Stage 13, Narbonne to Nimes
My last day at the Tour was a bittersweet one, for sure. We were finished with the
Niki Terpstra and Florent Brard attacked inside the first kilometer to get their day in the sun. As Car 3 for the day, and with a single, early break that quickly grew to about 10 minutes we found ourselves in a fairly relaxed position where Lionel could go about filling-in the reporter in on all the ins and outs of neutral service and on the History of MAVIC, including a stop on the roadside to get some footage of the car and all its rooftop kit. For our race leaders, a day in the sun, which was literally just that, turned out to be their ultimate undoing as they each succumbed to the heat, with Terpstra finally getting swallowed up by the group with 10k to go. After a handful of late attacks, the day ended in an inevitable bunch sprint and with the Manx phenom, Cavendish taking his fourth stage win.
On this day, though, I had become much more interested in taking in as much of the French countryside as I could manage. It had been a fantastic trip to this point and I was disappointed to think I would be boarding the TGV the next morning to make my departure. I had made fast friends with my French Service Courses counterparts and was finally getting the hang of reading a menu and not making a complete fool of myself when trying to order dinner.
On arrival at our hotel in
I was mid-sentence explaining to Pete how outrageous the dinners had been all week when there was a knock at the door. It was Denis, gently reminding us, “Il est vingt heures moins le quart! Allez! Dinner! Let’s go!” That’s 7:45… we were supposed to meet at 7:30. We got our shit together quick and started walking to the cars, assuming we were driving to dinner. Wrong again, Denis alerted us, “No. Walking,” motioning toward the road.
Pete turned to me, pointing out that he had been asleep for most of the drive to the hotel, but didn’t recall anything that resembled a restaurant on the way to our hotel on the outskirts of
At the circle, we found ourselves walking straight into the Esso’s lot, at which point I nudged Pete and muttered, half amused and half bewildered, ”Dude. We ARE eating at a fucking gas station.”
We marched past the front of the station that was a very nondescript, very Mediterranean, stucco building with a tile roof, and around the side where a small window and door could be found. Through the window, a bar with about six stools could be seen, and once in the door we found a small dining room of about ten tables, six of which were put together for our group. Georgie, the Swiss, got up from the table, walked over to us, and firmly stated, “We meet for dinner at seven-thirty, not eight o’clock. It’s hard enough getting the fucking French to keep to a schedule. If they had their way, we’d be here all fucking night!” His words trailed off into a giggle, so we knew he wasn’t genuinely upset. Even the French, among us, found it funny. Funny ’cause it’s true.
Dinner became more surreal as the aperetifs arrived along with the menus - a four-course dinner at an Esso station. Four bottles of table wine to start, salads with fresh, local goat cheese, roast duck, a cheese course, coffee, and a sweet, soupy yogurt concoction for dessert that was just amazing. It’s a dinner story I’ve told a hundred times since I’ve come home, and there’s no end in sight. I couldn’t have dreamt up a more perfectly over-the-top way to cap-off my first trip to the Tour.