With today’s start in Lourdes religion came to The Tour. Unlike the rest of France, members of the clergy, male and female, can be seen wandering about in their vestments in Lourdes, a virtual religious theme park. It is hugely popular as a pilgrimage site for Catholics all over the world. Only Paris has more hotel rooms in France. Many cathedrals I duck into all over France have notices of a trip for its congregation. The city abounds with souvenir shops, many selling water from its holy grotto.
The crowds lining the route for the start of the stage were so thick, I gave up trying to reach the starting point in front of the city’s majestic basilica and was content with a spot that a handful of fathers in their robes had selected. They didn’t decline any of the offerings of the caravan, some eagerly soliciting.
I got my first glimpse of Thomas in his holy vestment with Froome keeping his distance. He can’t be accused of sulking, or feeling sorry for himself. He knows what it is to win The Tour, so he can feel happy for his long-time friend and compatriot. He has said, “G has ridden a faultless race. He deserves this.”
And today’s final day in the mountains offered further confirmation that he is the strongest rider in The Race. Roglic managed to escape on the twelve-mile descent to the finish line from the top of the Beyond Category Col d’Aubisque, thanks in part to getting in the slipstream of the lead motorcycle according to Dumoulin, who said he was “pissed” about it to the reporters who swarmed him as soon as he crossed the line. But Roglic isn’t entirely to blame, as he was rocketing so fast the motorcyclist couldn’t outdistance him. Roglic moved past Froome into third, nineteen seconds behind Dumoulin. He is thirteen seconds ahead of Froome, who finished nineteen seconds behind him in a group of seven that included Dumoulin and Thomas. Thomas showed his superior strength by surging ahead of the group to take the six-second bonus for finishing second, raising his buffer on Dumoulin to 2:05. Dumoulin does have reason to be angry, as Roglic is a threat to overtake him too and move into second.
It all comes to a head on the next and penultimate stage, a 31-kilometer time trial. Research has shown that when Thomas and Dumoulin have gone up against each other in time trials, Dumoulin is better by just under two seconds a kilometer. If that holds true, Thomas will have a minute to spare. They just have to hope that Roglic doesn’t have a super-super-charged ride, an extremely unlikely event. There will not only be suspense as to Roglic moving into second over Dumoulin, but also whether Froome can find the power to overtake Roglic and regain the podium. Roglic moving up to second is more likely than his falling to fourth. And he’ll be more motivated than Froome.
Froome would no doubt be happy to share the podium with his friend, unlike Lance who wasn’t happy at all about finishing third to his teammate Contador in his comeback Tour. Hincapie brought up the issue on their podcast asking, “How did it feel to finish third after winning The Tour seven times,” knowing full well the answer, but happy to set Lance off.
“It fucking sucked,” he exclaimed, “especially to that wanker on the top step.”
The best laugh though from the show came over the issue of a dog running out on the course during the pepper-spray stage. Lance had been watching the Australia feed. He quoted one of the announcers, while trying to imitate his accent, as saying, “Bringing a dog to a bike race is not a good idea. It’s like having a shark at a pool party.”
After watching the peloton set out for its afternoon in the Pyrenees I biked twelve miles north to Tarbes, hometown of Yvette Horner, the recently deceased star of the caravan over fifty years ago playing the accordion. One of her obituaries mentioned a Place had been named for her. A young intern af the tourist office had to consult with an elder to find out where it was. It was over a mile north of the city center just off a one-block street named for her in recent housing development of small homes clustered side by side without yards, just the small Place at the end of the street. Signs at both identified her as an accordionist, neither mentioning her association with The Tour.
There was a row of small trees in the grassy Place.
I went to the cemetery where she was buried, but it was too daunting a task to try and find her with my need to find a television for The Tour of much pressing importance. I know from experience searching for the graves of Tour winners, it can take a long time. I lingered a few moments preparing a sandwich hoping someone might show up and know where her grave was, but no such luck.
It was twenty-five miles back to Pau, where I had a train to catch the next morning at 7:47 to Paris. It was due to arrive at 12:12, well before the start of the time trial. I’d have ample time to bike out to Houilles, where the next day’s stage would commence taking a circuitous route to the Champs Élysées for the finale sprint.
In a park across the street from the train station in Pau were several circles of yellow monuments. It was an eerie site, but based on their color I hoped they had something to do with The Tour.
And indeed they did. There was one for every Tour, over one hundred of them. On the front they gave the details of each race and on the back they profiled the winner. And Lance was not excommunicated, though the exploits of the French racers in each of his wins took precedence over him. Voeckler was the hero of the 2004 Tour, holding on to the Yellow Jersey for ten days.
LeMond’s first win in 1986 featured Hinault as much as him.
It was another superb tribute to The Tour that I hope is not a one-of. I’d gladly give it my full respect on an annual basis.