Sunday, July 22, 2018

Stage Fourteen


The Massif Central stymied me once again from seeing the day’s action. I was confident I’d find a bar in Belmont-sur-Rance.  I had passed through it two months ago and knew it had a large cathedral and a tourist office, indicators of a decent-sized town with amenities.  I was riding hard, as if I were Bernal on L’Alpe d’Huez leading Froome and Thomas with such vigor that he managed to drop his fellow Colombian Quintana.  I just needed to average twelve miles per hour for an hour to make it, but over uncertain terrain.

I had tried for a bar in Vabres-l’Abbaye at 4;15 with no luck.  My choice was to double back two miles to the large city of Saint-Afrique that had loads of bars or continue on to Belmont-sur-Rance thirteen miles away.  If it weren’t essential for me to get in the miles, I would have stopped in Saint-Afriwue to begin with, so I chose to push on, which would put me in great position, though at the sacrifice of some race viewing..  I had been averaging twelve miles per hour and the terrain looked as if it would permit me to continue that pace. A couple of big hills threatened to derail me, but I remembered there was a good descent to Belmont-sur-Rance that would save me. 

I arrived a few minutes before 5:30, close to the possible finishing time. Just past the tourist office was a Bar des Sports, but it was closed.  Another bar a couple blocks further was also closed, though the door was unlocked.  I snooped around but saw no television.  When I returned to my bike a cyclist had stopped to give it a look.  He told me there was an auberge around the corner from the tourist office that had a television. Unfortunately it didn’t have the cable station that showed The Tour.  So I was reduced to sitting outside the closed tourist office and using its WiFi for the minute-by-minute updates of the action on the Cyclingnews website.  

That wasn’t all bad, as it brought back fond memories of how I used to follow The Tour a couple decades ago before I started actually attending it.  It can be quite exciting as a stage reaches its climax and there are reports of riders attacking and being dropped.  And so it was today on the two-mile Category Two climb of ten per cent, tougher than the Mur de Bretagne, to the finish at an airfield outside of Mende.  A breakaway group eighteen minutes ahead of the main contenders was just approaching the climb.  It had splintered.  The Spaniard Omar Fraile after chasing down the lead rider managed to hold off the new French darling Alaphilippe, the lone French stage winner so far,  charging after him.  

This was a prelude to the main bout of the top ten contingent, all that really mattered.  And it played to form with Thomas, Froome and Dumoulin, the top three overall, unable to shed one another, but leaving Quintana ten seconds behind and Bardet fourteen.  Roglic, who has quietly been in the top five and had moved up to fourth with Nibali’s knocked out with an injury, was the first to attack on the climb and managed to come in eight seconds of the Big Three.  It would have been exciting to see them battling it out for the several minutes of the climb, but I had to settle for simply visualizing it as the reports came in as if by telegraph.  The pecking order seems to be fully established.  Any of the principals could have a bad day and be eliminated, so there will be no lack of suspense in the days to come.  

Froome and company didn’t cross the line until 6:11.  The tables outside the sports bar were filled as I left town.  If I had known it opened at six I could have seen the finish.  I didn’t feel too bad about missing it, as my main priority is getting a certain distance down the road each day, and I could feel good about having gotten to Belmont-sur-Rance when I did.  A couple miles out of town began an eight-mile Category Two climb, a nice way to end the day.  It averaged just five per cent.  Compared to climbs of seven and eight per cent I could almost glide up this.  I had been over it two months ago when I was early in my training.  It was a strain then.  It was enjoyable this time with an extra 3,500 miles on my legs, especially with all the camping vans parked along the road.  One had posted a sign thanking the just-retired Tom Voeckler for his career.  It listed his chief achievements, including highlighting in yellow his two ten-day spells in the Yellow Jersey in 2004 and 2011.

I had begun my day with the super steep Col de Perjuret on my fifty mile transfer between stages.  Two miles from the summit is a monument to Roger Rivière at the spot where he suffered a crash in the 1960 Tour breaking two vertebrae, ending his career.  He had won two stages in that Tour and was a threat to win it.   He was a three-time World Champion in the pursuit and also the holder of the hour record before Merckx.

One side of the monument listed all his achievements on the road and on the track.

From the summit it was mostly downhill for thirty some miles to Millau, start of Stage Fifteen.  The bridge over the Tarn that the peloton will cross while still in the neutralized zone was decorated as if for the return of Napoleon.

I was catching up on Tour podcasts as I pedaled along, a good way to be in the moment.  I heard Lance take another potshot at Jonathon Vaughters.  Lance has been joined by George Hincapie on his last few podcasts.  Having ridden seventeen Tours he makes the podcasts all the more interesting.  They were commenting on up-and-coming riders they knew who had come up through the junior program and reminisced about their day’s as juniors together.  Lance commented that today’s juniors are regular guys, as the sport is now attracting mainstream athletes.  In his time it was mostly outsiders and social misfits.  He said he and George were the only normal guys in his group.  “Everyone else was weird,” he said,  “Just look at Vaughters and Julich.” 

George replied, “Come on, Bobby is a good guy.”  

Lance said, “You’re right.  I like Bobby.  He’s become a good friend, but at the time I hated him.”

On Breakfast with Bos I had confirmed the Devil is here.  I had yet to see him in person or on the road.  Ian Boswell’s friend, who is following along in his car watching The Tour and doing the podcast with him, said he saw the Devil riding a bike around Lake Annecy on the Rest Day.  Boswell said he is such a fixture with The Tour that The Tour flew him over to Japan on a charter with a bunch of Tour riders for some post-season racing.  And he was in costume on the flight.

I hope to see him tomorrow if I can make it over the Category One climb twenty-five miles from the stage finish before the road is closed.  He is always somewhere near the end or at the top of a significant climb.

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