It was two hours past low tide. Signs warned that it wasn’t safe to cross the two-and-a-half mile Passage de Gois to Noirmoutier more than ninety minutes after the water began rising. But an occasional car was still traversing the narrow causeway and people digging for oysters and clams were still going about their business and I could not detect a rise in the surrounding Atlantic waters, so I felt emboldened to make a dash across it, comforted slightly by the series of towers one could clamber up if caught by surging water.
It wasn’t my first crossing to this island twenty-five miles south of the mouth of the Loire, as I had done it twice before when The Tour de France had made its Grand Départ from the island in the past fourteen years. It is one of France’s geographical gems that The Tour is happy to bring attention to, as it will do once again this year as it’s starting point on July 7. It won’t be crossing the Gois though, as low tide that day is nine a.m., too early to commence racing. Instead, the peloton will cross the high bridge at the bottom of the ten-mile long island, its only another access point for non-seagoers.
I had ridden hard the final twelve miles to the Gois from Challans where I had been waiting for Ralph for over an hour. Since he is a credit card touring cyclist carrying just one small bag of gear, he stays he hotels while I camp. He can gobble up the miles on his fifteen-pound carbon fiber bike with much less effort than required of me to propel my thirty-pound steel touring bike laden with fifty pounds of gear. Rather than starting out the day together, I get an early start and let him catch up to me. He got a later start than he hoped caught up in conversation with his bed and breakfast hosts, so he never caught up to me or made it to Challans by the deadline after which I could linger no longer to have any hope of crossing the Gois. I feared he’d have to make the long detour to the bridge, but he wasn’t that far behind me and dared the Gois after me and successfully made it.
It was the second time in two days we had failed to connect. The day before I set out on the time trial course out of Cholet a couple minutes before him. He managed to go astray and never regained me despite my frequent stops to photograph the many decorations on the twenty-two mike circuit. At the very start in front of the city’s mediatech (library) were several large edifices celebrating The Tour. The mediatech itself was adorned with a towering staggered billboard staring down upon the main thoroughfare through the city.
A giant replica of the kilometer posts marking the course stood by the entrance to the mediatech flanked by an electronic message board in the form of a stop watch counting down the days until the arrival of The Tour. Rather than spokes the front wheel of the bike had the “C” of Cholet.
The roundabouts on the course were adorned with a variety of decorations-with bikes. The most grandiose was a ring of nearly one hundred bikes each painted a single color and accompanied by a placard advertising a small business.
Even more inventive and original, also a first, was a windmill whose blades had been emblazoned with the colors of The Tour’s four contested jerseys.
All the Tour reminders was quite a contrast to Noirmoutier, where the only decoration so far was a slightly oversized bike mounted on a stand along the course. Noirmoutier is enough of a tourist attraction it didn’t need to emphasize its connection to this year’s Tour to bring it more attention. The island abounds with hotels and campgrounds and bike rentals. A seventeen-mile bike path winds through low-lying vegetation on the Gois side of the island. There are so many doddering folk on bikes, that bikes are forbidden on the two-lane road that runs through the middle of the island. One can avoid the unpaved bike path by following small roads on the other side of the island that connects several small towns. That was the route Ralph and I chose to exit the island, going over the bridge and then parting ways, Ralph heading south to Bordeaux and then over to visit Onni and Craig in the Cevennes to do a little house hunting, while I headed north to Brittany to continue scouting out The Tour route. Ralph needs to be back to London by the end of the month, but he could be back in the middle of July when the peloton takes on the Alps.
It was after six and I knew the camping would be a challenge along the marshy Atlantic coast, so I didn’t mind joining a cluster of RVs at a free camping area in the town of Beauvoir-air-Mer. It didn’t offer showers or electricity, just water and toilets. There were just a couple of small patches of grass, as it catered primarily to those in campers. I am far enough north now that there wasn’t even a hint of dark at ten pm when I was ready for sleep.