Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stage Sixteen

It was an early 10:45 a.m. start for the peloton this morning for the year's longest stage, just under 150 miles. It was about an hour too early for me to make it in to Carcassone to see their departure for the Pyrennes. Although I spent the night just fifteen miles to the north in the tiny village of  Labastide Esparbairenque up in the mountains, where Janina has spent the past three weeks at an artist's retreat, I didn't arrive until eight p.m. the night before and couldn't exactly leave first thing in the morning after not having seen Janina in nearly a month.  

She had a group outing at 10:30, so that made for my departure time, arriving in Carcassone while various Race festivities were still going on, even though the peloton was long gone.  Before I bid farewell to Janina we managed a short hike in the rugged terrain of her remote location to a lookout point down into Carcassone.  If we'd had a telescope we could have spied on the racers getting ready for their day of labor.



Janina's retreat was truly in an idyllic setting with no distractions, enabling her and the handful of other residents to concentrate on their work in a collegial atmosphere.  The village was too small to have a bakery or a store.  It was a two mile walk to the next village with a store providing bare essentials.  It was like going back several centuries in time.  The town mayor greeted Janina with kisses on both cheeks whenever they met.

Janina had been enticed to La Muse by an ad she had seen in the "London Review of Books" several years ago.  It was all she could hope for.  Most had rooms in a magnificent stone building constructed in 1630, and had been there previously, a poet from Ireland, painters from Finland and Germany, an opera singer from Holland, two working working on novels, a Belgian and an American.  The American, Artis Henderson, had written a good portion of her well-received book "Unremarried Widow," about losing her husband in Iraq, at La Muse a couple of years ago.  It can be found at the Chicago Public Library.

The region, Montagne Noire, is a rare little visited nook of France.  It provided refuge for the Cathars, whose forts can still be seen, in the 1200s, and also for the Resistance during WWII.  It had been an arduous ten-mile climb, then a steep thirteen per cent descen,t to reach La Muse from Mazamet, fifteen miles to the north. I had made a special trip to Mazamet several years ago, as it is home of retired cycling star Laurent Jalabert. That climb out of Mazamet had to have been one of his favorite training rides, making it more pleasant than it might otherwise have been.  Jalabert is presently one of the television announcers covering The Tour.  He missed last year's Race as just before it started he was implicated in the avalanche of doping scandals after the Armstrong revelations, and he didn't want to address the issue.  But Mazamet is still proud to claim him.  The plaza behind the town hall is named for him.


There is also a banner of him over the main street leading into the city.


I only followed the peloton's route out of Carcassone a few miles, turning away from the Pyrenees.  No water bottles were to be found discarded this early in the stage.  This is the first Tour where I have yet to scavenge one.  I'm doing fine on course markers though, having reached my quota of six a while ago.  

I easily found a bar in the town plaza of Castelnaudany with The Tour on its television.  The peloton had reached the day's prime obstacle, the Beyond Category climb up the Port de Balés before a long descent to the finish.  Nibali had let a large breakaway group get well up the road allowing them to battle for the stage win.  He and those contending for the overall were nearly ten minutes back.  Tinkoff-Saxo had the strongest rider in the group, former world time trial champion Michael Rogers of Australia.  He powered away from Voeckler, who is having a noteworthy Tour after a disappointing one last year, after the descent to easily take the win.  It was an emotional win, as he collapsed over his handlebars in tears at the end.  It was his first Tour stage victory, even though he is s veteran and early in his career was thought to be a potential contendor for the Yellow Jersey.  Its the second mountain stage victory for Tinkoff-Saxo, showing how strongly the team would have been able to support Contador if he hadn't crashed out.

Though the stage followed a Rest Day, Van Garderen did not have the strength of those he is competing with for the second spot on the podium, losing over three minutes to his rivals and dropping to sixth.  He has his work cut out for him the next two days in the mountains if he wishes to overcome the four minutes between him and third place and improve on his fifth place finish of two years ago.  The French trio vying for the podium all held firm and are now third through fifth, just behind Valverde.  The French papers are bursting with stories on this French resurgence.




Monday, July 21, 2014

Stage Fifteen

With a 125-mile Rest Day transfer from Nimes to Carcassone, almost as long as today's 139-mile stage, my game of playing tag with The Tour strictly under pedal power couldn't include lingering in Nimes for today's stage finish.  I was, in fact, some forty miles down the road, trying to negotiate my way through Montpelier, as the peloton wrapped up its day in Nimes. I was so focused on my business at hand, aided considerably by having made a reconnaissance of Montpelier at the end of May, that I wasn't paying attention to the time and missed it. I was partially distracted at how well I remembered the way, avoiding the two crucial mistakes I made the time before, and only needing to resort to my GPS device twice this time, compared to about twenty before.

My subconscious could be to blame as well, as it knew this was an utterly inconsequential stage that some sprinter would win and without Cavendish chasing Merckx's career record of stage wins and with Kittel having lost his early mastery of the sprint and Greipel not being in form and the points jersey not being an issue, the sprint stages had become somewhat meaningless with no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of The Race.  

That is not an entirely fair statement to make, as every stage of The Tour carries the magnitude of a Classic, but my own personal race, at least for this stage, had assumed more importance to me.  I had no moments to spare if I wished to have more than a quick hello and goodbye with Janina at the small village north of Carcassone she has spent the last month at with a handful of other writers and artists working on projects of their own at a retreat called La Muse.

So I missed Kristoff winning his second sprint.  He's the only Norwegian in The Race this year.  There has been a strong Norwegian fan contingency waving their flag at The Race the past few years, going back to Thor Hushovld, a Green Jersey winner and wearer of the Yellow for over a week with Garmin one year. The Norwegians love coming to France and always express great enthusiasm for being at The Tour, so it is good for The Race to have one of their countrymen doing well and to keep them coming.

But the fast-charging peloton left another Garmin rider utterly shattered and in tears.  Jack Bauer of New Zealand, riding in his first Tour, was just caught at the line after being in a day-long breakaway.  He couldn't have been more devastated.  I'm sure Christian had some very sympathetic words for him.

I was lucky to miss the deluge that hit the peloton, as I was happened to be passing through a town and could seek shelter as the sky turned pitch black and then let loose.  Back down on the flats, after a couple of days on the Massif Central, and approaching the Mediterrean, I was once again cycling through wine country.  One town even transformed one of its roundabouts into a mini-vineyard.


I had a fine Sunday ride on quiet country roads, allowing me some more book-listening time.  Chris Froome's autobiography, "The Climb," written with the assistance of David Walsh, author of several books on Armstrong's doping, just became available as an audible book.  The book itself was released 
shortly before The Tour and had some harsh comments on Wiggins, some saying that contributed to Wiggins being left off the Sky team.  Its a fourteen-hour book and is told in chronological order, so the 2012 Tour and the Wiggins issue has yet to come up.  The first few chapters are devoted to growing up in Kenya and South Africa, raised by divorced parents who live in the two countries.  Froome had a preference for Kenya, partially because that is where his bicycling mentor, a dread-locked black African racer, lived and where he was born.  When his father told him when he was fourteen that he would have to join him in South Africa to go to a boarding school, there were tears.  Leaving his two pet pythons behind was one of his sorrows.

Froome wasn't an instant success as a racer, but he had great ambition and loved to train hard.  He didn't receive much support from the Kenyan cycling federation though he represented them at the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006 and caught the eye of Brailsford and others for his seventeenth place finish in the time trial on sub-standard equipment.  Listening to his story kept me going right up to dark at ten p.m. and could have kept me going even longer.  I'm only eighty miles from Janina, so am hoping to make it in time for dinner tomorrow.  The only question is will I be surprised by David again on this Rest Day too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Stage Fourteen

For the first time in the two-and-a-half months of these travels I did not put the rain fly on my last night.  Rain didn't seem likely and there was no threat of a dew in the forest I was camped in.  Without the rainfly I was able to shine my headlamp on a fox that came snooping around in the middle of the night, waking me as he circled my tent.  He didn't immediately flee when the light caught his eyes, but that did put an end to his curiosity.

A couple hours later my sleep was interrupted again by leaves falling on the tent.  I awoke in a panic thinking that it was rain, but I could still see stars through the forest canopy, and realized I had no need for alarm.  A strong wind had blown up and the rustling of the tree limbs was knocking off a few stray leaves.  I couldn't tell what direction the wind was from, but I was hoping it was from the north, cooling the temperatures and giving me a tail wind.  

The wind had lost none of its strength when I awoke for good several hours later.  When I emerged from the forest I had the disheartening news that the wind was lashing up from the south and it was no gentle breeze.  It had the full fury of a gale.  My legs were weary to begin with after several days of lots of climbing.  I put it in my lowest gear and pushed into this monster.  Though it was from the south it cooled the temperatures enough that I needed my long sleeve short, its sole consolation.  It had to be part of a huge upheaval in the weather, as Janina reported she too was woken in the night by the wind 250 miles away.

I also opted for my cyclometer that is set to kilometers that I ordinarily only use for riding The Tour course, as the route sheets are all in kilometers.  I knew I would be going painfully slow today and I didn't want to be further discouraged by looking at my cyclometer and seeing I was only managing 4.5 miles per hour.  With the kilometer cyclometer I could look down and see a seven and not feel so bad.  And my distance traveled would add up to a larger number as well.  As it measures distance to the hundredth, that last digit when it kilometers doesn't remain the same for long, even when I'm plodding along as if I were half-lame.

I needed all the motivation I could find.  I couldn't remember the last time I had experienced such a wind, maybe not since Iceland.  It was gusty and had me struggling to stay on the road and to maintain a straight line. Motorists were regularly tooting their horn at me, either to get off the road or out of sympathy and encouragement.   

It was howling so loud in my ears I couldn't distract myself by finishing off the book I had been listening to, "Mud, Sweat and Gears, Cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats via the Pub" by Ellie Bennett.  She and a male companion, somewhat novice cyclists whose previous longest trip had been 250 miles, about a quarter of what this trip would be, undertake the British equivalent of Americans biking coast-to-coast across their country.  It is written with a self-deprecating sense of humor and has many interesting side stories.  She recounts their trip day by day, ending each day with the stats for the day--miles traveled, beers drunk, hills they pushed their bikes up, and a few odd miscellaneous stats such as number of times she cries, cereal bars pilfered from bed and breakfasts, unrequited love affairs.  It was pleasantly diverting.

But without that to transport me from my day's hard labor, my day was largely spent with head down plowing into the unrelenting wind. I had to keep my breaks short to do the mileage I needed to do to meet up with the peloton the next day.  By noon I had scratched out thirty-seven kilometers, a measly twenty-three miles.  Not long afterwards I crested a 4,000 foot pass and descended to more forested terrain that somewhat blunted the wind. The hay rolls and forest offered the ultimate in camping but I had to push on.


I could only allow myself the final half hour of the day's stage.  I timed it just right arriving in a town at five p.m. large enough I presumed to have a bar with a television.  It was a close call, as neither bar in the town had a television, but one adjoined a hotel and it had a tea salon with a television.  No one was using it, preferring to sit out in the outdoor cafe.  But once word spread that the guy on the loaded bike had asked to watch The Tour, I was soon joined by a handful of others.  

There wasn't much to cheer about as the riders rode steadily up the final seven-mile climb to the finish. No one seemed to care to take on Nibali, who was riding with the least stressed face of anyone, And Nibali seemed willing to let the lone rider  less than a minute up the road, Rafal Majka of Poland and the Tinkoff-Saxo team, have the victory.  But with two miles to the summit, Nibali had had enough of the prevailing non-aggression pact and powered up the road.  Only Peraud, one of the three French contenders, could stay with him.  Nibali didn't catch Majka, but he extended his lead over Valverde to a nearly insurmountable four-and-a-half minutes. 

And Valverde showed himself to be vulnerable, unable to keep up with Van Garderen and several others, just narrowly holding on to second place.  Back-to-back summit finishes were tougher on his older legs than those of his younger competitors.  The second through sixth riders are all now within ninety seconds of one another.  Van Gerderen is by far the strongest time trialist.  He could take two or three minutes out of any of them on the lone  time trial of this year's race on the penultimate stage.  He looks now to be a good bet for second overall, improving on his fifth place finish two years ago.  And Porte continued his slide backwards.  Last year he likewise plummeted dramatically in the standing when he was second to Froome early on and looked as if Sky could have back-to-back years with the top two racers.  Brailsford has to being having second thoughts now about his exclusion of Wiggins, whether or not he chooses to admit it.




Friday, July 18, 2014

Stage Thirteen

The peloton headed east today out of St. Etienne into the Alps, opposite to the direction it will be going in two days across the bottom of France to the Pyrenees.  Rather than having to double back, I elected to begin that southern westward trek immediately, letting the peloton be for two days before joining back up on the stage into Nimes on Sunday.

It will allow be a couple of tranquil days out of the frantic whirlwind that is The Tour de France swallowing up all is it makes its swath around the country.  The local newspapers of each region 
The Tour passes through treat its arrival as the greatest event of the year, which it may well be.  The papers are particularly agog over three French riders in the top ten, asking "Why Not a French Victory?"  Even the curmudgeonly five-time winner Hinault, who for years has bemoaned the passivity of the French riders, is excited about what he sees as a new attacking mentality this year. Maybe that's why the bar I watched The Tour in yesterday had such avid interest.

Today I had the television all to myself in a much smaller town bar/cafe up on the Massif Central.  The only others patronizing the bar sat outside sipping cold fruit drinks, their treat for the day on this hot day.  The cafe was somewhat of a community gathering place with notices of local events, including its Vide Grenier, posted under the television.


All the newspapers since the Rest Day on have had features on Richie Porte, sitting second to Nibali.  Tomorrow's papers will all be carrying his obituary, as he was the day's big loser, totally falling out of contention to sixteenth place, just behind Horner.  He was woeful on the eleven-mile climb to the finish.  When he began fading off the back of the Yellow Jersey group containing all the contenders three miles into the climb, the announcers politely said he was in difficulty.  As he began losing hunks of time, it was as if he was going backwards.  He finished nine minutes behind Nibali, who easily won his third stage and further put his stamp of authority on The Race.  He barely smiled as he crossed the line, an uncharacteristically stoical Italian, just taking care of business.  Froome and Contador were missed more than ever today.  There was no one else to make a battle of it.  Valverde tried attacking, but Nibali was right there with him and then off on his own. Valverde may have shown enough strength to put a permanent claim on second place, which he took over today after Porte's abdication. 

The battle for the final podium spot will be between three French riders, a Belgian, and the Ameican Van Garderen, who is a solid fifth, less than a minute from third. He lagged behind Nibali and Valverde, but still had a strong showing.  Here too Talansky is missed.  He's a great battler on the long climbs and would have certainly enlivened the racing.  Another mountain top finish tomorrow will further sort out matters, all the contenders hoping they don't have a Richie Porte day.

The Race enters its third week tomorrow.  I must be looking a bit haggard as I've had three people offer me food in the last twenty-four hours.  The first was a young couple last night while I sat on the sidewalk down from their house having a snack before my final push before dark.  They walked over to me and said they were about to leave on a vacation and had some food they didn't need--half a loaf of home made chocolate bread and some cookies.  I gladly accepted them, and also let them fill my water bottles.

Today while I sat outside a cathedral eating a cheese sandwich, a white-haired lady offered me a tomato, a perfect supplement to my sandwich.  And late in the afternoon outside the bar where I had just watched The Tour, as I inflated my tires, a gentleman said he had just bought a bag of cookies at the bakery and wondered if I'd like a few.  Such is how it is how in small-town France, la France Profonde.  The people are as homespun as the scenery is pristine. I hardly missed the euphoria of being on The Tour route.  I will be riding hard though to rejoin it on Sunday, and then even harder to meet up with Janina just north of Carcassone, the stage start after Nimes, a long Rest Day transfer.



Thursday, July 17, 2014

Stage Twelve

Today I learned a way to keep riding the course after it has been closed down, and even in that hour lull between the passing of the caravan and the arrival of the racers--one need only become a team owner.  About fifteen minutes after all the hoopla of the caravan had ended I was startled to see two cyclists speeding by me.  "How in the hell are they getting away with that?," was my immediate reaction.  Then it registered with me that they were decked out in full Tinkoff-Saxo kit and were being followed by a team car.  It was their madman owner Oleg at it again.  He must have been infuriating all the gendarmes who were conditioned to leap out in front of cyclists ordering them to a halt.

They have been particularly assertive this year.  Evidently an edict has been passed down not to let cyclists go through towns, as twice today, after it happening to me once before, I was told if I wanted to continue on the course I would have to take a detour around the town.  I wasn't even trusted to walk my bike though.  One of those dressed as a gendarme barely looked twenty.  I asked if he was an authentic gendarme.  He admitted he was in the military.  He was so ornery I asked him for his name.  He said he wasn't allowed to give it, nor would he allow me to take his photo.  This mercenary-wannabe with a pistol in his hip belonged in the French Foreign Legion or in Iraq, not at The Tour de France.

I had been resolved to simply have a three-hour break today.  It was in a tiny village of just a handful of families.  I was happy to have a quiet place in the shade and an opportunity to gather up a few madeleines and syrup packages without having to be quick to pounce.


The peloton began the stage passing the largest Yellow Jersey I've seen so far this year.  No surprise that Talansky's lingering injuries forced him to abandon.  Five of the twenty-two teams have lost their team leader.  Besides the high-profile Cavendish, Froome and Contador, the Swiss champion Matthias Fränk of the IAM also left The Race.


It proceeded through wine country for a good part of its day.  Wineries advertised themselves with human-sized bottles and clusters of purple ballons.


The terrain was largely up and down and it was a scorcher of a day.  The peloton flashed by me with a non-stop crackling of tires bursting bubbles of tar, a noise the caravan didn't create, nor even the many gendarmes on motorcycles that precede the racers.  It was a tough day.

I ended up in a classic neighborhood bar in the city of l'Abresle for the final hour of racing.  Half a dozen of its patrons were watching The Race on the least up-graded television I've encountered this year mounted up in a corner, but it was plenty adequate.  Everyone seemed to know each other and there was non-stop chatter.  When someone new joined us he shook everyone's hand, including mine.


There was great excitement when two French riders on the French Europecar team escaped the peloton and joined up with the last of the breakaway riders.  It looked like a bold move, but it was a futile effort, as they were all swallowed up well before the finish, by the lead group of  sixty riders of the 177 riders still in The Race.  Kristoff of Norway blasted from the bunch, looking like Cavenish and held off Sagan to earn his first Tour win ever.  He ecstatically beat his chest as he crossed the line.  The cameras did not catch whatever frustrated look Sagan might have had finishing second for the fourth time this year, still looking for a win after one last year and three the year before.  He may just have to be content with being the Green Jersey victor for The Tour, no small achievement.

When I paid for my menthe a l'eau, the bartender responded with a "Danke shoen."  It was the second time today I was taken for being German.  I hadn't even spent two full days with David, but he had managed to rub off on me, or else the prominence of the Germans in this year's Race makes people figure it had drawn German cyclists.


 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Stage Eleven

Not long after France's Tony Gallopin added a dramatic stage victory today to his day in Yellow on Monday, the "Bravo Gallopin" signs were already going up on the next day's route.  I came upon a gentleman in Neuville-les-Dames, nine miles into the route, putting the finishing touches to such a sign on a decorated bike stationed at a corner in the town less than two hours after he had held off the fast charging peloton by one second after boldly attacking on the final climb of the stage less than thee miles from the finish.  If a day in Yellow hadn't fully made this twenty-six year old a national hero, his first Tour stage win certainly has.


I wasn't there at the finish to hear the crowd erupt in joy, as I pushed on after reaching the finish line at two p.m.  With a thirty-five mile jump to the next day's start in Bourg-en-Bresse, if I had waited until the stage finish to continue riding, I would have barely made it there by dark through the hilly terrain.  It would have been an eventful thirty-five miles accompanied by the hundreds of vehicles that comprise The Tour entourage--team buses and cars, official vehicles and all the fans in their campers--but also a very hectic one.  I was able to make the ride in relative calm while The Race was going full tilt and luckless Talansky, nursing his injuries, was off the back, struggling to make the time cut, which he narrowly did.

When I arrived at the finish the Big Screen had yet to start giving Race coverage, still devoted to the show of features about the Ville Départ and the surrounding area that precedes The Race and overlaps  its first hour or so.  But the distribution of goodies to the hundreds already lining the barriers the final five hundred meters to the finish was in full swing.  A padded mitt for handling hot pots and pans came flying through the air and landed at my feet.  Its about the last thing I need, but I couldn't help but grab it, even though it didn't have a Tour emblem on it or anything that made it a Tour souvenir other than my word for it.  Everyone was being handed a Credit Lyonnaise yellow hat, something people needed today.


A sampler of some of the giveaways that I have not consumed or redistributed.



Though it is always hard to tear myself away from the Big Screen, it isn't so hard to resume riding.  The Buddhists say that when one reaches the summit of a mountain to keeping climbing.  Velocio no doubt said somewhere when one reaches the end of a stage to keep riding.  It would especially be so in French, as the literal translation for the French word "Ètape" is not "stage," but rather "part of a journey."  That certainly sums up The Tour de France, and my efforts to follow it.

The final roundabout the peloton passed when it turned down the mile-long straightaway to the finish was adorned with a magnificent globe of bicycles.


"L'Equipe" a few days ago reported there are 446 roundabouts in this year's Tour, of the 30,000 or so that saturate the country.  It did not have a figure of how many of them had a bicycle theme.  I can attest that a great many of them do. The most popular is a yellow bike of some sort.


Some though offer a genuine artistic initerepretation of the bike or its components, such as these wicker saddles amongst a robust array of flowers.


Random bikes of a unique design turn up.




Communities are constantly trying to outdo one another with gargantuan bikes, in and the out of roundabouts.


The Tour's 446 roundabouts may seem like a lot, and it is, probably more than are in the entire United States, but it amounts to only twenty-two per stage, or one every six miles. The roundabouts though aren't marked on the official course itinerary, just each intersection where the peloton makes a turn and the climbs and also railroad crossings, maybe to let riders know where they might be able to catch a train if they wish to abandon, as in the legendary photo of Tour winner and climber extraordinaire  Bahamontes, looking forlorn, sitting on his suitcase waiting for a train after quitting The Race.   

The course log ought to also also designate cemeteries so everyone knows whe they can get water.  Today was the first truly hot day where I was in need of cold water not only to pour down my throat but to pour over my head. It was also the first day where I was happy topsoil my jersey and let it dry on my back.  It ought to be a prerequisite of The Tour route to pass a cemetery at least once every twenty-five miles. During one long stretch today without a cemetery, I stopped at a garage to fill my bottles.  I also filled a bottle at a bar where I stopped looking for a television.  The bar tap water always comes out super-frigid, another of the joys of touring France.  Ice may be in short supply, but one doesn't need ice with such arctic fluid.

I made certain I camped well away from any Tour followers parked along the road, as the night before I camped near a camping van, as they are called, shielded from it by a row of trees in a meadow.  It was virtual dark when I stopped and they had already turned in.  During the night twice I was awoken by jokers driving by tooting their horn at the sleeping Tour followers.  Someone else was parked a little further down the road, as I could hear their sleep being interrupted too.  



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rest Day

I had a Rest Day gift--the return of David.  He got back to Germany and realized there were two weeks of The Tour left and he couldn't stand to miss them. So rather than reporting back to work, he repaired his broken shifter, replaced his freewheel with one with a few more teeth to make it easier on his bum leg, lightened his already light load by leaving behind his stove, or "cooker", as he calls it, then hopped on a train to Besançon, start town for Stage Eleven.  If there were ever any doubts as to his Tour fanaticism, this puts them to rest.  

He'd written to tell me of his decision.  We figured we'd meet under the Big Screen at Oyonnax and watch the final couple hours of the stage together. But I was delayed in Besançon trying to find new tires, so David actually started riding the stage before I did after his noon arrival. He was eating a snack about fifteen miles into the stage at a picnic table in the forest hidden to me as I sped by, but he saw me and called out a hearty "George."  He was as exuberant as ever already having had a couple of those genuine Tour moments one can only experience by riding the course.  

We had both passed the Tinkoff-Saxo team returning to Besançon after a light, limbering-up ride.  Even though they were down two riders, including Contador after yesterday's crash, there were more than the seven remaining team members in full uniform riding along.  One of them was the flamboyant team owner, the former Russian racer, now billionaire, Oleg Tinkov.  The team was bunched together, all wearing tights, followed by a team car.  The only other team we saw on the course, was the new Swiss IAM team, and they were strung out riding individually with the team car at the front clearing the way.  It was the second time we had encountered them.  Several of the team riders passed us on the way to their hotel after the stage finish in Reims as we were headed out of town.  They still had their race numbers on, but none had a water bottle left.

As David and I cycled along on a series of quiet rural roads winding through pastures of grains and pockets of trees, David commented that just as hour of this idyllic riding made his return worth the effort, words that he was to remember a few hours later.  The fields were dotted with lone and rows of trees in gulches, a great asset to the aviary world, David pointed out.  One doesn't see such things in Germany, making France much more suitable for birds. The terrain was gently rolling as we gradually gained altitude approaching the Juras.  How fortunate the peloton was to have a Rest Day here, enabling the riders to gaze about a bit as they rode on their off day and appreciate how wonderful it was to cycle in France.  What climbing there was didn't provide much resistance, though several could have qualified as category fours.  The organizers passed on giving them such a designation, showing mercy for those who must mount structures for the categorized climbs, limiting them to just four on this stage towards its finish. Fours hardly matter anyway, offering up just one point to the first rider over.

The small towns in this lightly settled region put out an abundance of decorated bikes and other Tour tributes.  One mounted a fine mural honoring Poulidor and had rows of wooden cut-out mini-racers.


Down the street was a mad scientist's concoction of a bicycle from an array of parts, complete with a bird perched upon it and a chain that would take considerable leg strength to power. 


We were happy to be riding the stage a day ahead of time so we could pause and fully appreciate all the art along the way, that we would otherwise on Race Day have to speed past.  Though I did end up riding nearly ninety miles for the day, it was a rest day of a sort, being able to ride without pressure of getting down the road before it was declared off limits.

It was our first warm and sunny day and for the first time we were able to douse ourselves at a cemetery faucet, made easy with a short hose attached, one of those touring cyclist pleasures.

All was fine until late in the day when David experienced a pronounced shimmer as we descended.  His light-weight bike never did descend well, but this was worse than ever.  We pulled over at a side road to give it a check. All was right with the fork and the bottom bracket and and the hubs.  He hadn't redistributed the weight on his bike to effect its handling.  Could it possibly be a broken frame, we wondered.  As we inspected it we discovered a fracture in a tube just beyond the weld below his handlebars.  This was a major catastrophe.  The nearest town was twenty miles away and it was 7:30. He couldn't dare to continue riding.  The frame was cracked through and could collapse at any moment.  

How could it have happened?  The road had been smooth.  Maybe he damaged it when he demonstrated how Sagan bunny hops over curbs through round-abouts.  We had been discussing if that was a wise thing to do, whether he risked crashing or damaging his bike or expending extra energy jerking his bike up.  He's not the only one to do it, but he seems to take any opportunity to demonstrate his acrobatic skills on the bike.  David demonstrated how easy it was to hop up on one's bike, even with a load, lofting his bike up a few inches as we sped along.  

As we contemplated our options, David collapsed beside his bike and mourned its demise.


All there was to do was to hitchhike to the next largest town off The Tour route.  With luck he would find a shop that could weld his bike or have a coupler to enforce it or a frame compatible to the parts on his present bike.  None were likely, but he could only hope.  If not, it was back home.  And then he will have to battle even more severe pangs of Tour withdrawal.  I may not have seen the last of David yet.