Stage Seven to Chartres offered up the first pyramid of bikes on this year’s Tour route. It came at about the half way point of the stage east of the large city of Alençon in the village of Neufchâtel-en-Saosnois, another of the many, many French town names with character. The bike on top acted as a weather-vane spinning in the wind. The pyramid advertised a bicycle museum in La Fresnay-sur-Chédouet ten miles to the north of the route. It was a museum I didn’t know about. I’ll be able to give it a look in several days when I make my turnaround and head back to the start of The Race in the Vendée—now nine days until the team presentations.
As eye-catching as a pyramid of bikes can be, lone bikes can carry as much impact with their simple sincerity, especially when accompanied with a rustic home-made sign. The most popular sign along The Tour route is Vive Le Tour, so a Vive Le Velo is a pleasing alternative. Can’t argue with either.
One of the most creative offerings on Stage Seven was one that used the red plastic twist-off caps from bottles of Coca-Cola to form the red dots emblematic of the mountains jersey. The caps are a link with the past as Coke was once a sponsor of The Tour. Not too many American companies have joined the calvacade of sponsors of late. Occasionally a Hollywood movie has had a float in the caravan preceding the peloton, but that too has faded away.
Painted wheels, these in the colors of the French flag, continued to outnumber bikes amongst the decorations.
All these decorations along the stage route made up for the lack of any in Chartres. It is such a large tourist town, big enough to have five McDonalds, it felt no urge to promote itself as a Ville Étape to attract visitors. The tourist office didn’t even have a brochure or any mention of The Tour. It’s towering cathedral, arguably the most magnificent of the several given World Heritage status in France, is perched on the high point in the city, making it visible from miles away. It will form a classic backdrop to the stage finish a mile outside the city proper, the same location The Tour used in 2012 when I watched the final time trial with Florence and Rachid won by Bradley Wiggins, wrapping up his Tour win, with Christopher Froome second on the day and overall.
The cathedral is a genuine tourist attraction with a gift shop inside and a lenghty list of tours available of the cathedral posted on a pillar within the cathedral as well. At the lone open entrance a guard looks inside bags and orders men to remove their hats. Less than one hundred feet from the entrance, next to a souvenir shop advertising toilets, is a shop renting Segways. Outdoor cafes line the narrow cobbled pedestrian-only streets leading to the cathedral.
Though there’s just one categorized climb, a Four, on the 145-mile stage to Chartres, there is plenty of climbing. I kept waiting for the terrrain to level off, as it is on the fringe of the Loire Valley, but the road undulated all the way to within twenty miles of Chartres. It will be a long day for the peloton, especially if it has to contend with a headwind as I did. At least the northeast breeze coming in off The Channel kept it cool. It has been sweater-weather for days now, quite a contrast to the sweltering heat Ralph has been contending with in the south.
Fortunately I’m in no great rush to get anywhere. My only objective these days has been to put in five, six, seven hours a day on the bike while trying not to overtrain for my upcoming race with The Race. I can feel the increasing strength in my legs and am now recovering well enough to wake after eight hours of sleep, down from nine and ten.
With time so precious during The Tour I’m always on the alert for shortcuts and ways to save time. The ever increasing number of supermarkets with self-checkout is a big help. There is never a wait at the four to six stations, as they are restricted to customers with less than fifteen items. I can swoop in and be done in no time. I just have to be wary of the occasional store that only accepts credit cards for such purchases. Directions are given in English as well as French, German and Spanish. I slip bills into a slot and drop coins in another to pay for my purchases, avoiding the human element. They are a good place to pass off coins I find on the road that are scuffed up enough for an attendee at the cashier to question. So far none has been rejected by the machine.
Another time-saver is using my map app on my iPad to find supermarkets and campgrounds and tourist offices. In the past I’ve always taken pleasure in just coming upon them. I didn’t realize I could simply enter “camping” or “tourisme” or “intermarche” (my preferred supermarket chain) in the map app and, voila, they pop up within a twenty-five mile range and I can rest assured of where the next might be. The number of campgrounds has been a revelation. I always knew they weren’t uncommon, but I had no idea there was such an abundance. There must be a government subsidy for all the municipal campgrounds that can hardly be self-supporting.
It’s a shame I didn’t realize I had this capability to find them last year with Janina when she introduced me to the pleasure of French campgrounds. They are much quieter and more pleasant than their American counterparts, and cheaper too. What few children are accompanying parents are well-behaved and restrained. Up until last year about the only time I slipped into a campground was in midday when I was desperate for a shower, and would just pay for a shower and be on my way, much preferring to camp in a pasture or in the woods away from all.
That is still my preference, but a sanctioned campground every few days is a not unwelcome luxury. I almost look forward to it. It’s not quite the difference between first class and steerage when flying, but I can appreciate the campground amenities. I don’t know if I’ll be able to integrate them into my route during The Tour though, when I won’t want to stray from the route and will want to keep riding as long as I can each day. But I will be alert to the possibility and will be happy for their water and electricity and maybe even WiFi—the pleasures of the Easy Life.
Just two Ville Étapes remain on my scouting mission—Dreux and Houilles—then it’s back for the Grand Départ in the Vendée with a stop in Tours to visit Florence and Rachid.