Thursday, July 15, 2010

Stage 11: Sisteron to Bourg les Valence

Today we leave the Alps and return to a more conventional stage--one big hill, easing down into the flats, which should yield a sprint. We move from Sisteron in Provence, to Bourg les Valence in the Rhone Valley.

The heat looks intolerable, and when I started watching this morning, I saw several riders running ice packs along their arms and necks, and then stuffing them down the backs of their jerseys. Apparently some of them go into ice baths at the end of each stage, but the hotels are not, as a rule, air conditioned, and with the humidity, the nights are muggy, and it's hard to sleep. You'd think the finest cyclists in the world would get at least 3-star accommodations, but I've seen the hotel room photos they are posting, and they seem to be staying in youth hostels. Robbie Hunter the sprinter cracked an elbow and is out of the Tour, so there goes one of our greatest sprinters. His team, Garmin, has been very hard-hit this year. Christian Vandevelde is now home in Chicago with some cracked ribs and a shiner. He was meant to be their captain. Now they are all about the sprint stages and Tyler Farrar. I hope he wins today, but Cav has his groove on, and so he's favored to win his third stage in this year's tour.

The vistas in this stage look like paintings by Cezanne--the gently-angled terra cotta roofs, stone villages along rivers, and if you squint, the whole effect takes on an ancient Greek and Roman look. Indeed, this part of France was settled first by Greeks, then conquered by Romans, and you can see the profiles of ancient Roman towns in the stunning overhead shots--a curved amphiteater now covered with houses here and there, and the relentless Roman grid. Nice itself was founded by the Greeks and was called Nikopolis. This is the land of wonderful rosé, aioli, salade nicoise, and seafood. The riders pass through fields of sunflowers like those painted by Van Gogh. You really have to visit this part of the world.

When I first visited the South of France with my Mom, our guide, a lady from Menton said that when the Romans conquered here, they promised all kinds of improvement--a great deal of this conquering was less about fighting and more about a show of force, negotiation, offers of benefits of Roman citizenship. Anyway, the Romans didn't exactly come through, and instead tooks lots of taxes and tribute, and she said, the French are still mad about it. Gotta love the French.

Dude, what is the deal with Jonathan Vaughters outfit? (He is the director sportif of team Garmin and is visiting the commentators in the booth.) he's got razor-cut sideburns like early Captain Kirk, and is wearing a flowered blue and white shirt. The overall effect is like Elvis wearing a couch. Whack.

Well, back to rhapsodizing about the South of France. It really is everything it's cracked up to be. Those Impressionists knew a good thing when they saw it. Rose from the region of Tavel is almost always good, sometimes great. The picture above shows how to serve it. Not on ice, chilled but when you open it, just put it out on the table outside, and pour away. Looks beautiful with sunshine in the glass. Ahhhhh.

Congrats to Sergio Paulinho of Team Radioshack for an exciting stage win yesterday. Another one that had us shouting at the TV. The peloton is about to catch the 3 riders in the breakaway now, so the sprinters will start to cue up. Here we go!

Vive le Tour! Vive la France!

A demain!

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