Sunday, July 29, 2018

Stage Twenty-One

Traffic is always light on a Sunday morning, but even more so in July and August in Paris, the prime vacation months for the French when the capital is dominated by tourists rather than Parisians.  The French are so vacation-obsessed that French television had an hour-long show on favorite vacation spots that I watched while I was visiting Florence and Rachid in Tours during the World Cup.  The show declared the French “World Champions of Vacations” as the nation was poised to go vacationing.

I had little traffic to contend with as I contentedly pedaled the peloton’s final stage into the city from Houilles.  The caravan wouldn’t set out until 2:15 and the racers two hours later, so even though I didn’t get going until nine, getting more than eight hours of sleep for the first time in days, I had no pressure of being evicted from the road and didn’t have to ride as if I were chasing down a break.  I could have been sipping champagne and chatting with my companions if I had any, just as the peloton would be doing later in the day.  

The town of Poissy was scattered with vinyl signs welcoming and thanking and cheering The Tour, honored that it had been included on the route.

I recognized a few camping vans parked along the route that had been following The Tour from the start.  They all must use google earth or some such means to find where the route turned rural enough to have a spot to park for the night in the urban sprawl. I never would have guessed that this route so close to a metropolis of twelve million people would go through corn fields and forests, perfect for the camping vans.

After fully submerging itself into the metropolis, the peloton would have a brief respite through the Bois de Boulogne fifty kilometers after setting out.  There is a campground in there and also the possibility of wild camping if one is daring.  Just a few kilometers further they will be treated to the stunning site of the Arc de Triomph.  With that one has the full impact of having arrived in the great city of Paris. The day before it had been clogged with traffic, but even a couple hours before the caravan was due, the side of the road the peloton would grace had been transformed into an avenue des velos.

I was certainly in no hurry to turn from this view.  At this point clusters of heavily armed soldiers began to dominate the city.  What a travesty the world has come to this.  Rather than penetrating deeper into what looked like a war zone, knowing from last year how disheartening and frustrating it was to deal with all the closures and restrictions, I parted from the peloton’s route and crossed the Seine, riding past the Musée d’Orsay rather than the Louvre.  A museum devoted to the Legion of Honor faced the d’Orsay.  Along the Seine just around the corner a statue of Thomas Jefferson gazed with approval. 

I ducked into the Legion of Honor Museum hoping there might be a list of winners, but it was mostly portraits and other paintings that the Louvre may have not had room for and cabinet after cabinet of different medals.  A few small television screens had tributes to the obvious such as Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower and other high profile recipients.  I was hoping for something similar to the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm that gave full resumes and the speeches of each of its recipients.  I wanted to see what kind of tribute the French gave Bill Cunningham and who else might have been in his class and who else from around the world had merited recognition, but this museum did not include such material, nor was there anyone to ask about it.

With security so tight around the loop the peloton would take eight times on the Champs Élysées I skipped on one last glimpse of my companions for the past three weeks and headed straight to the airport.  I had an early morning flight the next day.  I knew the airport would be mobbed in the morning.  I didn’t want to be nervously standing in long lines.  

Getting a box from Air France and then getting it to check-in would be interminable, so I decided to take care of it the evening before and then crash at the airport to beat the early morning rush.  Luckily Air France hadn’t run out of boxes.  For a mere 5.92 euros I had a nice large box, the last of my minor worries.  I had been concerned about a strike canceling my train from Pau the day before, knowing the French can go on strike on a moment’s notice.  I was lucky my train came into Austerliz Station as the train later in the day to the Montparnasse Station in Paris was cancelled due to a fire at the Station, forcing some Tour followers to scramble for alternate transportation. 

The only drawback of going to the airport early was that I had no success in finding a television to watch the peloton’s procession or the sprint. If I hadn’t eagerly boxed my bike, I could have pedaled to a nearby Sheraton Hotel.  Another option was splurging on membership in the Air France VIP Club to gain access to its lounge, but having seen the final stage on the Champs Élysées many, many times, seeing it again was no necessity, especially with the diluted sprint field.  If it had been a showdown between the Top Guns, I might have been tempted.  Instead I turned to the trusty iPad for the written transmission of the uneventful proceedings that I could easily picture in my mind’s eye.

It was fitting that Norwegians finished first and fourth, rewarding this strong fandom, just as the Colombians were rewarded with Gaviria‘s and Quintana’s wins earlier in The Race.  Alexander Kristoff claimed his third career in Tour stage win, four years since his last, handily beating John Degenkolb, who won the cobbles stage.  Third place went to Arnaud Demare, who had earlier claimed a win for France.  Edwald Boasson Hagen, who at one time rode for Sky, was the other Norwegian in the mix.

Even if I had found a television there is no guarantee I would have been able to see Thomas and Froome sharing the podium, as in year’s past once the sprint has been completed the television is often switched to a soccer game.  But I do look forward to seeing the photos of the two.  Froome won’t be grimacing as Fignon was on that 1989 podium when LeMond beat him by eight seconds, overcoming a fifty second deficit on the final stage—a time trial that started in Versailles.  Froome will no doubt look as happy as a proud older brother for his friend’s victory.  

It seems to be universal that everyone feels good for Thomas.  The British television crew interviewed Cavendish over the phone.  Cavendish said he had been friends with Thomas since they were boys and he had goose pimples all over his body thrilled for his success.  No one can find anything bad to say about Thomas.  A sportswriter who knew him well was asked if he had any faults.  All he could come up with was that he didn’t have the arrogance of a champion, that he was too humble.  His emergence as this year’s winner added a little extra luster to The Tour.  Each is a good one, some  just better than others.  This qualified as a cut above in every respect.  Vive Le Tour.

1 comment:

chris bushell said...

Thank you George. You are riding and writing in the spirit of those that can't be there and all your efforts are appreciated.