Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Stage Five

I set my alarm clock for the first time since Cannes, and it’s a good thing I did, as I was still in a deep sleep when it went off at seven.  I had been up to midnight eating and eating.  I seemed to have packed in enough calories to replenish my stores after my nine hours of riding time to cover one hundred miles the day before, as I felt no more hunger than usual when I awoke.  And my legs felt fine too, just a little heavy, but I knew that they’d be rejuvenated after a few miles.  I can well understand why the racers will spend a few minutes on the rollers before a stage start to loosen up the legs, unless they have a long neutralized zone to start a stage, as they did today—over six miles.

I had a perfectly adequate campsite in a suburban park, but if I’d had a little more light to ride by last night I would have had a fine pasture to camp in right at the stage start marked by two course markers one on top of the other.  There was a large colony of camping cars along the pasture, but I could have gone deep into the field and had plenty of solitude.

The day’s most original rendering of a bike came early.  An ice cream parlor advertised itself with a bike that had an ice cream cone as part of its construction.

Warren Barguil, who won two stages and the polka dot Jersey last year lives in the vicinity.  A stable cheered him on simply using his first name, but not his nickname (Wa-Wa), with a polka horse.

The day’s double syllable expression was Cou-Cou, an informal version of bonjour only used with someone who is a close friend.

I had my second dose of the caravan at 11:30, early enough into the stage that all the purveyors of stuff were still full of zest and energy.  Once again I chose to station myself in a town at the intersection with the road I would be venturing off on after the caravan passed heading due north to the next day’s stage while the peloton headed west to the day’s finish in Quimper on the Atlantic.  Before the caravan arrived I had been bequeathed a polka dot hat when I stopped for provisions at the local Carrefour supermarket, sponsor of the mountains competition.  All the employees in the store from the butcher to the cashiers were wearing the hats.  The road was packed two deep on both sides of the road all through the town so I knew I’d just be enjoying everyone’s enthusiasm and not collecting much.  I did manage a madeleine, a shopping bag and a refrigerator magnet.  The magnet was from a new sponsor—a chain of senior residences.

After the caravan passed I had five hours to bike forty miles up to Carhaix-Plouguer to find a bar to watch the end of the stage and join  the next day’s stage forty miles from its finish in Mur de Bretagne. A head wind and hilly terrain was limiting my average speed to under ten miles per hour.  I distracted myself from the effort I was having to expend by catching up on the several podcasts I try to keep up with covering The Tour.  Two give a daily report—the Telegraph podcast of three journalists at The Tour, two English and one French, and Lance Armstrong’s podcast.  

Armstrong launched his last year and his five million downloads during The Tour, 250,000 per stage, earned him several sponsors this year.  He has enough of a following that one can pay to watch him watching The Tour, which more than a thousand are already doing.  He is quite diligent in keeping up with what is going on and has a close relationship with at least three of the five Americans in The Race.  He regularly texts Van Garderen, who is second overall, and Craddock, who thanks to his fractured shoulder, has a comfortable twelve-minute lead on the Lanterne Rouge, last place.  Craddock is a fellow Texan who Lance has ridden thousands of miles with.  Armstrong has ridden many miles with Van Garderen, as well, from their Aspen base, sometimes even motorpacing him, a genuine act of friendship. The purpose of his podcast was to prove that he’s not the pariah many regard him and is still well integrated with society.

Armstrong was the only source I follow who mentioned Sagan fell off the pace in the team time trial due to dehydration as he and several of his teammates lost their special aero-bottles for the time trial that don’t fit so well into their holders when several of the riders hit a bump just as they set out and their bottles flew out.  Armstrong said that aero water bottles are sheer idiocy as  no one has invented an adequate holder for them.  Some speculated that Sagan’s falling off was a sign of lack of fitness.  That is hardly the case, as in the two stages since the time trial he has finished first and second.

The Velonews and Cyclingnews also have podcasts from The Tour every few days.  And the Warren brothers try to supplement their year-round weekly podcast on all matters cycling with some extra commentary during The Tour with the ambition of some day going daily just like Armstrong and the Telegraph team.  I was finally catching up with their post-team presentation podcast today and did a double take when I heard myself being quoted.  Skippy will be pleased to learn that Randy acknowledged him as well, remembering it was Skippy who connected me with Christian Van Velde when his Garmin team was heading out of Monaco before the Grand Départ there on a training ride with Skippy and we were all stopped at a red light.

I was on schedule to make it into Carhaix-Plouguer a little after five but a final long climb set me back and then an extra mile to the town center set me back some more.  Yesterday’s stage didn’t finish until nearly six, so I wasn’t concerned.  When I stopped at the first bar I came too I could hear the announcers of The Race excitedly describing the action.  Still I was in no rush, taking the time to dig out the cable and plug for charging my iPad from a pannier. When I entered I saw the Yellow Jersey in the sprint to the finish line.  My first reaction was this must have been a highlight from a previous race, but then I recognized Sagan in the Green Jersey coming on strong.  

I had actually arrived within moments of the finish of the stage.  It was another spectacular win for Sagan, his second this year.  Gaviria wasn’t a party to this sprint as he had run out of gas due to an incline at the end. He had gained a point in the Green Jersey Competition on Sagan in the intermediate sprint, but collecting none in the final sprint put him 33 points behind, after closing to within three.  The Yellow Jersey faded with Colbrelli taking second and Gilbert third.  Valverde was fourth, indicating he is on strong form and will be a strong competitor to win tomorrow’s most telling finish yet up the steep, steep Mur de Bretagne, known as the Alpe d’Huez of Brittany.  This will be a finish for the climbers, even though it’s just a little over a mile.  The peloton will be climbing it twice within ten miles.  It will easily be the most exciting racing of The Tour so far.  As always it gets better and better.

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