Sunday, July 9, 2017

Stage Nine

Waiting around for the stage start in Nantua rewarded me with a close-up of Marcel Kittel in the Green Jersey edging to the front alongside the lead car transporting Tour director Christian Prudhomme, who would shortly wave the racers into action after they departed this scenic lakeside town in the Jura mountains. Froome in Yellow behind the car didn't seem much concerned just yet before the toughest stage of The Tour so far that saw his teammate Geraint Thomas in second crash out and Richie Porte in fifth as well.  Thomas, sporting a Yellow helmet like all his Sky teammates, looked perfectly calm clinging to the curb just behind Kittel trying to stay out of trouble as well at the stage start.

After all the day's carnage that saw five crash out and seven eliminated by not making the time limit, including Mark Renshaw and Sagan's brother Juraj, Froome held onto Yellow, though Bardet had him on the ropes when he took the lead on the run-in to Chambery after the descent of the Mont du Chat where Porte had an ugly crash losing his bike when he veered into the grass and was hurled into the rocky cliffside.  I watched the thrilling final hour of racing in a bar in Bourg-en-Bresse thirty-five miles away from Nantua.  If the large screen at the stage start had broadcast the stage rather than just the the pre-stage show, I would have gladly glued my eyes to it for the  five hours of racing that began with a Category Two climb less than three miles from the start and then seven more categorized climbs over its 112 miles.

Nothing was more dramatic though then the final chase to the finish as Bardet tried to hold off the heavy hitters Froome, Aru, Fuglsang, Uran and Barguil, who had been at the front all day and collected enough mountain plots to claim the Polka Dot jersey.  Not only were they trying to catch Bardet, they were also trying to put more time into Quintana and Contador, who had both been dropped.  They caught Bardet two kilometers from the finish, setting up a sprint among six non-sprinters.  Froome took the lead but couldn't hold it.  Barguil summoned the strength to take the sprint, but the photo finish revealed that Uran had actually won.  Barguil's tears of triumph were all for naught.  The Polka Dot Jersey was a worthwhile consolation, which he ought to keep for a couple of days with two flat stages coming up after the Rest Day.

Uran's win brought more happiness to the Cannondale team.  Their American GC hope Andrew Talansky, a former Top Ten finisher,  had been creeping up on the Top Ten.  He entered the stage in 17th, less than a minute from the coveted domain of the leading ten, but he had a disastrous day coming in with a large group twenty-seven minutes after Uran, dropping him to 31st and ending whatever aspirations he might have had.  Now his efforts will be relegated to helping his Colombian teammate, who jumped to fourth with his day's exhilarate triumph.

As The Race approaches the half-way point with nine stages down and twelve to go the peloton has thinned by almost ten per cent, losing seventeen of its 198 starters.  It is still a river of bodies filling the road.

I pedaled into Nantua with the caravan.  It had assembled two miles out of town.  A gendarme initially halted me, but when there was a gap I just slipped in and rode along.  They weren't giving away anything yet other than waves and smiles and a lot of blaring music.  The speakers pointing out must not effect those on the floats, otherwise they would end The Tour stone-deaf.  After I entered the barricaded portion of the route before the starting line a gendarme on a motorcyclist chased after me and ordered me back and over on a trail along the lake for the final half-mile into town.  If he hadn't I would have been trapped on the official route for a couple of miles packed with fans on both sides of the barriers.

Luckily I'd scouted out Nantua three weeks before and knew where I could get water and how to reach the tourist office by circumventing the stage route.  The plaza in front of the tourist  office was packed with vendors giving away more worthwhile goodies than from the caravan--tiny yellow bikes, smoothies made on the spot, reflective anklets, t-shirts and more.  It was overcast with the threat of rain, but all were in sunny spirits.  There had been a few drops of rain already, but not enough for me to dig out my raincoat.  I did have to rush out of my tent in the middle of the night and put up my rainfly.  It was just a few drops then too.  I would have liked to have removed the the rainfly, as it increased the temperature in the tent a few degrees, but I didn't dare.

After a transfer across the country the peloton will head south towards the Pyrenees.  I will start pedaling west awaiting word from Cunard on their bike policy to determine whether I turn south and continue with The Tour or head north and meet up with Janina for a week on the Queen Mary. My legs feel as if they've already had a three week tour what with my hard nine-day ride to reach Düsseldorf in time.  Usually that week before The Tour I'm resting my legs, not overly exerting them

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