Y2 – Day 216 – the penultimate

Today is the next to the last day of the Tour de France. We are down to 164 contestants after starting with 198. The routes are mapped and studied each day for a year; the roads are closed and cleared for hours during the flight, the fight and the stages of each unique trek.

If you get a chance, don’t miss the easy, gentle promenade finish to Paris tomorrow as the remaining cyclists advance to the Champs Elysees and three athletes are crowned this year’s best riders.  Unless the winner crashes tomorrow, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy from team Astana will take home the yellow jersey and win the Tour de France, 2014.

This year’s Tour ends after 2276 miles or 3664 kilometers after 21 days of grueling racing and 2 rest days.

The Tour is not just about the statistics; it’s about the drama, the scenery and the history in the making.

From Leeds, York, Sheffield and Cambridge in England through Basque and Spanish terrain, and some of the most picturesque French towns, I saw, noticed and observed so much.

There was rain, sweat, winds, tears, shouting, thunderclouds and finger pointing.

We witnessed crashes, flat tires, wheel changes, eliminations and leaders abandoning the race.

There were thigh burning climbs up uncategorized hills, flying descents down steep mountain tops, cross winds slashing between flat farmlands, circular round a bouts splitting the main groups, tight corners, switchbacks and undulating narrow roads to navigate.

We watched the hopeful break aways, sprinters shooting forward, the crowded pelotons and the faithful domestiques all weather the climate, the individual and team strategies and the luck or demise of a few.

Helicopters showed us snow capped peaks, lavender fields, 12th – 15th century cathedrals, town squares, tops of roofs, mountains and trees, second century Roman ruins, sunflower farms, castles, lakes, pines, and medieval villages.  We were taken through the Vosges, the Alps and the Pyrenees.

Motorcycle riders shot angles of the roads, cows, cobblestones and grimaces.  Mercedes, Jaguar and Beemer Team cars followed with extra bikes on top and expert mechanics inside.

For the first time ever, cameras were attached to bike seats and we were privy to gravel, bumps and whooshing wheel sounds, first class seats to crashes involving multiple or single riders and fans interrupting the flow of the race.

We were there for every stage win; the green jersey for most points, the white one for youngest, the polka dot for king of the mountain and yellow jersey for over all player. We marked every checkpoint, time trial, feed point and finish.

Fans encouraged, pushed, interfered, screamed, jumped, ran alongside with and did the wave at the time trial.  Some men wore ridiculous costumes; most devotees cheered and waved flags and banners. Local aficionados sat under umbrellas to get out of the rain or sun by the road, some travelers opened up portable chairs or spread out blankets by their campers and trailers, waiting for days to be a part of the passing show of renowned bikers.  Supporters carried accordions, I-Pads and every country’s flags (Portugal, Italy, Spain, French, German, USA, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Japan, England and Sweden to name a few).

We were amazed by the brightly colored bikes used as guardrails and even more wide eyed by no rails on nail biting cliff edges, gullies and narrow road drops.

We flinched as we endured torn and bloody skin suits, bandaged body parts and pounding falls onto cement and tar.  We smiled as we beheld pairs of young stylishly coordinated young women double European kissing winners of various podium standings while stuffed lions and bouquets abounded as gifts.  We celebrated the streamers of yellow, green, white and red and white polka dotted shirts criss – crossing overhead the athletes through ancient towns and yellow, white and green balloons strewn along low walled chateau estates.

I longed for France as I noticed ornamental iron balconies, brightly colored shutters on aged and textured stones and stucco, black, burgundy, indigo and forest green awnings covering well worn walkways under doorways and entrees.

Teams displayed and announced their sponsors proudly:  BMC, SKY, Movistar, Astana, AG2R La Mondiale, Tinkoff/Saxo, to name a few.

We were entertained by the British voices of Paul and Phil who have been covering the Tour since the beginning of their sportscaster’s careers. We listened to the American, Todd Harris and his sidekicks Bob Roll, an old-timer Tour racer and Christian Vande Velde, just retired from last year’s Tour.

Even though tomorrow is a mostly ceremonial trip into Paris, it culminates with a wild, sprint finish, Eiffel Tower in the background, that you will not want to miss.

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