I had a day fully free of deadlines, not having to reach a certain point before a road closure or under any pressure to be in a town large enough to have a bar with a television for this inconsequential sprinters' stage, rendered even more inconsequential without Cavendish and Sagan. I still needed to rack up the miles, though, and get an early start.
My mission was to ride ten miles of today's stage, then ride sixty miles through no-man's-land to the next day's stage and then ride at least fifteen more miles putting me within fifty miles of the stage finish so I could finally watch the final two or three hours of the stage on the Giant Screen at the stage finish. This is the deepest I've gone into a Tour without that pleasure.
I've probably ridden more miles of the course at this point than any other year, but I've been under too much pressure to be able to take the time to be at a stage finish, though I came within minutes at Vittel. That's not to say it's been a bad Tour for me at all. The point is to experience as much of the course as possible.
It is truly a joy to ride for miles and miles past decorated bikes and banners celebrating The Tour and its participants. My sixty mile lull today through luscious scenery was a joy too, but returning to the corridor of bike honor is like being in a cyclist's paradise, other than having to share it with motorists. The French are enlightened in many ways, but they still get around in automobiles.
The gestures of appreciation take an untold variety of forms from mannequins dressed as fans to pyramids of bikes and elaborate constructions in roundabouts and...
...the simple draping of cloths in the colors of the Tour jerseys.
The variety is boggling from adorning a tree with water bottles...
...to going for a laugh.
I found myself at four o'clock in a town large enough to have a bar, but I didn't want to sacrifice ninety minutes or more watching the peloton wind itself up for a sprint when the road beckoned. A series of villages awaited me five to eight miles apart. None had a bar so I missed seeing Kittel win for a second time. It will be a similar stage tomorrow. I won't mind in the least sitting with several hundred others in front of the Giant Screen soaking in every pedal stroke. I ought to be there early enough to find a spot in the shade. If there isn't any, I may have to resort to a bar. I'll have enough time to bike to Dijon, just fourteen miles away, where the next day's stage will start. That might me a wise thing to do anyway as the road between the two Ville Ètapes will be bumper-to-bumper with Tour traffic crawling along after the stage. There are 2,000 accredited vehicles, not to mention the hundreds of fans following The Tour. With luck I might have Skippy leading the way.
It was well that I didn't stop early to watch the stage finish as a long climb awaited me. It was almost as if I was back up on the Massif Centrale. And there was more climbing when I connected with the Stage Seven route. I still met my goals for the day, but with a greater expenditure of energy than I anticipated.
There was one steep perilous descent about fifty miles from the stage finish that I will be most curious to watch the peloton negotiation. It goes under an old stone bridge and makes a sharp left. As I approached the bridge braking hard even with the arrows marking the way I wasn't sure how to make the turn. The motorcyclists leading the way will have a tricky time of it as well if they haven't been briefed. It reminded me of the dangerous descent in the 2012 Tour before Metz where there was a horrible crash known as The Massacre at Metz that devastated the Garmin team and took down much of the peloton. The crash occurred before the descent as everyone in the peloton was riding like mad to be in the lead for the descent. The racers will be in a like mind before this one.