They don’t happen often and when they do, you know how golden they are. Our maybe you do know and you’re Marcel Kittel (Quick Pedal Floors) who won his fourth stage in the Tour today by a wide margin.
Maybe Cavendish could have beaten him but he went out with a broken collarbone. Maybe Peter Sagan would have make things tactically more challenging but he was thrown out of the race. Maybe André Demare could have spiced things up but he missed the time cut the other day. Maybe Nacer Bouhanni of Cofidis could win, if this was a boxing match.
In any case, Kittel is now so dominant that the rest of the sprinters have admitted the speed gap and thrown in the towel. The big German is so confident that he’s talking about himself in the third person, always a worrisome sign — “I’m the strongest Marcel ever, I’ve never felt better.” Pantani used to talk about himself that way.
But enough about Kittel. I began the morning in Brive La Galliard, about 90 minutes from the start in Bergerac. My hotel was cheap and friendly and perfectly situated at the edge of the old part of town. I had a fabulous dinner at Living (yes, English name) and a bottle of red and an aperitif on the house — a prune based cognac. ‘Natch, I woke up with a splitting headache.
I had a quick cafe au late on the terrace of the hotel and tried to firm up my logistics. This is always a tricky and stressful task in the Tour. If you happen to have a press credential (which I don’t, this year) you know exactly where you’re going, the route you’re taking and the nice VIP parking that awaits you near the race finish and Salle de Presse. That simplifies an important part of your otherwise chaotic day.
Not having the credential, I started googling maps for l’arriveé du Tour a Bergerac. I eventually found a few low rez maps showing the road blockages and some possible parking options. But I didn’t have any details on actually street names so I zeroed in with google maps and picked a street near a parking garage. You never really know how far you’re going to be walking on any Tour stage and this was no different.
However, I was on a good and glorious day. I rolled through the countryside and into Bergerac with the sun shining and the Garmin took me right to a parking espace near the Dordogne river and not far from the start. I got a little walk thru this stunning town, along the river and eventually made my way to the finish line. All good and awesome.
I decided to focus on catching the riders post stage as they rode back to the team buses. That’s always hit and miss and like everything at Le Grand Shindig, you make your best plan and then roll with whatever happens in front of you.
You can’t impose your will or agenda on Le Tour. Sure, if your’e Team Sky and your budget is 4-5 times what the other teams can afford, then yes, you impose your will. If Velonews or cyclingnews.com had a budget like that, they’d be the patrons of tour journalism. They’d force Sky to hold a press conference on the rest day and answer actual questions. But nobody has those resources so everyone just ad-libs as best they can.
I got a number of good candids and switched back and forth between a few of the filter modes on the camera. I do like the black and white high contrast and an old school pin hole filter. I said hello to Ed Pickering at Pro Cycling magazine and jumped from bus to bus. It’s almost a little game you play to see how many you can get before the buses pull out.
What I noticed today is who looks relaxed, who gets the love and who’s willing to share. Certain people are just born to be GC riders because besides the insane amount of physical skills, they have the physiological profile to prosper under the stresses of a three week race. It strikes me that George Bennett of LottoNL-Jumbo is one of those guys.
I watched him cool down after the stage and you’d have sworn he was on a rest day. Totally relaxed, joking with fans, talking with everyone, not a care in the world. He surprised people in winning this year’s Tour of California and now perhaps he’s surprising himself enough in the Tour to start focusing on the GC.
Who gets the love? Not Chris Froome over at the oh-so-serious Sky bus. Not the unloaded Pistolero Alberto Contador. There’s only one rider who has a crowd of people gathered around his team bus signing song after song, serenading him with love and support. That would be Nairo Quintana.
It’s a reason this sport so desperately needs to widen its audience and Quintana, along with Peter Sagan, opens the door to a new world of fans. I watched twenty people singing for him and waving flags, hats, banners, whatever. Meanwhile over at Sky it’s a song-free environment. Not that I’m picking on Sky here — nobody else has singing and I recommend that teams like Cannondale-Drapac get a karaoke machine. Can you even image how insanely awesome it would be if Taylor Phinney took the mic and serenaded fans? People would pay for that show.
Finally, who’s willing to share? How many riders climb off their bikes without even one small glance towards the fans who have been awaiting their arrival? Way, way, too many. It’s shocking, really. I saw it the other day in Chambéry. Philippe Gilbert handed over his bike and went in the bus in about three seconds. Granted that was a killer stage, perhaps the hardest of the Tour — but not even one smile, a wave, some tiny little human acknowledgement?
However, there are riders who get it. They know that there’s no sport and no contract without the fans. And based on the last two days, at the start and finish, Jack Bauer of Quick Step is winning hands down. He stops, he smiles, he signs autographs, he thanks people for coming out, he’s not in a massive rush to disappear. Chapeau, Bauer. If only your teammate Gilbert could spare a few seconds.
Stage over, I walked back along the rider, retrieved the car and smiled, knowing I had just a 30 minute drive to Wednesday’s start town, Eymet. It was a beautiful drive over with golden hour making all those rolling hills and farm houses like like picture book heavens. AT one moment, I actually let out a wild howl of joy, just savoring how lucky I was to be in this place, in this moment in time on earth.
After two affordable and mediocre hotels, I hit the jackpot with a terrific room in a B&B, just a few feet from the town square (and all the bars and restaurants) and three blocks from the start. It does not get any better than that at the Tour. A great dinner and three glasses of local rosé and here I am past midnight putting this together. A full day but a perfect one.