Sunday, July 3, 2016

Stage Two

The six-mile neutral zone at the start today's stage out of Saint-Lô curled through pastoral countryside on roads too narrow to unleash the peloton.  Shortly before the road straightened and widened and the racing commenced the peloton passed a large gathering of idiosyncratic bike creations, maybe the reason the course designers sent them the way they did.  There was an over-sized bike with truck tires and a donkey bike.

Another bike had wheels propelled by a stream.

Fields on both sides of the road were dotted with other oddities. It was a genuine treasure-trove that appeared to be a permanent installation and not something thrown together for The Tour.  The peloton was lucky to be riding at a relaxed pace so they could lend them the attention they deserved.  While they are racing they can steal nothing more than a quick glance, if even that, at the many bike creations along the road.

The town of Percy, nineteen miles down the course, where I awaited them, was also filled with bike art, including sketches done by students.  There was no chance they'd notice them.

The balloon bike might have caught their attention.

I arrived in Percy at 9:30, and had a two-a-half hour wait until the caravan arrived.  It was another miserable, murky day with a light drizzle falling, but people had already started gathering.  A large plaza had a big screen and vendors selling foods.  There were several tents where people could sit and eat. I was tempted to keep riding to stay warm and to gain extra miles on the next day's stage that passed just six miles south of Percy.  But I hadn't had a genuine caravan experience yesterday at the end of the stage as there are so many people along the finishing stretch that the caravan could cause a riot by dispensing their trinkets.  Those masses had already been appeased by a legion of sponsors walking up and down the stretch passing out their product and souvenirs for several hours to keep them in place.

By the time the caravan arrived in Percy the fans were two and three deep behind the barriers lining the road, so I knew I wouldn't be getting much, but at least I'd learn what was on offer and also get to see the delight of all the locals pouncing on stuff they hardly needed.  I only nabbed five items from the thirty-six sponsors, but one of them was a genuine prize--a red polka dot sturdy shopping bag.  It was a new item.  There have been shopping bags before that have been Tour-themed, but none as blunt as this.  Janina will love it.  It is a true emblem of The Tour.  I also grabbed a packet of three small sausages, a traditional item, that I immediately devoured.  The rest of my booty was a key aching, a frisbee and a sticker, all items that I will redistribute.

Rather than waiting over an hour in the misty drizzle for the peloton to whizz by I began my long haul down the Stage Three route, just six miles to the south.  One of the reasons for the day's insufferable weather in contrast to yesterday's clearing was that the wind had shifted from the south blowing up some warmer arm.  It had been blowing from the north and west for days.  Just when I turned south it was in my face.  That was very bad news.  At least there wasn't much traffic with everyone in the vicinity gathered along The Tour route.

The rain was just pesky and light except for one sudden deluge after a couple of hours that forced me to take cover under some trees and put on my booties.  I'd been training in such weather for weeks but that didn't make it any more agreeable.  The one consolation was that the way was marked by the yellow course markers, which always lift my heart.  I truly knew I was on the Tour route when I came upon a pair of thugs in the middle of the road in one town halting traffic and forcing tiny cellophane flags on people for one euro.  I actually saw them making a sale.  No Devil sighting yet though, nor any exhortations to the riders painted on the wet roads. 

Shortly before five I was in a city large enough to have a bar or two, though it being a Sunday there was no guarantee they'd be open.  I saw three guys standing outside a bar/cafe smoking.  I followed them back in and I the corner was a television tuned to The Tour.  Then I noticed one large table that was completely filled.  Then I was told this was a private party and that the bar was closed.  They could tell I was a cyclist and that I had expressed glee at seeing bicycling on the television.  I saw in the corner of the screen that there was twenty kilometers left in the stage, less than half an hour, but they didn't have the decency to let me take a seat in a corner.

I circled around the quiet city looking for another bar.  After a couple minutes I spotted one.  As I zoomed in on it someone else was just entering.  He was the owner and he was just opening.  He said he did have a television but to come back in five minutes.  I waited outside the bar.  When he finally let me in a woman was fiddling with the large screen trying to put on The Race.  She was struggling.  The owner kindly handed me his cellphone which he had tuned to the broadcast.  Now that was more like it.  There were less than eight kilometers to go now and the peloton was chasing a lone breakaway.  Unfortunately they had passed the swimming pool with the large banner proclaiming they had wet "Maillots" too, so I couldn't see if the television cameras zoomed in on it.

Cavendish was well back as the leaders began the steep climb to the finish, so his time in Yellow was coming to an end, which was no surprise.  Sagan once again was there in the furious charge to the finish, and this time he surged ahead, a great victory for him.  He finished third yesterday and second time after time last year and the year before.  This is his first Tour stage win since 2013 despite winning the Green Jersey each year since.  He has been proving himself the strongest rider in the world except in the high mountains, so he was a most worthy winner.  He'll look splendid in Yellow tomorrow.

I was back pedaling at 5:30, just as I was yesterday and once again I stuck to it until ten p.m.  I fell ten miles short of my hoped for one hundred miles, but I was at least within 52 miles of the stage finish in Angers, so I'll have no stress about reaching it before two when the gendarmes are wont to order me off the course.  The rain finally stopped at seven.  I stopped and filled my Tupperware bowl with couscous and caussoulete and ate for fifteen minutes.  It was great to have it all prepared so that as I set up my tent in a field I could eat all the while.  Ordinarily I eat for two hours or more at day's end in my tent.  I didn't want to stay up until midnight, so my early start on my eating let me get to sleep at eleven.  My race is definitely on.

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