Sunday, July 28, 2019

Stage Twenty-One

I anticipated watching the final stage in a bar in Montpellier or possibly at its hostel, but the hostel was full so I ended up in a campground outside the city not far from the Mediterranean.  It was four miles from the train station compared to less than a mile if I’d been able to stay at the hostel.  I had an eight a.m. train to Avignon, the first of three on the day that would get me to Paris for my flight home, so didn’t want to be too distant.

The campground was actually more expensive than the hostel during this the high season, but I certainly preferred sleeping in my tent than in a dorm. It was nice to have one last night in my cocoon and it also gave me a chance to dry it out after a night of heavy dew up in Le Caylar forty miles away.   And the campground had a television.  I was lucky to get the last campsite.  The campground was teeming with families, but I was the only one interested in watching the evening promenade into Paris, followed by several laps on the Champs Élysées past the Arc de Triomphe before the sprint.  The young manager of the campground, who turned on the television, had no interest in The Tour and didn’t even have any cognizance of Pinot or Alaphilippe, indicating they haven’t fully saturated the air waves.

The peloton rode at a leisurely pace entering the city allowing for many close-up shots of the riders in conversation.  The four Colombians in The Race, all on different teams, led for a spell, for a staged shot that appeared to have been forced on them.  Bernal, Uran and Quintana, team leaders who finished in the top eight, seemed to be less than enthusiastic about it.  The most ebullient by far was Henao, a domestique who finished way down the standings, who had a bursting smile that he couldn’t contain.


The seven remaining Ineos riders spanned the road framing Bernal in Yellow.  They too were rather reserved.  This has become old hat to them. If it had been Froome winning his fifth they might have been more celebratory.  Bernal almost seemed to be an interloper, a kid among all the hardened veterans of the road.  Not only was he the youngest member of the team at 22, but the youngest rider in The Tour. Oh, if only Pinot hadn’t had the misfortune to bruise his thigh, forcing him to abandon. He had dropped Bernal twice in the Pyrenees and would have done the same in the Alps.  If he were riding into Paris in Yellow it would have been an entirely different story.  His FDJ teammates would have been off the charts in a celebratory mood.  All the French riders in The Race would have been riding by with pats of congratulation as if the victory was theirs as well.  It dampened my mood being denied such joy.

Before entering the Champs the peloton rode through the courtyard in front of the Louvre, past the pyramid entry.  It was the lone segment of their route not lined with fans.  Colombian flags were everywhere except at the corner traditionally taken over by the Norwegians.  Their cheers weren’t enough to propel Boasson Hagen to better than fifth on the stage, as the Australian Ewan won his third stage of The Tour with an impressive surge up the right side past Groenewegen, a previous winner on the Champs.  It was a fine breakout Tour for Ewan.  It was his first.


Thomas crossed the line with Bernal again, his lone teammate as an escort, and hung out with him for the photographers.  He remained in the background looking a little forlorn as he hugged a succession of relatives.  Bernal is such a stoic figure, he seemed overwhelmed by the experience.  He’s got a huge weight to carry, as an entire nation awaits his return.  He’ll be greeted by the president and be given a parade of all parades.  The nation went bonkers over Quintana finishing second and winning the Giro.  Earthquakes could be set off by all the noise he will effect.

He is a strong candidate to join the exclusive club of five Tour winners.  The question that will hang over the cycling world for the next eleven months is if he will prevent Froome from joining it. After sewing up this year’s win on Stage Twenty Bernal said he was happy to win “my first” Tour, not simply “the” Tour, so he is thinking way ahead too.  Pinot will have something to say about it next year.  He ought to be returning with a vengeance.  As great as this year’s Tour was, next year’s Tour could be even better.  Two other of last year’s top four finishers along with Froome were absent—Dumoulin and Roglic.  They too will be inspired to return and make their mark.

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