Word from Cunard is that the Queen Mary will allow me to roll my bike right on board and take it to the cabin that will be my quarters with Janina for a crossing of the Atlantic and at no extra expense. What a contrast to the airlines. So rather than heading to the Pyrenees, I am saying adieu to The Tour and hello to a week of luxury at sea. I am biking up to Cherbourg, which juts out into the English Channel, where I'll take a ferry over to Portsmouth, just twenty miles from Southampton where the Queen Mary will depart.
I am sorry to abandon The Tour, but Janina has for years been extolling the joy of these crossings, which she has done half a dozen times she loves them so much, that I couldn't resist the opportunity to share the experience with her. I would have missed the next four stages of The Tour anyway as I made the long transfer from one side of the country to the other. I'll still be able to witness the next nine stages in bars across France and savor the wondrous French countryside at a less frantic pace. If golf is a good walk ruined, racing to keep up with The Tour can at times be a good bike ride ruined, especially when I am under the tension of every gendarme guarding an intersection stepping out and ordering me off my bike.
I'll still be deeply steeped in The Tour even though I will be heading away from it as I listen to a handful of podcasts devoted to it as I pedal along. There are two daily podcasts analyzing each stage--one by Lance Armstrong and another by two British and a French journalist at The Tour. The VeloNews and Cyclingnews both offer two or three podcasts a week and then there is the weekly wrap up by the Warren brothers. None are more passionate than the Warrens. They first attended The Tour in 1988 witnessing two stages, camping along the route, on a cycle tour from Germany, where Dean had been going to college, to Rome. Dean has been back many times since, but Randy has only managed a subsequent visit to the Giro d'Italia. They watch as much of The Race as they can. Randy calls it a "huge time suck," as it infringes on his training and coaching, not that he's complaining. They both felt a let down, as I have, with Sagan out of The Race. It is a much lesser race without him in it.
Armstrong's podcast has been a huge hit, catapulting it into the top ten. His greatest listenership comes from the UK, where there is a much greater interest in bicycle racing than in the US, though it helps considerably that the Brits presently have so many top racers. If the US had a contender it would be a different story. Even the French need a contender to attract more than the casual fan. With Bardet in second and other French riders winning stages I don't have to worry about asking bars to put The Race on their television. Today in Autun there were a cluster of bar patrons gathered at the television as there has been at every stage I've watched in a bar. And this despite the French sprinter who won an earlier stage and had been in the Green Jersey out of The Race after missing the time cut Sunday.
Lance is the only one of the podcasters to have ridden The Tour. He is strongly sympathetic to the riders. They have little say-so. The prize money hasn't been increased since Lance won his first Tour nearly twenty years ago. Their winnings are paltry compared to what tennis and golf rewards. The Tour winner gets 500,000 Euros which he splits with his eight teammates and all the staff. One change Lance has noted since his time is that the numbers the riders wear on their backs are now put on with adhesive, rather than pins. That makes it a pain to wash them. Lance also says it was handy to have a pin as rider could jab his leg with one if he had a cramp, as a French rider suffered on Stage Eight coming to the finish.
Without Demare and Cavendish and Sagan today's sprint was a joke with Kittel winning as handily as if he were racing a bunch of juniors. His fellow German Griepel didn't even have enough to finish in the top ten. It makes me inclined not to bother with tomorrow's sprint finish and just save my viewing for the following two days in the Pyrennes where Aru and Bardet can test Froome, and Uran will have the chance to prove he's the Colombian to worry about and not Quintana. After Uran's stage win on Sunday all the Colombian fans flocked around the Cannondale bus, abandoning Quintana.
While I dwell on the racing to come I'm also greatly anticipating my week at sea with nothing but water and sky to gaze out upon and all the shipboard activities. There will be lectures and movies and games and conversation and dancing and food and food and more food, Janina tells me. I'm always ten pounds or more down after one of these tours, so I will have a quick opportunity to regain it. Janina always has an interesting table of dinner mates, some of whom have become great friends. We'll have a jolly time picking their brains. It may be a little painful severing myself from The Tour, but I know it will be worth it.
It won't be the first time I've ended a tour with a "cruise." After I biked up to Alaska from Chicago in 1981 I returned from Alaska on a cruise ship through the Inside Passage to Vancouver. My parents knew the captain of the ship. He happened to have an extra cabin and let me have it. I have never endured such a severe case of culture shock. I had been sleeping in my tent for over two months and ended my trip staying with a homesteader eating elk and moose and other wild game. My diet was suddenly snails and frog legs and foie gras. The biggest assault to my senses was having to breathe all the colognes in the cramped quarters of the ship after breathing clear, fresh air for weeks. It was an unimaginable jump from living wild to living in the lap of luxury. This won't be so extreme, but I will still have to remind myself that I am living this experience and not dreaming it.