My friend Florian has been following me on this Backpacking Tour de France for 21 days. He decided to use his vacation days to come with me on this second chapter of my adventure: cycling the Three Grand Tours (Giro D'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España) as well as the transitions in the same allotted time as the professionals.
We're on the 21st day of the challenge, the next-to-last stage, the time trial of Saint Émilion is complete and we're on the transition from Saint Émilion to Chatou, the starting point for the last stage of the Tour de France 2021. A 550 km transition that the pros breeze through by plane in a matter of 1.5 hours. For us, a day-and-a-half long hell, wind in our faces, pavement in deplorable condition. I'm at the end of my rope, and I tell Florian to leave without me, to ride into Paris on his own. His voice shakes: "think about the rain in Brittany, the climbs in the Alps, and the four infernal days in the Pyrenees, think about the Giro. You didn't do all that just to stop here". I cry for no reason, my legs don't want to do anything any more. The sleep debt I've built up over the last few weeks is eating at me. But I know that Florian is right.
My glasses hide my tears. His hand pushes against my back to lighten the weight of my bags and the headwind that is worming its way into them. My eyes sting, I want to go to sleep. I'm unable to move faster than 18 km/h. The horrible pavement on the road is just making the chafing from my saddle even worse. Florian has been riding with me for over 5000 km. I have no right to stop just 400 km from the finish line. And yet, the number on my cyclometer only goes down painfully as I pedal. I'm glued to the road.
From time to time, he yells at me, tells me it's good, that the pace is good. I know that's false. We're not cycling at this ridiculous pace, we're surviving, moving forward metre by metre. His encouragements make me cry. The Beauce remains to be crossed tomorrow, and the simple idea of it makes me shed some tears again.