My forty-five mile transfer from the end of Stage Thirteen in Valence to Stage Fourteen took me past a recently erected statue of Johnny Hallyday at a restaurant outside of Viviers along the Rhône. I have Skippy to thank for alerting me to it. He was invited to the sculptor’s studio as he was putting the finishing touches on it in May when Skippy was in Valence for the Dauphiné. Former president François Hollande happened to be visiting the sculptor at the same time. He was front and center at his funeral along with Sarkozy and Macron, his predecessor and successor, further emphasizing Hallyday’s status.
I thought the statue had been erected in Valence. When I asked a young intern at the tourist office where the Johnny statue was, as he is generally known by his first name, she couldn’t understand my pronunciation, or even when I gave his full name. She pulled out a map of the city that had a list of all its statues. It was new enough I doubted it was on that list. After several more attempts at making myself understood, she at last realized this
American with the butchered accent was interested in their singer Johnny Hallyday. She summoned an older colleague. She knew all about the Johnny statue and that it was in a town over thirty miles away. It was erected there as that was where Johnny’s mother had lived and was buried. She printed out a sheet showing where the cemetery was and also where the statue was at the La Tennessee grill two miles out of Viviers.
It was erected last month and has already turned into a shrine akin to the Jim Morrison grave in Paris with devotees leaving mementoes and notes. Not everyone is happy with the head of the statue and there is talk of having it redone.
I picked up Stage Fourteen in Bourg-Saint-Andèol, six miles into the stage from its start in Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux, which I had visited in May on my way to Cannes. Six miles further the route will take the peloton through Bidon, which may inspire riders to toss their water bottles to fans as they occasionally see signs from fans of “Bidon s’il vous plait.”
From Bidon the peloton will venture into the spectacular L’Ardeche Gorge and will climb over the Col du Serre de Tourre. The river far below that the peloton will descend to was a traffic jam of rafts and canoes. This stretch involved more climbing than I anticipated and I began to grow concerned about making it to Barjac before today’s peloton began its ascent to L’Alpe d’Huez. But I made it with enough time to spare to stop in at the tourist office to inquire about the Anselm Kiefer sculptures that had brought me to Barjac. I was given the bad news that his complex is off limits to the public, though the town is working on making it a museum, hopefully by next year. One could see a painting of his though at the town library.
I found a bar across the street with a small crowd in front of its television watching The Tour. The riders were on their descent of the Col de la Croix de Fer just before their final climb of the day. I knew the long, Beyond Category Col almost as well as the Alpe having ridden it several times. I was craving the ice cold water at the many natural springs on the Col that had been spigotted, as there were none along the route I was on today. It was a hot, hot day. I drank several bottles of water while I watched the final hour of the day’s action sitting in front of a fan.
I had been on L’Alpe d’Huez the last six times the peloton had tackled it and I wasn’t missing it at all. It is a very stressful day climbing the beast and then contending with the crowds watching the action on the Giant Screen at the finish and then biking down the mountain with hundreds of other cyclists riding one’s brakes through the maze of the thousands walking down. It is supremely exciting to be part of it, but a very mentally, as well as physically, taxing day. The guys running along with the racers seemed more raucous and threatening than ever.
I could fully understand why Froome waited until the barriers on both sides of the road began four kilometers from the summit to get out from behind the protection of his teammate Thomas and go it alone. This was the attack everyone had been waiting for when Froome would speed away and put his stamp on The Race. But it didn’t happen like that at all. Thomas didn’t chase after him, but Bardet did, with Thomas on his wheel, and he brought Froome back in less than half a kilometer.
There was parrying between the three of them and Dumoulin, the only other left at the front until Landau caught up with them as they actually slowed and jockeyed around rather than continuing pell mell trying to put as much time into Quintana and Nibali and all the others who had been dropped as they normally would have done. They were acknowledging they didn’t consider any of them a threat any longer and they were just concerned about the glory of winning the stage.
And Thomas proved to be the strongest of the lot, sprinting away from the others less than half a kilometer from the finish winning by two seconds over Dumoulin. Bardet came in a second later with Froome. Thomas is proving he’s for real. He’s never sustained his efforts for the three weeks of a Grand Tour, as Froome has done multiple times, so Sky won’t be ready to fully anoint him team leader, but they will be happy to fully support him. He has always had a bad day in a Grand Tour and bungled his opportunity to be the team leader for the Giro one year, so that remains a concern. He understands all this, so there is no great friction between he and Froome. Froome remains in second but an additional eleven seconds behind thanks in part to the eight second bonus Thomas earned for winning the stage.
When the stage ended before it was learned Nibali sustained an injury that will knock him out of The Race, the cast of the Top Ten surprisingly remained the same from the day before, but with Bardet moving up to sixth from eighth. Froome is now 1:39 back just eleven seconds ahead of Dumoulin. He once again today proved he is someone to be reckoned with. There will be no reckoning on tomorrow’s flat stage, but the two stages afterwards on the Massif Central could be dangerous for all the contenders. It is turning into a dandy race, as the top four today separated themselves from everyone else, and they demonstrate they aren’t afraid to assert themselves. Quintana finally put in an attack today 8.5 kilometers from the finish. It didn’t last and two kilometers later he was floundering off the back of the leaders, demonstrating why he doesn’t attack.
It was another hard day with double stage winner Groenewegen missing the time cut and double stage winner Gaviria quiting The Race along with Greipel, Zabel and Gallopin. Uran didn’t start and Nibali fractured his vertebra in a crash with a motorcycle policeman near the finish. He still came in fifth, but won’t be starting tomorrow. Craddock is hanging in there, his cushion on last diminishing every day. It’s down to six minutes.