If I had to have a TV blackout day, this was the day to have it. It was The Tour’s longest stage of 143 miles and through flat terrain. It came between two stages where the peloton had extra motivation—the finish on the Mur de Bretagne and the Bastille Day Stage when every French rider would be super-motivated. This was a stage that no one seemed to care about, so I was lucky to be in the middle of a ten-hour day on a series of three trains from Vannes to Lyon while the peloton delivered what all the commentators called the most boring stage of The Tour.
It was so boring there wasn’t even a breakaway. None of the French riders who usually comprise the break wanted to expend the energy they wished to unleash the next day. The peloton’s pace was twenty minutes behind the slowest of the three speeds of the estimated schedule. And the sprint saw a surprise winner, Dylan Groenwegen, though not a total surprise as he surprised everyone with his win on the Champs Élysées last year. Gaviria and Sagan finished in his wake. Cavendish had his first top ten finish right at ten, but Armstrong noticed he flinched in the sprint, something he would never have done in his prime. Armstrong called him a “best bud,” but was sorry to say his time was past.
Armstrong was on fine form in his post-stage podcast, emboldened to speak more frankly than ever as he regains his standing in the cycling community and has so many listening to him and feeding his ego. In an earlier podcast he referred to a rider who years ago was stung by a wasp during The Tour. His eye swelled up dramatically, so he couldn’t see out of it, but the UCI wouldn’t let him have a cortisone shot to reduce the swelling so he could keep riding. Armstrong’s co-host said, “Wasn’t that Jonathan Vaughters.” Armstrong said it was, but he didn’t want to mention his name since he is far from a friend.
In today’s podcast Armstrong was talking about Lawson Craddock, the American who is bravely riding with a fractured shoulder, and how he had told Armstrong he had ambitions of being a Tour champion in the future. Armstrong said he was riding well this year but last year was a wasted year for him because he was on an ill-advised training schedule. And the person responsible for that Armstrong did not hesitate to name this time—Vaughters, calling him a “fucking bonehead.”
Armstrong’s show is partially responsible for Craddock raising over $60,000 so far to renovate his home velodrome in Houston. Craddock announced that he would donate $100 for every stage he managed to finish in The Race after fracturing his shoulder. Hundreds have made a contribution. The tally rose by $20,000 from the day before. It is turning into a huge windfall for the Houston cycling community and a great testament to those inspired by Craddock’s efforts. Armstrong is certainly asserting his own love of racing and riding. He said he wasn’t going to watch the World Cup Championship game Sunday, as he’d rather go for a bike ride.
While the peloton was relaxing on the road, I was having a relatively stress free day of relaxation on the train. I was nervous about each of the trains I boarded hoping there’d be no issue with my bike. I was told I didn’t need a reservation for my bike on the first two short legs, 30 minutes to Redon, where Tyler Farrah once beat Cavendish in a sprint, and 60 minutes to Nantes. There were others with bikes, but not too many to fill up the slots where three or four bikes could nestle together. I had to scamper to the right car the first time, where I was joined by three English guys traveling light as Ralph does for just a three day credit-card outing.
I had an hour between trains in the large station at Nantes. There were quite a few other cyclists, two of whom were on my train to Lyons. Before we arranged our bikes they asked where I was getting off. When I said Lyons, they asked which station in Lyons. I didn’t realize the train made two stops there. I was glad they told me as my ticket had me getting off at the first station. I wanted to go to the second as that was where I had booked a hotel, the only one on Hotels.com for less than $50. That seemed a bargain after a campground I had stopped at the night before with waterslides wanted $25. I told them I was accustomed to paying no more than $10 at municipal campgrounds, so I’d just go camp in the forest and wait for a shower until my hotel in Lyons. Even though it was eight p.m. the guy at the desk didn’t offer me a reduced rate. I was most happy he hadn’t as I had a most quiet night in the nearby forest away from the raucous water sliders.
In each of my three trains I was able to sit in the car where my bike was parked so I had access to my food and extra garments. Unlike Amtrak, the air-conditioning was very moderate and I didn’t need my vest or sweater. There were electric outlets at each seat, but no WIFI, just at the stations. I had no problem finding the right platform as there were English speaking attendants floating around at every station. When I began speaking in French, rather than being misunderstood, each asked if I spoke English and then fluently gave me directions. Only twice before in my fifteen years of following The Tour have I resorted to a train. This experience made it seem most easy and pleasant. It bodes well for my train trip from Pau to Paris in two weeks.
The hotel worked out just fine too. It was right by the station and the clerk was standing in the doorway, as if he was expecting me, asking if I had a reservation, not that the old four-story hotel was filled, just that he knew a George Christensen had booked a room and it was dark and after 10:30 and he hadn’t showed up yet. There was no hidden charge other than a one euro city tax. Breakfast wasn’t included, though I thought it was.
I had to leave my bike downstairs, but it was in a safe and secluded enough spot I could leave my tent and sleeping bag on it. And best of all it had strong enough WiFi to give Janina a call. She was ecstatic that my old roommate Debbie will be able to catsit for six weeks while we’re in Traverse City and then Telluride after I return. It is especially pleasing as Janina just inherited her daughter’s three cats bringing her menagerie to five. Annia dropped them off a week ago in the midst of making the move from Beirut to Manhattan, where she doesn’t have room for her cats just yet.