I woke up sore; the full after effects of the previous day’s crash starting to set in. There was a cramping in my neck and my lower back, so I began the day by stretching it out. I had planned to spend the day riding up Mont Ventoux, but that plan was foiled for a number of reasons. For one, my bike’s back wheel was buckled, and it needed to see a mechanic. For another, my helmet was broken and I daren’t go on another long ride without getting a new one. Finally, I couldn’t quite get the logistics to work without getting the 6 AM train. So I eventually found myself, without breakfast, on the 8 AM train from L’Argentère-la-Bessée headed for Marseilles.
It was a long train journey, and it wouldn’t be until after midday for my train to pull into the seaside city. Through the alpine valleys, the tracks were slow and curved through many tunnels; the train simply couldn’t build up much speed. It would have been much faster to drive, but I simply didn’t have access to a car, and I’m too young to hire one in most parts of Europe. Instead, I was resigned to playing on my phone or staring at the window.
Finally, the train did pull into Marseilles, and I wheel my bike out into the glaring sunlight. Having spent a number of days in the quiet alpine regions, the business of the beach was something of a shock. I walked down the many steps between the Marseilles St Charles railway station to the road, and further down the hill until I found my hotel. The room wasn’t quite yet ready for check in, so I left my stuff with the reception and headed back up towards the train station. If I wasn’t going to climb the Mont Ventoux, I may as well see the Tour instead.
On the way, and after a number of language missteps, I finally bought myself some food from a street food snack vendor; I had a large piece of pizza and some kind of sweet roll, which I ate outside the station before heading inside to get a ticket. I was headed to the small town of Salon, about an hour’s journey from Marseilles. It was here that the stage would be finishing.
The journey to Salon was relatively boring; the view was spoiled by the fact that this was a fairly industrial part of France. The train was full of people speaking English too, clearly I wasn’t the only person headed to the race.
As I left the train station over the railway footbridge, I had a bag check heading into town as one normally would at a concert or stadium venue. Outside of the station, the race barricades had already been set up; this was the 400m to go mark of the stage. Here, the race turned ninety degrees to a long, straight run into the centre of the town. I grabbed a water bottle from a nearby vendor and walked along the street to see what I could find.
I bought my lunch from the same food vendor that was on the mountain slopes the other day; which meant a sausage in baguette covered in chips. It was probably the same van too, brought down and parked in the middle of a busy town. The clientele of the race was contrasting too: in the previous few days, everyone was carrying bikes and wearing lycra, but today it seemed that everyone was either a local or a casual tourist.
I decided that there were two feasible spots to stand and await the race. One, on the right side of the road with 150m to go, had few people because it was situated between an accreditation only area and the exit way for the race vehicles. The other, with 100m to go, had many more people, but I could look into the VIP area and see the large screen broadcasting the race. I figured that it’d be better overall to brave the crowd and watch the race on the big screen, there were still 100 km to go. So I stood around and watched for a few hours. The race caravan came by, not throwing any freebies to the last few hundred metres, and then, the race itself approached.
The breakaway of the race lead the peloton by nearly ten minutes. All of the riders were well down in the general classification after the mountain stages, and none of the other teams really wanted to chase them too hard. From very early on, it looked as though they were going to make it. There were about 14 riders in the break, and in the last 20 km, they were attacking each other and trying to ride away from the rest. The attack that stuck was when all but two of the group went the long way around a roundabout, resulting in a gap that grew and grew. The beneficiary: Edvald Boassen-Hagen, a Norwegian rider on a South African team, who raced to a solo victory in Salon. The main group came through ten minutes later; not even racing for the minor placings.
I walked back through the crowds towards the train station. As I nearly went inside, I heard a booming sound through the air. I looked up: a squadron of French fighter jets were flying along the main street of the town in a V-pattern; billowing smoke in the Red, White and Blue of the French tricolour. Either there was a military base nearby, or they were practising for the main show in Paris on Sunday.
I was able to get an earlier train than the one that I had booked, and only had to wait ten minutes or so at the Salon railway station. Once back in Marseilles, I checked in properly to my hotel room. I didn’t even go out to dinner; I just hit the pillow and went to sleep, ready for the time trial tomorrow.