We left the hotel by 08:30 and drove to Lezignan where we met up with three other buses from the same tour company (Baxter Tours). This meant that we had well over 100 cyclists today, which made quite the sight.
The route today paralleled the TDF course, taking us along country lanes through many small towns. Our destination was Valres where there was a feed station the place where the riders take on sustenance to continue racing. Their race today was a transition between the Pyrenees and the Alps, covering relatively gentle terrain with few hills. However, we are near the Mediterranean Ocean which means wind, and the sight of wind turbines at our start point was quite inauspicious for a gentle ride today.
We eventually started off with a large group of over 50 riders, forming a long line two abreast and cycling into the wind. Very soon we found ourselves in a small town and nobody was certain as to the route. I thought of the saying In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king since we all followed the leader who seemed certain of where to head. There were many false starts and stops for directions and this served to break the group up a bit as some took other routes. Eventually I noticed a kilometre post which told us we were on the wrong road, but a few turns took us back to the route.
Against my better judgement I joined the fast group and we motored along at over 30 km/h. It was hard work but I really enjoyed it. They spat me out the back so often that I felt wet, but I would always catch up with them again, especially when they entered a new town which entailed stopping to ask directions. Jon took the photo below at one of our breaks.
Because it was very windy it was imperative to keep up with the group. The cycling was great with tree lined roads and vineyards to the side. We went parallel to the Aude Canal and it was interesting to see the canal boats cruising along. They were much wider than the UK canal boats, and I reflected on the great holiday that Lis and I had to celebrate her birthday back in 96 when we hired a canal boat for 3 days. With the old towns, lovely countryside and canals I might be able to tempt her to come to this part of France one day.
Doug pulled out his camera and took the photo below when I was behind him. It shows the type of delightful lanes we were travelling on, and a very happy Chris.
We eventually reached route D5 which was the actual road the TDF was taking that day. It was closed to vehicles and already lined with crowds, even though it was several hours before the cyclists would pass through. At this point our group had dwindled to about 25 and as we turned onto the course the crowds gave us a big cheer.
The road was excellent and, inspired by the crowds, we moved along at a cracking pace of 35+ km/h. It was neat to think that in a few short hours the real cyclists would be plying the same route and I think that we all indulged in the momentary fantasy of being part of the tour; except they would be going 50+ km/h, after having cycled 1500+ km with few rests in the past 10 days.
The pace took its toll and we gradually lost riders. I managed to hang on for about 15 km before Jon and I could no longer keep up. We formed a group of two and continued along until I had to answer the call of nature. During the tour when this happens the entire peleton will stop and the tv cameras shift to a commercial. Fortunately there was a gap in the crowds so I stopped and did my duty while Jon headed off. As I was finishing Andrew from Sydney came by so I hopped on and we cycled together.
At Belzier we both stopped for a bite to eat and then shortly afterwards two motorcycle police told us to get off the road. My French is coming back surprisingly quickly so I couldnt feign ignorance so we obeyed. Parking ourselves under some trees we ate some more and then watched the motorcade come by. I was in a good position and scored some candy, a Mickey Mouse camera, a pork roll, and a hat. I gave the first three to a kid across the road but kept the hat. Andrew appreciated it later.
Shortly afterwards we saw a group of South Africans who we had dropped earlier cycle by. Andrew and I figured that if they could go on the course so could we so we hopped on our bikes and joined them. The crowds were much heavier and we got many more cheers. After a few km a policeman pulled us off the road so we found a good place to watch the race even though several more cyclists from our group cycled by. Our vantage point was on a bridge which was great as we could get very close to the cyclists.
It was a very hot afternoon so we cooked in the sun as we waited for the riders to arrive. Just after the predicted time of 14:00 we saw a helicopter travelling at a relatively slow speed and we knew that the cyclists were near. Then the leaders arrived on the bridge a small breakaway group. A few minutes later the peleton (main group) zoomed by.
Then it was over. There were no stragglers today and we were able to quickly hop on our bikes and follow them. The first people who saw us called us the peleton fatige or the tired peleton which was an apt moniker for us. As we passed through Belzier the streets were lined with people walking away, and the city council was already taking down the fences. Fortunately, the streets were still closed so we made good time, ignoring the traffic signals. We picked up two others from another of our tours buses, and then headed on.
The wind was quite strong so we took turns leading and worked well together, rotating our positions. I like being in front because I can use my aero bars which is a nice change from my regular position, but since one cant get to the brakes quickly it is dangerous to do it when following. However, I would only last 1-2 km before dropping back because the wind was very tiring.
We joined with a group ahead of us and two of their cyclists joined our group so we made even better time. Eventually, we reached the place where the cyclists had picked up their feed bags, and found our coaches on a side road. The other cyclists came in over the next hour, all telling stories of being taken off at different locations. The saddest story was the couple of guys who got lost on the back roads and missed the race.
Natasha from South Africa received a call from her mother to say that she had just been on TV. What happened was that Chris from Louisiana was standing on the edge of the road by the drain with his camera bag on the ground. As the peleton passed through it snaked its way across the road. One of the cyclists at the rear went right to the edge and caught his peddle on the camera bag, taking a tumble and bringing down another cyclist with him. Of course the crash made the tour highlights with several of my companions featuring as bystanders. Thats must be a first for Baxter Sporting Tours!
Eventually we left on the coaches and stopped a short time afterwards in a town to try and find a bar or restaurant with a TV so that we could watch the finish. Pierre managed to find one open on a side road so we all piled in and watched the race. Must have been an extra good day for them with 40+ cyclists and hangers on descending, all very thirsty after a hot day in the sun. It was interesting to see the race from another perspective and there was an exciting battle amongst the leaders before one broke away and won. Then it was back in the bus into Arles where we were to spend two nights.
After doing some laundry I headed into town and bought some victuals before returning for dinner. I seem to have become the unofficial translator, ordering such essentials as water, butter and salt for our tables. Just wish I could get my vegetarian food! Yet again it was going to be fish but I convinced them otherwise. However, they brought everyone elses meal except mine which is becoming a pattern. In the end the very nice waitress came out with some pasta and beans which was fine. I needed carbs.
After dinner I called my friend Bryn and we arranged to meet tomorrow. I havent seen him for 5+ years and Im really looking forward to it. Hes going to cycle Mt. Ventoux with me so it will be a combination of social and exercise. Lets hope that we have good weather.On to the next day or Home loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loans loansloans loans loans loans loans loans loans insurance insurance mortgage mortgage