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The Long and Winding Road

Posted by MDugard on Jul 7, 2006 3:09:07 PM

As you may or may not be able to tell from these daily postings, I've been having trouble finding my rhythm at this year's Tour. Part of it may be the lack of a Lance Armstrong to give the race a daily focus, part may be traveling alone (an oddity, as I usually travel with another writer or with my wife, the navigator extraordinaire; it's to the point that I sing out loud in the car and carry on conversations with the small blue stuffed animal my youngest son wanted me take to the Tour), and part of it may be the residue of a drastic time change. Whatever. This morning I think I nailed it. Out of bed at 5:30 (the birds are singing and the sun is rising at 4:30 here), downstairs for a quick baguette and cup of coffee, then off for Caen, home of William the Conqueror. Feels good. Can Robbie McEwen win his third stage of the Tour today? The odds are against it. If the peloton reels in a breakaway, the sprint finish will be one for the ages. But the final straightaway is more than a thousand meters long, meaning that the top sprinters (Boonen, Hushovd, Zabel, McEwen, among others) will need to be paced to the line by a lead-out man. McEwen doesn't have one, thanks to the loss of Freddie Rodriguez. But McEwen's a smart rider, capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat, like he did with yesterday's bold surprise attack. Sure will be interesting to see how he plays it today. In his book, A Year In Provence, Peter Mayle suggest that a traveler in France can spot the best restaurants by the trucks out front. His theory was that truckers know the best places to eat, and like a good bargain. I followed his advice when stopping at La Auergine de Marie, but the old and kind Marie was the exception to the rule. The restaurant was full of truckers, but the food (barley soup, cous-cous, braised chicken thigh with mushrooms and green beans) was inconsistent, and I only finished my soup out of courtesy. However, Marie made up for the lack of cooking by being a good Tour guide, pointing out that the restaurant was just a kilometer away from the Somme battlefield. Marie was also a hotelier. Spent the night in a small upstairs/attic room that had a small window to let in the air. It was affordable and a nice change from the chain hotels that I've spent the last two nights in. My rental car, a Volvo station wagon (don't know why National gave me a station wagon, but I like having room to spread out, so it's a good thing) is the same model and midnight blue color as the one my parents drive. Every time I see it sitting in a parking lot I find myself looking around, as if my folks were here (yes, as if they miraculously drove their car over the ocean). Never fails. Right around eleven last night the horns started honking and the kids started banging pots and pans out in the street. France had just beaten Portugal to move into the World Cup final. The honking went on for hours, with every car passing through the village on the way to Amiens adding their own sounds to the symphony. By the way, thanks to all those who filled me in on Old Hickory and Maastricht. Pretty cool stuff. There are so many battlefields and so many signs of wars in this area that it's like walking through history. As I write this, I can see the cathedral here in Caen, which still bears the scars of artillery fire from sixty years ago. So on to the bike race. It's cool and overcast here in this tourist mecca. The riders will be here in about five hours. They'll be riding almost 140 miles today. Talk to you later.

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