It is these vagaries, the unexpected roundabout, the too merry man waving a wine glass midroad, the great green umbrella that was upended by the wind on an earlier day and landed in the middle of the peloton like Mary Poppins on LSD, that make this race so maddening and dangerous and, yes, enjoyable. There is also the ever-present and always unspoken shadow of doping, a generational elixir for cyclists that just might be a touch rarer today.
Early the next morning, I wandered over to the CCC Pro Team’s bus. I fell into conversation with Jim Ochowicz, who manages the team and is a veteran of many biking wars. He spoke of France, where the passion for cycling edges into religious passion.
“This is the Super Bowl,” he said, but with a difference. Football fields are 100 yards with every detail controlled and manicured to the manic-obsessive inch.
“Our venue is every road in France, and each year the route is different,” he said. “If they are doing road work, if there is a pothole, you have a split second to deal with it.”
A bit of math: Over the 3,481 kilometers of the 2019 Tour, there are 3,576 obstacles: 404 roundabouts, 308 sections that narrow precipitously, 28 hairpin turns and 334 speed bumps, not to mention rail crossings and drunks.
As we spoke, cyclists glided effortlessly in and out of the crowds, like so many serene goldfish in a bowl. Imperceptibly, at first, a tension built, and I said goodbye and moved with a herd of reporters down the road, following the bikes. Bands played, townspeople waved and the peloton began to move out of Albi, the temperatures already in the mid-80s and the cyclists with more than 100 miles of peddling ahead.