made contact with them while they were stopped.  I was prepared to hang out at a roundabout, knowing they have to stop there for a minute or two to mount all the arrows required, especially if the peloton is making a turn.  

But I struck out on both counts.  I encountered no groups and the course marker crew in their two vans with flashing lights and warning of frequent stops flew past me before I had a chance to set up  a stake out.  But it was so nice to suddenly have the route marked for me, my initial flare of disappointment was quickly dissipated by the great comfort of having a virtual yellow carpet unfurled for me for the rest of the day.  I didn't care to get within twenty-five miles of Montpelier, so I could stop early to watch more than just the end of the stage.  Good thing that I did, as it ended in more than the standard sprint. A very strong breakaway group with multiple Tour stage winners from over the years was holding off the peloton.  It was largely instigated by Sagan, who would secure the Green Jersey if he could keep the sprinters from catching up.  He had won the intermediate sprint, giving him enough points to overtake Cavendish.  

The sprinters' teams didn't seem to have the motivation to close down the eight-minute gap, perhaps conceding that it might have been futile anyway with the steep climb two-and-a-half miles from the finish.  Sagan managed to whittle the breakaway down to five riders, but all his efforts weakened him just enough that Michael Matthews of the Australian Orica team was able to edge him out for victory.  It was his first second place finish this year after a first, third and fourth. Matthews becomes the second Australian to win stages in all three Grand Tours along with his teammate Simon Gerans.  That makes six stage wins for native English speakers.  

The French can start to agonize in earnest, wondering if they will win a stage, now that we've reached the virtual half way point of The Race.  All will be forgotten if one can pull it off on Bastille Day Thursday.  It will be especially dramatic to win on Mont Ventoux.  But that will be the big showdown between Froome and Quintana.  The last time the Tour visited three years ago Froome sped away from Quintana. It will be hard to give much thought to tomorrow's flat stage to Montpellier with the specter of Ventoux looming the next day.  Riding past all the throngs along the road on this great national holiday is always one of my Tour highlights.  I don't plan to climb Ventoux, as there is not room at the summit for a giant screen to watch the drama unfolding on the mountain.  I'll be content to make it as far as the town at the foot of the climb and watch it at a thronged bar there.

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