As I sat outside the tourist office in the ski town of Flumet at the six-mile point in today's stage eating a second breakfast of yogurt, cereal and a banana beside an electrical outlet, biding my time until the arrival of the caravan, a fresh-faced, tousled-haired young man traveling by bicycle asked if I spoke English. He was a Kiwi and he was dabbling in The Tour. This would be his fifth stage. Rather than trying to follow it from the start he had concentrated on the Alps where there was a cluster of three stages that one could stay put and see them all. He'd been on the road over a month and was wild-camping most of the time, but with the congregation of all these stages he decided to base himself at a campground until he learned it would be 180 euros for four days--inflated Tour prices he was told.
He had approached me hoping I might know if cyclists could get thrrough the barricaded road several miles down the canyon. It had nothing to do with The Tour route. I had come up that way several days ago and had wondered the same thing, but was told in no uncertain terms that the road was impassable due to rock slides and fencing totally blocking the roadway. But I could tell him the detour only amounted to a two-mile climb up to the ridge above the canyon and then a six-mile descent into Ugine. He was glad that it was only a modest detour and even more glad to learn that the bathroom facilities attached to the tourist office in Ugine included free showers.
Louie was on his first lengthy tour and loving it so much he thought he'd make it his life. He asked if I knew of Heinz Stucke, the German cyclist who left home fifty years ago and has yet to return. I did indeed, and I could tell him that a friend in Chicago had just hosted him for two days and didn't much like him. She said he was a "jerk," that he wouldn't stop talking and didn't take a shower and told her the seat height on her bike was wrong and that he needed a hip replacement but couldn't afford it and when he left he wrote in her guest book that he'd had a very uncomfortable time. She couldn't wait for him to leave. I knew he was an eccentric, but had never had a first hand report on the specifics.
Louie couldn't have been more different. He was overflowing with youthful exuberance and positive energy. His frustrations perplexed rather than enraged him. He was exasperated by the gendarmes along The Tour route. He said back home the police were helpful. Here they only seemed to want to harass. That is an easy conclusion to come to on The Tour route. When the caravan finally made its appearance, we were too caught up in conversation to do much scavenging, though we did nab a polka dot grocery bag and also a bottle of water.
After today's stage Louie intended to dip deeper into the Alps to ride some of the Tour's blue ribbon climbs (the Galibier and Izoard and L'Alpe d'Huez) and then over to the Pyrennes for more of the same. I'd like to keep up with his travels, but he's not a blogger nor does he much use the Internet. He pulled out his journal and said, "This is where I write."
It would have been nice to stick around the ninety minutes until the peloton passed and continue our conversation, as we were both the first touring cyclist either of us had encountered, but I had a train to Paris to catch in Albertville at about the same time the stage would be ending. I wanted to arrive in ample time to watch the final fireworks of The Tour on the Beyond Category Col de Joux Plane just before the finish. Unfortunately, there was more rain and the fireworks were washed out. As the day before, there were some heavy downpours. The French are too devoted to their pets to call it "raining cats and dogs." They say "it's raining ropes." The much anticipated final climb was a non-event among the contenders. It was almost as if the processional ceremonial final stage had begun a day early as Sky led them up the climb with nary an attack, everyone seeming to accept their final placements. All the crashes of the day before may have been a contributing factor as well.
At least there was some excitement up the road where Pantano, Alaphilippe, Nibali and Izagirre fought for the victory. Alaphillippe seemed inspired by all the acclaim heaped on Bardet for his win yesterday to get another win for the French. But he ran out of gas. Nibali came from behind to overtake Pantani and Alalphillippe shortly before the summit and seemed likely to take the stage, especially since he is a renowned great descender. But he, as an elder with wins of all three Grand Tours, didn't seem willing to risk as much as the other younger riders on the wet, treacherous descent and settled for third. The surprise winner was Quintana's Movistar teammate Izagirre. Froome could smile when he crossed the line several minutes later, having survived the day and wrapping up The Race.
I was nervously watching the time, not wanting to be late for my train. I was out of the bar by 5:15. The TGV pulled in just after I arrived at the station. I found my car and the conductor did not flinch at my bike. Some TGV's required a bike to be in a bag. I had been assured by the ticket agent that I didn't need one for this train, and he was right. Mine was the only bike in the baggage compartment of my car, otherwise packed with large suitcases. My next concern was that the train be on time in Paris--9:15, an hour before dark--as I needed all the light there was to get out of the city and find a place to camp. As concerned as I was about it being on time, I didn't greatly appreciate the hundred plus miles an hour we were flying at rushing past all the scenery. This was like eating at a McDonald's. Of equal concern was the train didn't provide outlets for charging, something perpetually on my mind.
It was right on schedule, and suddenly I was immersed in a hot and steamy Paris on a Saturday with thronged sidewalks and outdoor cafes and plazas. I passed through the familiar Place de Bastille and Place de Republic as I headed to St. Denis and then the hinterlands. Not unexpectedly, night fell before I had escaped the sprawl, but street lights and headlights provided enough light, though I needed my flashlight to find a flat spot in a patch of high weeds by a factory to disappear into, fifteen miles from the start of the next day's stage.