On the Road With the Tour de France

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Sports of The TimesThe most glorious and heartbreaking of cycling races, a pell-mell journey of three weeks to Paris.Jul 18, 2019ImageThibaut Pinot after falling behind the main group at the Tour de France.CreditJeff Pachoud/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesALBI, France — I was late, oh so late, and my car’s GPS had expired in the midst of remote vineyards and stands of cypress and golden fields of humanoid-looking sunflowers. So this American hurtled down medieval farm roads making wrong turns after wrong turns until, miracle sacre, I suddenly found myself at Hotel La Réserve, a handsome country hotel with manicured grounds and a glittering swimming pool. Attractive, if anxious-looking, young men and women parted, and at their center, sitting on a white couch, was poor Thibaut Pinot, the great hope to capture this tour for France.He wore a 1,000-yard stare.Tragedy had befallen him a day earlier. The Tour de France peloton, the amoeba-like mass of more than 100 cyclists who ride fast and hip-to-hip, had come to one of the ubiquitous roundabouts when Pinot and his team made a split-second decision to go left instead of right.That exposed all to cutting crosswinds. He fell dozens of seconds off the pace, and that might as well have been two hours.Pinot could not bring himself to say much at that news conference. So his manager, Marc Madiot, who had a great mane of white hair and a defiant jut to his chin, commanded the couch like a captain on his poop deck. As my French consists of a bouillabaisse of nouns and verbs, and conjugations that too rarely align, I understood little other than his many recitations of “jamais,” as in never give up, never surrender, never.A

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