Today's stage started in the town of Urville, located right on the coast with some spectacular views. We did a couple local laps to celebrate the start of the race. Twice we went around the small town and along the beach, it was difficult to pay attention to the riders in front since the scenery was so nice. While warming up, I explored a little and just down the beach were some German bunkers left over from WWII. The bunkers and their entire foundation had been eroded away by the sea as they now lie on the beach, sloping at different angles, like a giant had picked them up and dropped them there.
After the gun, it wasn't long before we started charging up the hills along the coast. If you weren't ready to lay it down on the climbs you quickly found yourself at the back, especially in a small field as this (less than 100). A small group was beginning to ride away on one of the climbs, I bridged to the group, which Peter was in, but as soon as I made contact the group was brought back. A quick descent and another steep pitch, a second attack went. Peter jumped immediately, I was still recovering from my previous attempt, which when I looked back at my race data spiked me to 202 heart beats per minute. We went over a couple more rollers and then descended into a smaller town back on the coast. Sitting 5th wheel from the front, I began to notice that cars were pulling out onto the course without moto's stopping them. We're now doing 70 kmh+ on an open course with no one directing, and stopping, oncoming cars, but fortunately they moved over when they saw what was coming at them. More confusion followed when we blew through an intersection where we should have made a left, but again, with no one there to direct us no body knew where to go. I think this is a race organizer's worst night mare, but merely a shrug of the shoulders in France.
One good thing about this blunder is that Peter's break-away was now well established. After the hills, we started inland and the pace dropped significantly- just about every team was represented in the 12 man break, at least every team that mattered. We went from larger, two lane highways to small farm roads. After the first feed zone at 50k, the attacks began. They were quite pointless really, everyone wanted to attack but no one wanted to ride. They were still a threat though, especially with a couple of weaker teams who might open up gaps and with no one willing to close them- there goes another group up the road.
All the way until the local laps, Matthew, Thomas, and I followed attacks and closed gaps. Making sure that nothing went up the road with out one of us represented. Only three local laps but at 12 k, they were longer than usual.
Those squeamish about crashes skip this next paragraph. And no, I didn't go down.
With 5k to go, Peter's break was still safely up the road with about 2min. In the last kilometers of any race, especially the long and tough ones, you want to be in the front to avoid crashes from wasted riders. People do dumb things and take unnecessary risks for little benefit. With 4 k to go, out of no where 20 riders went down in a huge pileup right on front of me. I was able to keep it upright, avoiding downed riders and fishtailing to a stop. A couple of guys ran into my back wheel but thankfully didn't break anything. Every Fuji rider was caught up in the crash. Some went down but all were ok except Thomas. I stopped right behind him, he sat on the pavement cursing in flemish. Broken bike, broken helmet, and bloody limbs. I saw a rider next to me lying in a ditch with half a helmet left on his head. the other half was lying 5 ft away. After the bikes were cleared and Thomas was ok to at least ride to the finish, I went ahead to cross the line. 6 min 30 sec down in GC.
I later learned that the cause of the crash was not of a dodgy rider, but from a fight. One rider, who was cutting a lot of people off and causing a lot of people to get angry, started a fight and intentionally crashed the rider by shoving his handlebars. At least three riders went to the hospital, Thomas being one of them just as a precaution (he later joined us for dinner that evening and is starting today). The rider I saw in the ditch broke his arm. Totally senseless and unnecessary. That behavior has no place in cycling. The offending rider, whose identity is now well known through out the peloton, should be kicked out of the race and fined. But its France, so don't hold your breath.
The crash happened just outside of the 3k mark, so the 3k rule doesn't apply. Our director will appeal to the commissars, but we all know not to get our hopes up.
In the big picture, our game plan hasn't changed. Peter is now 5th in GC, and our plan today is simple. Make sure Peter gets up the road and bring anything back that is a threat. In the meantime, we'll appeal yesterdays crash and hopefully nullify our time gap of 6 min for the group time of 2:20.
Stage 2 starts at 1:30, I will post this evening with good news I'm sure.