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Easy Red

Posted by MDugard on Jul 10, 2006 10:38:13 AM

The first week of any Tour is like the opening act of a play. It sets the stage. So far this year's Tour drama has seen a doping scandal and two victories by likeable Aussie Robbie McEwen. However, the pacing has been, if not dull, deliberate. That's actually a good thing. Everyone around here is chomping at the bit, eager to see what happens at tomorrow's individual time trial. No one can win the Tour tomorrow, but boy can somebody lose it. Today's stage started at 12:50 in the afternoon, which is late even by Tour standards. The stage goes southwest from Lisieaux to Vitre, and looks to be uneventful. It's 117 miles on a rainy day, and the top riders just want to make it to the finish without crashing. I awoke at dawn to the cries of seagulls. Yesterday, when were out in the country, it had been songbirds. But now we're so near the ocean I could smell the salt air. I tried to roll over and go back to sleep, but my little two-star roadside hotel was offering free WiFi. The Tour is charging an astronomic fee for journalists to use their wireless network, so we've become like junkies, searching high and low for alternative sources of free internet. Anyway, that's what got me out of bed this morning (a bed, by the way, designed for a five-year old. I felt like it should have had a cowboys and Indians bedspread). The connection in my room was poor, so I sat in the hallway and typed for an hour. Geez, that makes me sound like a geek. Drank a coffee and drove west for Omaha Beach, where American forces suffered their worst D-Day losses. I wanted to get there before the tourist busses. I realize that we are all tourists once we leave our hometown, but I've been to Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery on the bluff overlooking it before. It's a narrow, tree-lined road that meanders for miles off the N13 before reaching the beach. When it backs up, the pilgrimage becomes a chore, and I didn't have time for a traffic jam. I'm happy to say that there were only two other cars -- and no busses -- in the vast parking lot. I paid my respects at the cemetery, followed the paved path down the bluff to the beach itself, and went for a long run down along the coast. It was raining and the wind was blowing, but I had the place to myself. Just me and the ghosts. Then it was off to Lisieaux for the start. Made it there just as the Discovery and Phonak busses pulled in and set up shop: team cars alongside the bus to keep away spectators, awning lowered to keep the riders dry. A word about the Grand Mere women, the Soup Nazis of the Tour de France. Their job in the exclusive pre-race village is to wear bright red tops, tight black skirts, and pour coffee for anyone and everyone who wanders up the the Grand Mere coffee booth. This has been a village staple for years. They work inside an oval space that is broken up by countertops and burners for brewing fresh coffee. To the untrained observer, it's just three French women pouring coffee. But if you head into the village each morning, depending on that little Dixie Cup of powerful joe, sooner or later you will be struck by the fact that they could care less whether you ever get a cup of coffee. This morning the stand-up counters were filled with eager coffee drinkers, but the ladies of Grand Mere were ignoring us, eagerly sharing cell phone photos with one another. Yet none of us said a word. Why do we put up with it? Perhaps it's their uniquely Gallic beauty (they are all tall, handsome women with noses of character, broad shoulders, and Edith Piaf hips), but I believe it's their insouciance. This is not a cafe, they seem to be reminding us, and the women of Grand Mere will pour the coffee when it is convenient for them.  You've gotta respect that. I passed the great island castle at Ste-Michelle on my way south into Brittany. Lots of time to drive and think. First, I came to the profound realizations that Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul are one of the great overlooked bands in history, and that June Carter could really sing. Listen to her on the live version of "Jackson."But I also thought a lot about tomorrow's time trial. It's a flat 32-mile circuit, and easily the biggest day of this year's Tour so far. I think Dave Zabriskie will win, but beyond that, it's the most wide-open time-trial of the last seven Tours. It will be a day for the contenders to sort themselves out. The guys who really want to win will do something spectacular, and when that happens I think this year's Tour will take on an exciting new edge. Talk to you after the stage.

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