The stage started early today bowing once again to the World Cup and the inconsequential consolation game between England and Belgium for third place. When I stopped in a bar in Belley fifty miles west of Lyons at 4:30 I was too late to see Groenwegen take the sprint, his second in a row, or even a replay or a commentary on the stage, as the soccer coverage was now on its television. So I can’t offer an opinion on the tussle between Greipel and Gaviria in the sprint, who finished second and third, but were relegated to the back of the pack for their contact, moving Sagan up to second on the stage, the 31st second of his Tour career, compared to ten wins. If even half those seconds had been firsts, he’d be a real threat to Merckx’s record of 34. The relegations were good news for Cavendish, moving him up to eighth, his best finish so far, but of no more consequence than the day’s soccer match.
The sprint is no longer the Gaviria-Sagan show. The 23-year old Gaviria, riding in his first Tour, is on the wane, as Sagan finished ahead of him in the intermediate sprint for the first time. Who The Tour’s dominant sprinter may be will be left to speculation until Friday, the next sprint stage into Valence, the day after Alpe d’Huez. Gaviria, Sagan and Groenwegen all have two wins, but if one extends back to the final stage of last year’s Tour, Groenwegen is one up on them. In the meantime we have on tap four stages that will greatly impact this year’s Race, the cobbles and then three days in the Alps. Richie Porte justifiably stated after today’s stage, “The Tour starts tomorrow.”
With fifteen stretches of cobbles there will be significant time gaps after the stage and possible carnage. The debate will rage if cobbles belong in The Tour, as the feather-weight climbers will be at their mercy. The Australian director Matt White said he was considering telling his climber, Adam Yates, to take no risks, as he would rather him lose three minutes than be knocked out of the race by injury. After two “boring” flat stages everyone should be thrilled by the upcoming drama that has been at the forefront of Tour talk since the route was announced last October.
Today’s stage was so mundane only one French rider was inspired for glory on this great French national holiday, known as July 14th to the French, and Bastille Day to the rest of the world. The day’s two-man breakaway was comprised of Fabian Grielber of France and Mario Minnaard of the Netherlands. It should have been five or six French riders all working hard so one of them could win for France on this day. The break couldn’t stay away. The highest placed French rider was Démare coming in fifth.
Lyon was bereft of traffic on this holiday when I slipped out early in the morning. I had passed through Lyon on May Day, another major holiday, on my way to Cannes and had minimal traffic to contend with then too. The most direct westerly road through the town center out of town towards the Saint Exupery airport was one-way towards the town center for several blocks. With so little traffic I thought I would take it anyway. I need not have been concerned as there were lanes on both sides of the road for cyclists. After the airport, twelve miles out of the city, I was back out into pastoral countryside with the Alps looming in the distance. I had just one ridge to climb before I reached a series of lakes that would culminate in the most picturesque of the lot, Annecy, 90 miles away, where The Tour would start its tenth stage on Tuesday heading into the high Alps.
I felt lucky to come upon a Carrefour supermarket with morning hours this day. It was mobbed. Even though there were four cashiers on duty, it was a long ten minute wait. But I was happy I wouldn’t have to dip into my diminishing peanut butter for lunch and not have to make due with couscous and apple sauce for dinner.
There were almost more cyclists out on the road than motorists. As of July 1 the rural speed limit had dropped from 90 kilometers per hour to 80. The rural folk weren’t happy with the reduction. Whatever the speed may be, I’ve rarely felt threatened by speeders, just tail-gatetors and quick-accelerators. The French floor it coming out of roundabouts and after making turns. I always have to adjust my reflexes when I return to France. CRs can come out of nowhere.
Among my podcast listening today was the always insightful commentary of the French cycle journalist François Thomazeau on the Telegraph Cycling podcast. He was reflecting on how The Tour de France has made famous obscure places in France. No one outside of Brittany had ever heard of the Mur de Bretagne until it was visited by The Tour. Now this steep straight-up climb is known to all. No one would realize it’s fame coming upon it. He said, “The day after The Tour it becomes nothing more than a road to nowhere. It has nothing to distinguish it other than some painted names on the road, and maybe a little rubbish, though I hope not.” Similarly the Pra de Loup ski resort in the Alps was totally unknown until the 1975 Tour when Thévenet defeated Merckx on the climb ending his reign as invincible Tour champ. Now Pra de Loup has s strong association with the history of cycling. It’s mention brings a flood of associations to any cycling fan who knows the sport.
Frequently I end up camping within range of fireworks on Bastille Day. I could hear them after dark at ten p.m. though I couldn’t see them through the forest that was my abode for the night.