Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Stage Four

After riding the final forty miles of today’s stage, including its lone category-four climb, I had no time to stick around for the caravan or the peloton as it was fifty miles to the start of the next day’s stage.  I needed to ride those fifty miles and then some before dark if I wished to keep to a pace that would allow me to reach the Stage Six finish on the Mur de Bretagne before the peloton.

I had camped in a forest just outside of Redon, three miles before the climb.  During the night I was awakened by a car that stopped right by me.  I heard two doors open.  I figured they had stopped for a pipi rustique and hoped they didn’t slip into the forest near me.  I couldn’t hear anything more.  The pull-off wasn’t wide enough for a Tour follower to set up to camp there, so I couldn’t imagine what they were doing.  After a couple of minutes, I heard the doors open again and off they went.  In the morning I discovered what they had been up to.  They had sprayed a message on the road, regarding some local political issue, another of the many features of The Tour.

All know they have a chance for millions to see their message or bizarre outfit or work of art.  The Froome denouncements have dried up, but not the celebrations of the French soccer team, who will being playing Belgium this night in the semi-finals of the World Cup.

The World Cup has  probably been good business for the outfit that trolls the route selling mini-cellophane French flags for a euro.  Their hustle is a real scourge upon the relaxed and joyous roadside atmosphere. These scamsters are a genuine nuisance and menace as they descend upon the decent folk having a good time in The Tour bubble away from the grasp and grind of the real world.  I recognized the chief henchmen in charge of the operation at the wheel of their dumpy car, but he had replaced the highly aggressive thugs who used to do his dirty work with a couple of portly, grandfatherly types.  They don’t go charging up to people as the others did, who could be a real terror. They looked as if they were fresh out of the clink and might slit your throat if you didn’t fork over what they wanted.  The guy driving has even slowed a bit, making me less wary of being sideswiped.

Though French flags of all sizes are more dominant this year than in the past, the greatest collection of flags were those of an Aussie fan.

Skippy would have been most pleased with the large banner wrapped around a water tower at the summit of the day’s climb promoting his cause.

I was glad I had saved the climb for the morning as I needed fresh legs to handle a short stretch of over ten per cent.  It averaged 7.8 for a half mile.  It would have been good to have gotten a little further down the road that night, cutting into the mileage I needed to do the next day, but I knew the climb could be packed with campers.  I had to stop a little earlier than I wanted to watch the end of the day’s stage, as the next town beyond Auray where I stopped wasn’t soon enough to have seen it. I sacrificed over an hour watching the peloton chase down the two French and two Belgian riders in the day’s break, perhaps debating the evening’s match between their countries, when I needed to only see ten minutes of it before the climatic sprint.  

But the rest was good for the legs with more than four hours of riding ahead of me, and the sprint was superlative with Greipel, Gaviria and Sagan riding furiously all finishing within inches of each other.  Gaviria claimed his second win and Sagan another second, just enough to retain the Green Jersey.  Gaviria is more restrained than his Colombian fans, celebrating with just a casual shake of clenched fist.  He’s just 23 and could be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.  He could be a threat to Cavendish’s thirty Tour wins, second to Merckx’s thirty-four.  Cavendish had hopes of closing in on Merckx this year, but so far he’s been a bust with no finish higher than twentieth, which he managed today.  He thought he was in good position today, with his team leading the chase in the final kilometers, but he claimed he got boxed in.  His team director says, “Don’t worry.  He’s a great champion and will eventually find himself.”

I thought I only had twenty-five miles to Lorient, but I encountered a detour that added another six miles around an estuary.  I had hoped to duck into a bar for some of the night’s soccer game, but I had no time to spare what with Lorient a large sprawling port city that I wanted to get in and out of in the late evening when there would be minimal traffic. It would be a real luxury to avoid the morning rush hour, especially over a couple of bridges. Thanks to my scouting I knew the start of the Stage was in the town center and not at an outlying sports center.  If I hadn’t known I would have been tempted to stop and camp on the outskirts of Lorient.  After eight o’clock when the game began I had the roads all to myself.  When I entered Lorient after nine the streets were dead other than for motorcycle pizza delivery guys. 

As I neared the center where the peloton would be setting out from the next day and barriers appeared I could hear cheering.  A little further and I saw a giant screen with the French players celebrating and beneath it a huge throng of locals, many with the stripes of the French flag painted on their faces, jumping up and down with glee.  France had upset Belgium 1-0 and would be playing in the Championship game Sunday!!!  The stage where the riders would sign in and be introduced the next day was already set up.  A dozen 18-wheelers with more structures to erect blocked the road in front of it.  I circled around looking for the course markers that would guide me out of the city.  It was 9:45 with maybe 45 minutes more light.  I knew I could pitch my tent anywhere along the route at this point where I might find some patch of grass.  I was happy I had pushed on and not too concerned about a less than ideal campsite.

After a mile I came upon the first Tour camping car parked along the road by a small park with a public toilet.  I was glad to fill my water bottles,  but wanted to get a little further down the road with hopes of finding a little less urban campsite.  I’d had a struggle navigating out of the city a month ago, but now in the hands of the course markers I had a carefree ride through the port area and urban sprawl.  I continued a couple more miles until I came to a forested suburban park. Although there were still plenty of soccer revelers still out I saw none in the park, and it had grown dark enough that I could be somewhat secluded.  I took advantage of a picnic table to start my dinner of couscous and cassoulet and revel in my own Great Day on the Bike.

I’d have to be up early as the road would be closed down by ten.  I just needed to get twenty miles down the road where I would stop for the caravan’s passing and then head north forty miles to connect with the next day’s route.

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