The peloton finally caught up to me, but just barely, beating me to Vittel by less than fifteen minutes. If it had ridden at the same pace as yesterday, I would have maintained my lead, though I temporarily regained it setting out on Stage Five while the riders all retreated to their hotels. I feel as if I'm the lucky one, still riding.
After being halted by a gendarme at 1:45, I found an alternate route for the final twenty-five miles to the stage finish after I waited an hour to indulge in the caravan for the first time this year. It was the usual trinkets from the one hundred plus vehicles that speed by at twenty-five miles per hour, about the speed of the peloton. Those dispensing the booty are trained to fling it at the feet of those along the road. They could inflict harm if their projectiles hit one's body. I gathered up some edibles (candy and madeleines) and a box of juice, which I had to grab from the hand of the passing vehicle. Then there were the souvenir items--refrigerator magnets, hats, key chains, a wrist band and a red polka dot shopping bag. Janina will be happy I got her another sun deflector for her car that folds up into the size of a Frisbee.
While I waited for the caravan I was able to do some wash at the town's troughs of spring water under a covering route on the route that goes back centuries and is now just a charming vestige of the past. Luxembourg and Germany and Belgium were fully modernized, while French villages retain their features that go back centuries. Their stone homes dating to the 1800s haven't been replaced by glass and brick homogeneity. One French journalist upon returning to France said it was a relief to return to civilization, referring mostly to the time he had to spend in Belgium. I too was glad to leave Belgium. Despite its fervent racing culture there is a backlash from some against cyclists as I well know from ventures past including being pelted by a tennis ball from a passing car. I had horns blasted at me by passing motorists, and unlike France there is the occasional car exceeding the speed limit by thirty or forty miles per hour as if the driver were a test pilot.
Earlier in the day's stage my biggest "Wow" of the day came from a Yellow Jersey unlike any I've seen. Such discoveries are among the chief joys of riding The Tour route. It was a patchwork of every winner of The Tour other than Armstrong.
The route also included the common site of a gathering of Deux Chevaux.
I have yet to see any Australian fans along the route, just the usual French and Belgian flying their flags and team preferences.
When I realized I wasn't going to make it to Vittel in time to see the finish on the Giant Screen at the finish I began looking for a bar. It was unlikely in the small villages I was passing through. I only saw one bar and it didn't have afternoon hours. I tried a campgrounds, but it wasn't big enough to have a television room. So I had to rely on my iPad for the second time this year to follow the closing kilometers. I never saw the footage of the crashes leading to the sprint so I can't offer first-hand testimony on the travesty of Sagan being ejected other than I doubt it would have happened had he not knocked Cavendish out of The Race with an injury.
The stature of a rider such as Sagan should have given him the benefit of the doubt on his intentions and recklessness. The Race is much poorer with out him. The penalty will certainly not curb seemingly uninhibited riding in the sprint. If there were a French influence on the decision, the fact that there is a French sprinter for the first time in a decade who can be a factor could have had some bearing too on the decision. And that French sprinter, Demere, won the stage and assumed the Green Jersey that had been conceded to Sagan even before The Race started. Whoever wins it in the end can't be too proud.
I didn't learn about Sagan's expulsion until the day after, as my camp site was too isolated to connect to the Internet. It was quite a shock to hear the news the next morning.
I met up with Skippy for the first time since the presentation of the team's. He was at the tourist office trying to find accommodation for the night. Skippy travels light with just a pack on his back and another strapped to his handlebars, so he doesn't camp. It enables him big mileage though. He'd ridden 150 miles today, partially because he has been avoiding The Tour route not wanting to contend with the gendarmes
Skippy often stays at hostels, but there were none in the vicinity. The tourist office in Vittel had a list of locals who had offered rooms for visitors for The Tour visit, knowing the hotels would all be booked. And there was one still available for Skippy and without charge. The person offering the room sent a cyclist to the tourist office to lead Skippy there. The woman in the tourist office who helped him had grown up in Quebec.
I didn't get out of the tourist office until seven. The next day's stage began right out front and proceeded through a pedestrian way of the old city that was still thronged with partying fans. It took me half an hour to reach the Départ Réel well outside of the town. Once again I had a wonderful evening riding in the cool past pastures of grains and stretches of forests before disappearing into a forest for the night.