Taylor Phinney continues to ride an inspired Tour fully justifying his team's selection of him. He sprinted into an early four-man break and was one of two survivors for over one hundred miles to just before the one-kilometer to go arch when he was inevitably caught by the fast-charging sprinters' teams. Kittel may have won the stage with Griepel third and Cavendish fourth and the French dark house Demere sneaking in at second, but Phinney was its hero. He was out front with the spotlight on him for over four hours. Such prominence was expected of him early in his career when he finished fourth in both the road race and time trial at the 2012 London Olympics until his horrific accident derailed him three years ago. And he'll be in the polka jersey tomorrow, as he was first over the first hill four miles into the stage, nabbing its single point and also grabbed the other point on offer in this stage on the other Category Four bump towards the end of the stage.
I only saw the last ten minutes of his heroics, as I was focused on getting down the Stage Three route. I began my day riding five more miles of Stage Two before leaving it at Thimister, twenty-one miles from the finish in Liege, as I could duck down from there to Verviers, the Stage Three Départ, less than ten miles away. It was another cool, dank day with the possibility of rain at any moment. As I headed to the city center I came upon a course marker and, voila, I had my way laid out for me for the rest of the day. Trees through the city had been wrapped in specially darned strips of cloth in the emblems of the Tour .
Few towns go to such effort, content to simply wrap them in a sheet or plastic, as evidenced further down the course, which is always tribute enough, but Verviers set a new standard that will be hard to surpass.
The team of seamstresses in Verviers also sewed a perfectly-fitting yellow jersey for a statue along the route.
An even larger jersey adorned a high tower.
I was greeted by a hard uncategorized climb out of the sprawling city and the climbs continued for forty-three miles until I crossed into Luxembourg with only one designated as a Category Four. I had to make a detour around a large race track in the town of Spa that the peloton would be riding through, as racing was presently going on. Cars and motorcycles were parked all around and I could hear the whizzing of what sounded like motorcycles on the track. The detour added three miles and some extra climbing to my route. At this point every mile is crucial as I try to get to the Stage Four finish in Vittel some two hundred miles away before the peloton to meet Ralph Tuesday afternoon by two p.m. It's not going to be easy.
The terrain leveled somewhat when I reached Luxembourg and a cluster of stores that were mobbed by duty-free shoppers from Belgium. I ducked in to see if televisions might be for sale turned to The Tour, but no such luck. It was fifteen miles to where the intermediate sprint would be. I hoped it would be at a big enough town to have a bar showing the racing as the finish was in less than ninety minutes. It would be tight if I could make it by five and the finish. A few miles before I came to an Irish Pub attached to a fancy hotel. I peered in through the window and could see the thrilling sight of The Tour on its large television. And there was Phinney in his green Cannondale jersey out in front with eight kilometers to go, but with the peloton only thirty seconds behind and going a bit faster than he and his companion. They were doomed to be caught, but they'd still had a victorious day. The bar had wifi so I could scan the cyclingnews commentary from the very start and relive the stage. The peloton had been inflicted by sporadic rain, just as I had.
I was back on my bike at 5:30 hoping to ride for at least another three hours and get ninety miles for the day. The hills had kept my average speed to ten miles per hour. Nine hours on the bike would be my most so far, but my legs weren't complaining. The hills weren't as severe as they had been on the other side of the border in Belgium when I had biked up to Düsseldorf. At least that ride took me through Bastogne, a legendary Belgian racing town, as it is the halfway point of the Liege-Bastogne-Liege that is one of the five Monuments in cycle racing and the oldest continuing race. The round-about where the racers make their return has four statues of cyclists.
Alongside is a tribute to the race and a list of all its winners, including the lone American winner Tyler Hamilton in 2003.
Every town I passed through in Luxembourg had a large vinyl poster of The Tour route through the country with a dot showing the town.
This one was below a large dam and marked the beginning of the first Category Three climb of this year's Race. I was nearing my goals for the day and reached them a mile into the two-and-a-half mile climb. That was a perfect place to stop, as I could see the road suddenly turned very steep with a twelve per cent grade for nearly a mile, explaining why it was a Three and not a Four. There were quite a few camping vans parked along the climb but they were blocked from parking in front of a church. There was a clearing beside it that made a perfect camping spot for me.
I had stopped a couple times during my evening riding to start in on my ravioli acne couscous, so didn't need to eat much beyond ten to get enough calories into me. I am eager to cross back into France tomorrow when my SIM card will be reactivated and I'll be able to read all the post stage coverage before I hit the hay.