Stage 11 and the riders set off under brilliant sunny skies from the Kryal Castle wannabe Carcassonne on a flat and windy 162.5 km route to Montpelier.
Many fruits and berries are in season and Gabs put together cherry fruit salad in brandy. The brandy of the region is called Eau de Vie de Languedoc or ‘water of life’. Some riders could do with some in their water bottle to calm the nerves.
No butter in the recipe which is forgiven considering the massive hit with the snail recipe in stage 10.
The race was on in earnest when Mattie spotted smoke on the horizon.The peloton was still some way off but Mattie was praying the wind wouldn’t carry the growing bushfire in the direction of the riders.
The Tour choppers got a closer look and flames were clearly visible. Time to bring in the water bombing aircraft. By the way, do the French have an Elvis to put out fires? All the Tour chopper pilots could do was look at their bottles of overpriced spring water sitting on the console and thought they wouldn’t be much use anyway, and besides, they had a race to follow.
Robbie joined Mattie in the caravan of commentary and the conversation immediately turned to the 70 km/h Mistral blowing out there. No, I’m not talking about a very large fan but the legendary winds that whip up in this part of France.
Robbie discussed the importance of wheel choice to counteract the effects of crosswinds. A full disc on the back would act like a large sail and a gust of wind would have sent riders flying off into the grape vines. Thick-rimmed aero wheels were little better so a narrow rimmed wheel was the logical choice. If you looked at wheel selection like pizza it would been more of a thin crust than deep pan pizza day.
Wheels and pizzas aside, position on the road and strange formation echelons were key to surviving the cross winds. Mattie compared it to musical chairs and you don’t want to be left standing when the music stops. When the wind gets up it’s a game of musical echelons.
Being a flat stage you’d be forgiven this would be a relatively easy day and ‘one for the sprinters’. Factor in the wind and the mood was very different in the peloton. Mattie warned to not look an angry Greipel in the eye. Good advice, he’d rip your bloody legs off.
The strange formation of the Escherlons
We’re now halfway through the Tour and it was time for Troll DJ to bring out the couch peloton all time favourite 'Cows with Guns'. Heaven, but we could have had more! But Troll DJ let us know who’s in charge with Bowie’s ‘I am the DJ’. Droll, Troll DJ, very droll.
At 90 km to go the Tinkies tried making a split to take advantage of the cross winds. Robbie reacted with, “whatever’s happening is happening now”.
Such was the level of concentration and pace the riders only slowed a little for the feed zone. To use a drive-thru analogy for Mattie it was, “no fries please, we’re going through”.
The race passed a quarry where red marble is extracted and some of it was used, according to Mattie, in the White House, which doesn’t make any sense.
Most of the commentary was centered on the wind, that’s a lot of hot air about wind. But who could blame anyone for not talking about the conditions when it was windier than a cassoulet festival out there?
The peloton passed L'Abbaye Sainte-Marie Fontcaude, which Mattie translated as 'warm fountain'. Funny, I was always thought besoin naturel meant warm fountain.
Out of the villages and out in the open the echelons were on like Pokemon. Nairo Quintana somehow got himself on his own 'surfing the peloton' in the washing machine up front to cross the intermediate sprint in ninth place. Surprising for a mountain man and just imagine the shock if he won the stage in a sprint?
The Ps made their catch at 50 km to go propelled by strong tail winds. Thoughts turned to tomorrow’s Bastille Day stage to the legendary Mont Ventoux. The mythical mountain is also known as the ‘Giant of Provence’ and to Paul the Giant of Provence “looks like a pimple”.
Phil spotted Nairo Quintana “having lunch and not looking worried”, which is typical Quintana poker face. In reality he wasn't happy with the crosswinds, the narrow roads and traffic furniture in the villages - not that he showed it.
Paul was wowed by the pink flamingos that inhabit the region and reminded us we’re not in Africa. Thanks Paul, and we’re not in Kansas either. The opportunity went begging for Troll DJ to cue up something from Toto...
On a sprint stage you'd normally see the yellow jersey being protected somewhere in the peloton. Not today, Chris Froome had once again, in the words of Paul, “taken the handbook of tactics and thrown them out the window" and was mixing it up with the likes of Peter Sagan to finish second behind the green jersey holder.
Sagan had a hundred million points in the bank securing his grip on the green and in a move no one expected Froome banked seconds plus time bonuses for Ventoux tomorrow. Winds are forecast to blow the beret off the Giant of Provence so this looks like smart thinking by Froome.
In the post race interview Sagan said it was, ‘crrraaazzy stupid out there’. We're not sure if he meant the crosswinds and the narrow village streets or the sight of Froome in a day for the sprinters