At last, for the first time since Stage One I was able to watch the action, what there was, on the Giant Screen at the stage finish. For once I didn’t have to immediately keep riding when I reached the stage finish, as tomorrow is a Rest Day for the peloton. I can set out on the next stage at my leisure, as the peloton won’t be breathing down my neck as it was today. I managed to get to just before the Five-Kilometer-To-Go arch before I was evicted from the course. It was only 3:30 so I could take alternate roads to reach downtown Carcassone and the stage finish. I had enough time to even duck into the train station just after the One-Kilometer-To-Go arch for half an hour to take advantage of its WiFi and to give my iPad a charge. Having not found a bar the last two days to watch the end of the stage I had fallen behind on my charging. Ordinarily the bars get me up to 100%. I hadn’t been above 60% for a while and near empty on occasion. What I can generate on the bike was just barely keeping me above water.
Urban train stations are a hive of activity this time of year in France with so many people traveling. And there are always a few cyclists, some with loaded bikes and others traveling light. Whether I speak to them or not, they are an invigorating site, all looking as if they are in the midst of a great adventure. I was totally spent having ridden hard since a little after seven, trying to get as far down the road as I could. I didn’t anticipate making it all the way to Carcassone until well after the stage had been completed, but as I approached the turn up the Category One climb 33 miles from the stage finish after a several mile climb out of Mazamet, I saw a sign for an alternate route for the caravan around the steep six-mile climb over an out-of-the-way peak on a very narrow road. I stopped to study my map. The alternate route was no shorter, in fact a little longer, but the climb wasn’t as severe or as high. The bypass saved my legs and maybe an hour of riding-time. It was likely I would have been stopped before the summit and been stranded on the mountain for three hours until all The Race entourage had passed.
If time hadn’t been an issue I would have lingered in Mazamet as a large screen along the route in a plaza was showing the last twenty miles of yesterday’s stage. It was very tempting, but the only time I had to spare in Mazamet was going a couple blocks off course to the City Hall to see the Place de Jalabert beside it, named for the local retired Tour de France star who is now a commentator. No one was in the Place, as The Tour route was the place to be, so I could pay no mind to the “No Bikes” sign to get a close look at his plaque.
As hoped, I at last got to say hello to The Devil. He was stationed just past the Fifteen-Kilometer-To-Go arch. No time for a photo. I had the road pretty much to myself at this point. The anxious crowds lining the road were happy to have something to cheer. A few idiots even felt aroused to run alongside me. It was a little disconcerting to have a guy in his underwire come charging after me and then sprint alongside for a few moments with arms pumping hard. I was too focused to look over and peer into their eyes to see if there was anything beyond them. Others would surge from curbside to get close to me, bending down then quickly raising their arms as I passed, a gesture I hadn’t noticed inflicted on the riders, but evidently it is a thing, maybe a mock act of devotion.
I was playing tag with a trio of Vittel vans that were handing out bottles of water an hour or so ahead of the caravan where another trio of vans would do the same thing. When there was a gap of fans they would speed up and pass me, then slow for the next batch. They never slowed to hand me one, but an older guy who had just gotten one held it out for me to grab as I passed. That was a gesture I appreciated. Earlier out of Mazamet on the climb I was the recipient of another act of benevolence when cyclist put his arm on my back and pushed me along for a few pedal strokes. Since I do that for others, I wasn’t startled by the hand on my bsck, and gratefully accepted his assist. I just wish it had been for more than a few token moments. But the legs were good, surprisingly good, as on slight inclines with a cheering crowd, rather than gearing down I’d stand on the pedals and power up, which I probably wouldn’t have done without an audience.
But the biggest bonus of the day was my first opportunity for a course marker. There was a pair behind the Giant Screen that no one was interested in, or wasn’t equipped to cut the wire holding them up. I kept my eye on them as I gazed up at the Screen expecting someone of the hundreds in the vicinity and passing by to appropriate them. But when the stage was done and they were still there, I was there happy liberator.
I was equally happy when I found the Giant Screen that I could sit in the shade to watch it. The heat has abated to just 80, but the sun is still intense. The storm of two nights ago brought deliciously cool 70 temperatures for a day, cool enough that I could scavenge a roasted chicken and cheese and sardines from a dumpster I had visited before with Craig and Andrew on a Sunday, as this was, when it is hard to find an open supermarket. The dumpster fare saved me a few minutes of supermarket time as well, besides providing me with some quality calories.
As I was walking to the Giant Screen along the barricaded final few hundred meters of the course behind the three deep crowd the caravan was passing. I wasn’t paying it any attention. I should have been glancing over to see when the Madeleine sponsor was coming, as it always sprays handfuls of them. I was actually hit in the back by one, but with two hands pushing the bike I couldn’t react in time to reach down and grab it before another hand beat me to it.
I reached the Screen just as the breakaway group was beginning the Category One climb. As yesterday, it was over ten minutes ahead of the group of contenders. With a twenty-six mile descent from the summit to Carcassone, none of the contenders cared to exert themselves to attack on the climb even though tomorrow is a Rest Day. Dan Martin did go up the road, but he is no longer a threat, so no one responded. It turned out to be a pre-day of rest for the Top Ten as they were observing a full-on truce, before the real Rest Day. It was not undeserved. The top riders have been treating us to aggressive, animated racing. The racing will be even better in the Pyrenees for this opportunity to rest the legs a bit more.
Before the contender group rode across the line with no one accelerating, a trio of riders broke away from a group of eight several kilometers from the finish. They had to continue riding hard and working together to stay away, all the while trying to save a few molecules of extra energy to outsprint their temporary allies. Magnus Cort Nielsen of Denmark riding for the Astana team was the anointed one to claim the day’s glory and the immortality of a Tour Stage Win.
I was in need of water before I could camp. The road the peloton will take out of Carcassone to the Pyrenees took me past the airport, a rare source of water I have been able to take advantage of. The terminal of this minor airport was right along the road, so it was no effort to stop in and fill up. I continued riding for half an hour, not needing to push it, and camped between a vineyard and a strip of trees far enough from the road to blunt the noise of traffic. I had a fine dinner of chicken and couscous. For the first time in days I have a couple of easy days ahead of me. The course markers will go up first thing in the morning allowing me to ride with no concerns of finding my way. I am eager to see what cyclists will be on the road with the possibility of some of the Tour teams getting in a couple of Rest Day hours pedaling the route. It will be another day of bliss and with no need of finding a bar.