Tour de France

It’s the Tour, Baby! Marson to Nancy 152km

After a rather unsatisfactory sleep, due in some part to me spilling metho in the vestibule of my tent and filling the tent with alcohol fumes, we quickly packed up and got on the road just after 8 this morning. We had 90km to cover to get to the next supermarket that we knew was at St Mihiel before the course was closed to traffic. Being stranded on the side of the road in the sun and without much in the way of food would have been disastrous for George’s schedule to keep up with the Tour.

Having done 150km yesterday and then getting a shitty sleep I wasn’t feeling particularly flash on the bike, and it took a long time before I could get into any sort of rhythm. And then it started raining again, and then I got a puncture, etc.

But by some miracle we were blessed with a tailwind for the last twenty km into St Mihiel, and on one slightly downhill stretch I was spinning out my top gear for several km and sitting on almost 40kmh. But as you do when a tailwind hits, I went too hard and by the time we arrived at the Carrefore supermarket I was pretty wasted. I bought a whole chicken, a litre of milk and half a kilo of yoghurt, and drank the milk in one go while sitting in front of the supermarket. I gathered from the looks glanced from old French ladies that this is not the done thing.

We had a chance to do some leisurely eating while waiting for the Tour Caravan to arrive, and when they did I wasn’t overly interested in fighting for the junk they toss to the crowds, though I did score a polka dot hat which isn’t a bad souvenir.

The thumping of helicopters overhead gave advance warning that the race was near, and before long the breakaway appeared through the archway in the centre of town. They were moving quickly, but I managed to get a shot of them and my own gob at the same time.

The peloton was about four minutes behind them and as usual were gone in a flash, followed by an armada of cars and bikes. The last few riders who were hanging on at the end of the pack were looking as wasted as I felt.

Once the last of the Tour vehicles had passed, concluded by a van with Fin de Course written on the front we quickly started riding down the course trying to scavenge course markers. We nabbed two before the cleanup gang arrived. They actually asked us if we wanted the second one, suggesting that they don’t collect them for reuse but just to clean up signs that the Tour has been through.

Half a chicken and a litre of milk were sloshing around in my stomach, making for slow and indigestive progress up the hills leading away from St Mihiel. This triggered an intense desire to snap one off in the bushes (which in turn started a conversation where George and I listed all the different Australian and American terms for defecation – I decided that I was about to engage in Heavy Artillery, an expression used by an old timer he used to know).

After my military engagement, we continued knocking off the 60km to Nancy. George was planning to continue down tomorrow’s tour course from there, but at this stage I knew I was done, kaput, knackered, rooted, stuffed, exhausted. There was no way I could do another huge day tomorrow. Nothing left in the tank, and my digestive system is having trouble keeping up with the supply of calories required by my legs.

I followed George to Nancy and then managed to get a hotel room despite the Tour starting from here tomorrow. George has headed down the road and will camp in a forest. Not sure what I’ll do yet. After some rest I’ll re-evaluate.

Ps the lady in the photo with George caught us using her hose to fill our bottles. She was slightly off her rocker but George managed to pacify her with a polka dot hat souvenir.

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St Quentin to Marson 149km

Another day covering ground trying to catch up to the peloton again.

We needed to do 150km today in order to get down to Epernay and then get far enough along the course so that we can finish off the course tomorrow and keep up with the tour.

George’s first comment of the morning was to ask whether I heard the drunk screaming at midnight. My earplugs are obviously doing their job because I didn’t hear a thing. He stumbled into the path that led to our campsite and screamed his head off for about five or ten minutes. No doubt George didn’t sleep so soundly after that.

The first 80km of today’s ride was steep and undulating with no real high climbs but we did almost 1000m of ascent by the time we got to Epernay. A few showers had cooled us off early in the day but while we were stopped for some food in Epernay the heavens opened and soon flooded the streets. My goretex booties have kept my feet dry until now but they were no match for this wall of water.

Keeping a steady pace all day and taking breaks every hour for food kept us on track and by about 730 we made our mileage. We are camped just down the road from the campsite near the village of Marson that we used a couple of weeks ago when scouting out the tour route.

More big miles tomorrow to get over to Metz.

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Lens to St Quentin 110km

Grueling day with a headwind and hills for much of it.

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Le Tour Stage 3 – 93km

After escaping the mayhem at the end of yesterday’s stage, George and I rode toward the beginning of stage 3 to get a head start for the following morning. We ended up camping in a park in a small village near Wahagnies after a failed attempt to find a spot in the adjacent forest / ornithological reserve which was way too damp and overgrown to camp in.

While cooking my salmon, a small brown dog owned by a guy fishing nearby decided to pester me, licking the lid of my butter container, and generally sticking his nose in wherever he could. Then the owner called him over and have him the hiding that I was tempted to.

The next morning we made some good progress on the Tour course, getting to about the 60km mark before the police kicked us off. It was about an hour wait before the caravan of sponsor vehicles arrived, throwing trinkets out to people lining the course. Then another 45 minutes until the race arrived, announced by a phalanx of helicopters. Five of them!

We then raced back down the course trying to scavenge course markers but an official van of guys just beat us to them.

Next stop was the town of Lens, where George finally got to see the grave of Maurice Garin, first winner of the tour de France. He also broke into the locked velodrome named after him in order to get a photo of the memorial plaque. We caught the end of the race on tv at a Cuban themed bar, where we met a friendly French fellow who spoke English, use to work as a chef for Ron Clarke in Bath, England and also claims that Lens is the friendliest town in France.

The next two days will be spent hoiking it down to Epernay so we can catch the stage on Friday to Metz. We hope to catch up with the German messenger crew at the big screen at Metz.

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Finishing off stage 2 of Le Tour 135km

George and I made it to just past the half way point of stage 2 last night, and camped in the same hidden gully next to a golf course that we found just over a week ago when we passed through going the other way.

With 95km to go and a slight tailwind behind us rather than yesterday’s headwind we had a chance of making it to the finish at Tournai before the gendarmes closed the course.

By about 1030 locals had started setting their picnic spots by the roadside and giving us the odd encouragement.

We made a stop at a supermarket for groceries and witnessed our first flag selling thugs. George had told me about these guys, who aggressively sell crapola flags to anyone they can force to take one. They were harassing some old ladies in the supermarket car park when we arrived, and by the time I’d finished my shopping the police had arrived. George had seen one of them run off, and commented that “if Skippy were here he’d be out there finding that guy”. Skippy apparently has particularly strong feelings about these guys and has attempted to stop them in the past.

The closer we got to the finish the bigger the groups of roadside fans became. Some very large parties were being set up. Everyone seemed to be in the mood for a Monday party.

We made to within 4km of the finish before being kicked off the course and had to make our way to the finish on the footpath. George managed to nab his first course marker of the trip.

While attending to some errands and watching the end of the race, we met Dave the German who George had cycled with in previous years. He is here with three other messengers. Only one of them is a non smoker but they are apparently riding at 30kmh.

After a crush of humanity trying to get out of Tournai with team cars, fans and buses all trying to get down one narrow street, exacerbated by a bunch of stupid Belgians blocking the road so that they could sing to the BMC bus, we headed toward Orchies where tomorrow’s stage to Boulogne departs from.

After a few km we were back in France. What a breath of fresh air! No more impatient Belgian fuckwits revving their engines as they impatiently try to pass us. No more shitty potholed third world roads. No more women that look like men. I love you France.

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Riding stage 2 – 91km

George and I have a head start on the peloton, having ridden the first 50km or so of tomorrow’s stage from Vise to Tournai. A stiff headwind isn’t making it easy, but we hope to be within striking distance of the finish tonight so that we can make Tournai before the peloton do tomorrow.

Last night’s camping spot was less than ideal, perched on the narrow strip of dirt on the edge of a field of snow peas just above a roadway. Being a Sunday, plenty of locals were out running and riding their bikes early in the morning only metres from our tents. But it was a stupid cooing bird that woke me up.

I can almost smell France over the horizon. I’ve seen quite enough of Belgium with its pushy drivers, thuggish inhabitants and disabled water taps.

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Water

Why is it so hard to find a bloody tap in Europe? In oz every park and service station has one, as does every front yard in the country.

At least France has lots of cemeteries which without fail have a tap that locals use to wash graves and water flowers.

But Belgium is just a big tease. You see one of these sticking out the front wall of a building now and then, but they are all disabled. This one was disabled AND had the handle removed. What is a touring cyclist to do?

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Liege – Prologue

After an evening sleeping behind the Carrefore supermarket (the local campground having a rather inflexible attitude to fluctuating demand for camping during popular sporting events such as the tour de France), George and I headed into Liege for the last time to watch some the prologue time trial. But not before the call of nature intervened and I was forced to snap one off in the garden adjacent to the loading area of the shopping centre. It was a fully biodegradable activity however as George and I have been conducting a toilet paper free tour de France. All one needs is nettle free patch of ground and the water bottle.

Once we arrived back in the centre of town George was itching to do another lap of the course before they locked things down but alas we were too late. All the barriers were in place and he was denied another circuit at cycle touring speed.

We staked out a vantage point at the 150m to go point. And were entertained by a mixture of caravan floats and riders out warming up on the course. Before long we had a bunch of dutchies on our left and young Belgian lads on our right trying to invade our shady little enclave between a tree and the barrier. It required considerable sticking out of elbows to keep them at bay while George went to check the main screen.

It was lucky that I had taken my supermarket dump earlier in the morning as 4 portaloos shared between thousands of spectators generated quite a queue later in the day.

After the first dozen or so riders we decided to get out of the city and get started down stage 2, giving us a head start on the tour. Seraing was just as charmless as I had remembered, with a huge coal burning monstrosity welcoming us as we entered the city. We are now sitting in a bar watching the last of the riders navigate the prologue course.

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Liege. Tdf preliminaries

Having spent several days in non threatening Holland and slightly less non threatening Germany, George and I returned to Liege where the Tour begins this year. Our last day in holland was navigated by Garmin on back roads that brought us back into Liege along the road that the campground was located. Pretty much on cue as soon we approached the Belgian border the hills started again and one reasonably long climb out of Valkenborg drained the last of my juices and did me in. The following day I was feeling totally flat with no power left as we did the last 30km into Liege. It’s a good thing we have a couple of quite days here before the frenzy of the tour starts so that I can eat like a pig and try to recover some energy.

George of course looks completely fine and rested. No doubt he could ride 100 mile days endlessly without slowing down.

Last night was the tdf rider presentation in the town square. Each of the teams came up on stage and were saluted with a snippet from either Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke or the tag before the b section of I Feel Good. That got old after the first few teams.

The riders then did a lap of the square slowly, sometimes stopping to give autographs to kids. George called out to Christian van de Velde as he went past, who then stopped and turned around to greet his friend from Chicago. I was too slow to get a photo.

Today we rode the prologue course in the rain, and with piss stops, rain stops and Liege traffic it took almost an hour to cover the six km course.

The Tour starts tomorrow!

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Reasons not to cycle in Germany 96km

George and I wandered into Germany for a day yesterday and were not tempted to linger for the following reasons:

You’re expected to ride on bike paths as in holland, but the paths in Germany are far bumpier, stop and start annoyingly and often turn into a normal footpath.

Germans don’t clean up their dogshit.

Germans lack the warmth, friendliness and perfect English of the Dutch.

German drivers are less considerate than the Dutch.

McDonald’s in Germany requires a log in to use the wifi, preventing cycle tourers from uploading their blog without having to imbibe a revolting quarter pounder.

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