One of my favorite sights on The Tour route is a pair of course markers one on top of the other. They indicate the Départ Réel of the stage, as opposed to the Départ Fictive miles back in a town center where the crowds gather and the peloton rolls out at a ceremonial pace often looping around an urban environment before getting out into the countryside.
The highly detailed route sheet does not reveal the length of the neutralized zone. I want it to be as short as possible, as it is extra miles for me to ride. In Yorkshire the neutralized zone went on for ten miles or so to a royal palace where the peloton paused for a greeting from Prince William and Kate and then went a bit further before the stacked course markers let them get down to business.
As I'm riding the neutralized zone I'm increasingly impatient for the Départ Réel, knowing I have x number of miles of riding to the finish once the real racing commences. I am always pressed for time and every extra mile adds extra minutes. The above markers were just two miles from the Départ Fictive for Stage Four in Mondorf-les-Baines in Luxembourg just across the border from France. I reached it just about the same time as the peloton was setting out on Stage Three from Verviers in Belgium. I had ridden the first 103 miles of the stage to Dippach, where I turned off and rode eighteen miles to Mondorf rather than riding away from it for thirty miles to the finish in Longwy, France that I had visited last week.
Mondorf is a casino and spa town. Like Vesoul in France it had added yellow umbrellas to its Tour decorations.
It had also constructed flower beds in the shape and colors of The Tour jersey, an original gesture to The Tour.
Earlier in the day along the Stage Three course as I closed in on France the decorations along the road became more plentiful, both individual and civic. One home beclothed a mannequin in cycling garb by its front door.
The town of Grosbous welcomed the peloton with a giant Yellow Jersey.
When I crossed into France seven miles into Stage Four the decorations became much more plentiful with many incorporating hay bales.
I cycled alongside the Moselle River, which separates France from Luxembourg, for just a short spell before becoming wholely in France. The bridge that the peloton was to cross when the route was originally announced was closed for repairs, so it had to continue along the river up over a rise to the next bridge adding three miles to the stage that I hadn't included into my calculations. But that wasn't the worst calamity for the day. I was further setback by the slow pace of the peloton. They were due to arrive in Longwy at 5:08 if they averaged 45 kph. But it's speed was just 41 kph pushing their arrival time back to 5:36.
I had found a nice neighborhood bar at four expecting an hour break. The extra time cost me six miles. At least I was assured of seeing the finish, which promised to be the most exciting yet with a mile steep climb. And it lived up to it with Porte attempting to make a statement going off the front as Cadel Evans did in 2011 when he won The Tour and had a dramatic early stage win of similar profile proving he was someone to be reckoned with. But Porte failed in his attempt to get away, perhaps indicating he is not the man some think he is this year. Instead it was World Champion Sagan proving he is the alpha male when it comes to anything but the high mountains. He won going away even having come unclipped from one of his pedals 200 meters from the finish.
It was no surprise that Phinney relinquished the climber's jersey, but it was a huge surprise that his teammate Nate Brown, also riding his first Tour, took possession of it. He managed to infiltrate the day's break, even though it hadn't been his assignment for the day, and was first over on the first Category Four climb, then made an extra effort on the Category Three that I had camped on the night before, to take off ahead of his breakaway companion to claim the two points and the Polka Jersey.
It was nearly six when I resumed riding. An hour later when I checked email I learned from Ralph that he'd just had his custom-made carbon fiber bike stolen from outside his hotel in Strasbourg, a major catastrophe, and wouldn't be able to meet up with me in Vittel. That lessened my pressure of trying to get their before the peloton. I curtailed my riding at nine after 97 miles, leaving me 82 miles from Vittel. I would have been well over one hundred if the peloton hadn't had a lackadaisical day or if I had Ralph to meet up with.
I went to sleep at a least excited that I would be partaking of the caravan for the first time the next day and seeing the peloton in action rather than just bumbling along in Düsseldorf. I had seen some of the caravan vehicles in Düsseldorf and actually saw the Credit Lyonnaise lion today being transported to Momdorf. The first three stages had had a smaller version of the caravan.