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Stage 12: Christmas in July

11/07/2013
The stages advance and more and more we get the feeling from within the cars following the race that there are ever-growing crowds. Arriving in the city of Tours today was impressive and the French Ministry of the Interior estimated the total number of spectators at between 12 and 15 million people. And it is expected that in Alpe d'Huez there will be nearly one million followers. This goes to show that the Tour is a social event, and not merely a sporting competition. My friend Serge Laget compares the French bike race to Christmas in July. Year after year, numerous faces are in the crowds may be recognized. But surely, the most well-known spectator is “El Diablo”. 
Stage 12: Christmas in July

Curiously enough, this devilish fan is the most charismatic character in our “Christmas” festivities. Always loud and animated, this year marks the 20th race edition that he has attended. With his pitchfork, tail and horns, he has become more popular than some of the cyclists themselves. His real name is Didi Senft and he is a German bike designer who owns a museum in the German town of Starkon, site of the world’s largest bicycle, some 7.80 metres, a 15 metre guitar-bicycle and in 2008, the year that Germany hosted the World Cup soccer tournament, he created a bicycle model having wheels made out of soccer balls. Quite the personality, he defines himself as “a helper showing the cyclists the path”. Not nearly as popular, though also well-loved at the race is a Belgian man of over 80 years of age who always comes dressed in the same attire: a cap and shorts. He is more discreet than Senft but has become good friends with the peloton, often helping assistants to pass out drinks to the racers. These are the individuals that make the Tour great.

Bartal

As for today’s stage, history repeated itself: a long breakaway by a brave group, the peloton allows the racers to mature and eat up the final kilometres like an animal devouring its prey. It is a race between the weak and the strong, David versus Goliath, where rarely does the story of David repeat itself: in the great races, Goliath almost always wins. The teams of sprinters are voracious lions and the weak deer are hoping that the king of the jungle is not hungry today. But Cavendish and company always have an appetite for victory and therefore any celebrations of the other racers tend to be brief. Under a glaring sun, five men tried to accomplish this breakaway for over 200 kilometres but they were hunted down with only ten to go. And once again, Sojasun racers like Anthony Delaplace showed that they are committed to winning at all costs, and his efforts have paid off, to the great satisfaction of our sponsor. We hope that one day soon he will raise his arms in victory as Marcel Kittel did on three occasions. The surprising German is beating out two of the greats, Cavendish and Sagan, who have been forced to watch while the German earns the very victories that were expected to be theirs.

Bartal

Today, the breakaway was not successful, but other brave ones have managed to end in success. One of the longest in history that did in fact have a happy ending was led by Thierry Marie in the sixth stage of the 1991 Tour. The race had reached Le Havre and it was the longest stage of the edition at 256 kilometres. At kilometre 22, Marie jumped out in the lead. An incredible cyclist specializing in prologue stages, the Frenchman had already won the Tour de France and the prologue of the Tour of Spain, earning the right to wear yellow jerseys in both races and winning in Paris-Nice, Dauphine and Midi Libre amongst others. With 234 kilometres to go, it seemed like a terrifying challenge to face this distance alone, and it appeared he was destined to be eaten up by the large pack. Despite being a very well-respected cyclist, he was not generally a risky one and therefore, the favourites left him alone and the teams of sprinters also let him be. No one seemed to question the sprint but the cyclist from Bénouville never gave up his lead and to the surprise of all, achieved victory. It was an incredible achievement.

Bartal

Tomorrow we will once again attempt that which Marie achieved, making every possible effort to do so. The goal is the same: to arrive at the sprint, with the breakaway racers trying to avoid this at all costs. Tomorrow’s race will be more complicated than today’s, with a small sloping ten kilometres that could mean trouble for unprepared cyclists. Finally, I don’t want to bid farewell without making mention of the fabulous wines to be found in these parts, some of the best in the country. Tonight we will dine with some wines from the banks of the Loire, perhaps a Cabernet Franc, the perfect accompaniment to a great evening. Cheers!

 

And that’s all friends. Regards from Tours!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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