The decorating committee for Brécey at the twenty-mile point on today's stage fully fathomed that The Tour de France is much more than a bike race, that it is an exaltation of the bicycle as much as an avenue for those who can ride faster than anyone else. They mounted classic photos throughout the town of casual, everyday riders and their intimacy with the bike .
I've read many a book that featured cycling photographs and visited many a bike museum and gallery, but there were all new to me, but not the sentiments they captured. Most towns choose to celebrate Tour champions, whose names and photos stir the emotions. These did too but they conveyed the transcendent power of the bicycle. This was a most exemplary gesture by Brécey, an exhibit that should be permanent, except for showings in great museums around the world.
Further down the road the town of Ballots honored its hometown hero Jackie Durand, two-time French national champion in the '90s and notorious breakaway artist, with a hay bail monument and a banner across the street and a placard.
The crowds were out in full force today as there was no rain in the forecast. They were sitting along the course hours before the caravan and peloton were due.
There was no wind, which was as good as a tailwind after all the headwinds. I was merrily rolling along fueled by all the exhilaration of those gathered. I had no concerns about knocking off the 53 miles to the stage finish before the roads were closed at two. The only time I was stopped was when I came to the intermediate sprint where the crew had just painted the white line across the road in case there was a need for the camera to determine who crossed under the arcade first. Cars were backed up while the crew waited for the paint to dry. They let me lift my bike over the line and continue riding.
I reached Angers by one, early enough that I was allowed to ride all the way up to the 100 meter mark before being ordered off the course. I had it all to myself the final three kilometers past barricades already thronged with fans, some of whom practiced their cheers on me.
Having done my reconnaissance in Angers just two weeks ago, I knew my way around the large square that was now filled with Tour media and other vehicles and went directly to the tourist office for WIFI and electricity. I was fortunate it wasn't closed for lunch. After half an hour I was back on the bike following the Loire to the next stage start in Saumur twenty-eight miles away. If I had hung around until 5:30 to watch the peloton arrive, I'd have no chance of reaching the next stage finish in Limoges, 150 miles from Saumur, until well after the peloton had left on the next stage. Getting a jump on them out of Angers I also avoided the mayhem of the hundreds of vehicles in The Tour entourage driving those twenty-eight miles to Saumur after the stage finish. Though it can be invigorating and to be part of it, it can also be harrowing. The team cars are accustomed to driving closely past riders on The Race course, and can tend to do the same thing to cyclists on the open road.
Before searching for a bar to watch the stage finish in Saumur, I checked the cycling news website providing updates on the stage to see how close the peloton was to the finish. They were half an hour behind schedule, riding at a relaxed pace in protest for having to ride such a long stage, 139-miles, and upset with the long transfer from Cherbourg down to Granville. That gave me time to go to the grocery store. I hadn't passed on all day in eighty miles.
A bar right across the street from the downtown Carrefour had The Race on its television with two others watching. A two-rider breakaway had been caught ten kilometers from the finish, much sooner than usual. It was easy to follow the principals in the sprint as Cavendish was in the Green Jersey, Sagan in Yellow, Greipel in white and Kittel in blue. Greipel took the lead but Cavendish chased him down to finish so close it took several minutes for those studying the photo finish, which we also saw on television, to decide that Cavendish won. During the wait a camera remained on Cavendish the whole time, knowing his emotional reaction, whether to being the victor or second, would be more interesting than than of the stoical German.
The lackadaisical peloton meant I lost thirty minutes of riding time before dark. In the calm conditions I was able to ride another forty-two miles until ten, giving me 125 for the day, leaving me 110 from Limoges. If I didn't make it to the stage finish before dark the next day, I'd at least make it to Limoges the following morning before the peloton set out after one. I'd be losing three hours though in the middle of the day waiting for the caravan and peloton to pass.