As I approached Nantua, Ville Départ for the ninth stage of The Tour, banners proclaiming the coming of The Tour to the Département of Ain began appearing along the road. They also adorned the tourist office and other buildings in this resort village of 3,500 people in the Jura mountains alongside an emerald green lake nestled between two ridges.
The peloton will be setting out from a shady park at the eastern end of the lake embarking on one of the most demanding stages of this year's Race with three Beyond Category climbs and a Category Two before descending to the finish in Chambery. It comes the day before the first Rest Day, so the contenders can ride with all guns slinging. It will be a spectacular Sunday of racing.
I had a fair bit of climbing myself to reach Nantua, but my legs were fully up to it on my third day of riding long hours without Janina trying to reach Düsseldorf by next Friday for the team introductions. I've knocked off 280 miles and have just over 400 miles, though I may add a few trying to intersect with four or five more Ville Ètapes. I am energized by having a target, turning the touring into an athletic endeavor, good prep for following The Tour, as it is will be a three-week exercise in riding as many miles as I can to keep up.
Besides Nantua I also dropped in on Romans-sur-Isere, Ville Arrivée for the 16th stage. It is a veritable city with lots going on, so only expressed minimal fanfare over hosting The Tour. Standard banners dangled from a few light poles along the plaza where the peloton will arrive. An over-sized imitation of the kilometer posts along the road stood in the plaza with an electronic countdown until Race Day. It was only in days and hours rather than clicking down the minutes or seconds as some cities do.
The tourist office had no decorations, unlike the one in Nantua, which was selling yellow t-shirts with the "Ici, C'est l'Ain" slogan and had an array of Tour and bicycle trinkets. At least Romans-sur-Isere had painted a stripe on the road where the finish line will be. Though I would have liked to have seen more enthusiasm, it was enough to excite me as I envisioned the thousands of people who would be swarming this area and the millions on television watching it in less than a month.
My push to reach Düsseldorf is touring as I like it, spending as much time riding as my energy will allow, riding to the point of exhaustion day after day. It's nice too not to be restricted by having to find an actual campground, but rather disappearing in some cluster of trees or behind a hedge right along the road, invariably when I have reached my goal of 80 or 90 miles or whatever for the day. I had come to enjoy the communal camping experiences with others during my time with Janina, but wild-camping is vastly more satisfying and puts a final exclamation point on my day of freedom and independence from societal norms. One can sit and contemplate and not be distracted by the charades of all the other campers in a truly pastoral setting on ground uncontaminated by the dreams left by the slumbers of others.
I'm not riding quite as late as I would like, looking to camp by eight with a couple of hours of light remaining, so I can be up by six to ride in the cool of the morning. I always want to keep riding if there's light. That I will have to do come Tour time, when hopefully this heat wave will have passed. It has moderated slightly, but still my daily highlights are soaking my head and shirt at any public faucet I come upon. That wet shirt on my back is a profound pleasure. I had to dig out my pliers to turn on the faucet in one town toilet. I put it in an easily accessible pocket for future use detaching Tour course markers. In another town toilet that had no sink and offered no water I had to capture the water that flowed from the top of the urinals.
France is behind the US in the proliferation of the Little Free Libraries on posts in people's yards that allow people to trade books, but the French embrace the concept. Some towns have their own versions of system. The small town of Raybon had converted a refrigerator for the service, providing much more space than the bird house-sized libraries the Little Free Library movement has popularized.
While with Janina we passed through a small town that had repurposed its obsolete phone booth into a book outlet.
Many of the campgrounds we stayed at had a shelf or two of books for trade, often with a few in Dutch, as they greatly outnumbered all campers other than the French. It came as a bit of a surprise that the Dutch would be sharing books as they have the reputation of being very insular and not contributing much to the French economy. The French say of them, "The Dutch bring their own potatoes and leave with their potato peels."
Beyond Nantua I crossed a couple of ridges, one that contained the third largest dam-formed lake in France. I was now well away from the bustling traffic that extended for miles radiating out from Lyon. It was near bumper-to-bumper traffic even at seven in the morning thirty miles from Lyon all headed into the big city for a day on the grindstone. I have my own much preferable grindstone pedaling away watching the ever changing scenery unravel all about me.
The day ialways presents items of interest...a monumental sculpture honoring the Resistance...
...a replica of the Statue of Liberty...
...a vending machine dispensing cheese...