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***Fictionalized version of the events of 26 July, 2015 as seen in the novel, ‘Wheeler’. See, Disclaimers below***
Le Course by Tour de France, Paris, France
89km, 13 laps of 7km
Thousands of colorful umbrellas lined the barriers along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in the cold drizzle to watch the second running of La Course by Le Tour de France. As the team gathered at the judges stand to sign in, the cobbles of the Champs already had a greasy coating. Even though the riders were nervous about the conditions, this was the Tour de France. No one was backing out.
Loren and her team were photographed and announced from the main stage, then released to head back to their ready area to warm up for the race. They all had headphones on, as nobody wanted to talk to the reporters. Photographers roamed between the teams’ ready areas to take pictures of the riders on their trainers.
She caught a glimpse of Graham as he spoke with Aria, and they both glanced in her direction. She was glad she wore her amber mirrored sunglasses, as she’d rather not let anyone see how dark the circles were around her eyes.
When Loren went back to her room the previous night, she slept an hour or two before the nightmares started. It got so bad that she just stared at the ceiling instead of trying to go back to sleep. This is a huge platform for our sport. I’m just going to have to suck it up. If I can put on a show to bring in the viewers, it’s gonna be a big fucking show. She then recalled the media attention she got for her crash at the Giro. Uh, no, I don’t need to crash.
The women’s race was 13 laps of 7km, up and down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Each time the first five riders crossed the line for a lap, points were assessed: from five points for the first rider across, to one point for the fifth. Each point was a deduction from their overall accumulated time.
Loren’s only job was to keep Chantal at the front and safe. Rain meant dismal conditions, which made her task all the more difficult. Paris hadn’t had any rain in several weeks and the cobbles were filthy with oil, gasoline and gunk that, once wet, would be extremely slick.
As the race got underway, the drizzle had abated, but it didn’t make for better conditions. The peloton stuck together and kept the speed relatively sedate. There were several slips to the road in the first few laps. It wasn’t until the fourth lap that there was a crash of more than 15 riders, which split the field into two parts.
Loren and Chantal were both around the middle of the pack and went down in the melee. Neither they, or their bikes, were damaged and they were able to get back underway quickly. Loren pushed hard to cross the gap to get herself and Chantal back with the front group.
With 45km to go, Holly Parker took an early lead and held on for 7km before getting caught. At lap 9, another crash wiped out Ingrid and Cece, just as Loren and Chantal crossed the line to take the leaders points, 5 and 4, respectively.
At km 36, the main group strung out as the pace picked up to close to 43km an hour. There was a break of two riders, who worked together to build a lead that topped out at 30 seconds. Riders from GoreTech took over at the front to bring the duo back into the fold. By then, the sun had started to shine a bit, but the damage had been done to the cobbles and they remained slick.
Riders were still nervous and they approached the corners with caution, only to surge out of the turns. This strategy made it tough for riders off the front to keep the pace or move up in the group. Loren kept Chantal at the fore and worked with other riders to keep the pace high.
Keeping with her plan, Loren attacked on the final lap around the Arc de Triomphe, which was a little earlier than might have been anticipated by the other riders. She only hoped that Chantal could hold onto her wheel long enough to hit the final sprint to the finish. Her radio crackled as Felix relayed that Chantal had been cut off and was absorbed.
“If you feel you have enough to … hold on.” He paused. “Let up! Let up! There’s been a big crash. Just hang on.”
Often, it is a courtesy for the lead riders to let up a bit to afford an opportunity to those who crashed the chance to catch up, as they had earlier in the race. Loren let up on the pedals briefly and glanced around at the other riders. They were all given the same instructions.
However, this was the final lap of Le Course.
Felix came back suddenly in her ear. “Go! Go! Go!”
Two riders took advantage of the hesitation and took off, with Loren hot on their heels. The three of them pushed hard to increase the gap to 20 seconds going into the final kilometers.
She stayed just behind the two other riders, and both of them kept glancing back, waiting for her to begin the sprint. Loren didn’t know either the GoreTech rider or the brunette from PZI, but they knew her, and both were being coached from their team cars on how to defend against her strength.
I’m no rookie, ladies. I’ve got time. She began to gradually tick up her pace and Felix was soon in her ear to confirm her strategy.
“Not yet, mon trèsor. Let them worry, then make them pay for hesitation.” Sven was in the rear of the team car with Felix driving, and his head snapped up at the Director’s sadistic tone.
This is the ultimate game of bluff, she thought. If I twitched, one or both of them could be fooled into going early, or they could block me when I took off. It is a huge gamble. But like the man said, if you want it, you’re gonna to have to pay for it.
She had already shifted into a heavier gear and was about to attack when Felix gave his order. “GO, GO, GO!”
Loren jumped away from the other two with 200 meters to go. She committed every molecule of energy she had to cross the finish line first. It was close, with the rider from GoreTech a tire width behind Loren.
“YEAH!” She sat up a bit and pumped her left fist into the air in triumph. As she put her hand back on the bar, a photographer suddenly dashed out, directly in their path. The GoreTech rider swerved left, while Loren jerked her hips to the right and grabbed the brakes. She instantly felt a line of fire blaze down her right leg as her rear wheel slipped out from under her. Loren slid a few feet on her hip, leaving her scraped and stunned, but otherwise uninjured.
She would have knocked the photographer out if she could have gotten up quickly enough, but she didn’t have to. Several security guards and policemen took the guy down for her.
“Are you alright?” a woman’s voice said. Loren looked up into the concerned face of a paramedic.
“Yeah, thanks. If you could help me up.” She planted her feet and the paramedic gently pulled her up to stand and supported her as she caught her balance. She grimaced and sucked in a breath as she put weight on her right leg. The skin on her hip burned, which added to the intense zing she felt coursing down her leg.
“Thanks,” Loren said, as she let go of the woman’s arm. “I got it now.”
Loren heard her name called and raised her head to see her teammates crossing the finish. Cece, Ashley, Ingrid and Holly rolled over and congratulated her with a group hug. Loren saw Chantal over Holly’s shoulder, standing just beyond their circle. She held out her hand and drew the sprinter in to the team’s embrace.
“I went out for you,” Loren said to Chantal.
She didn’t quite meet Loren’s gaze. “I know. I got cut off.”
Loren nodded and put her hand on Chantal’s shoulder. “The next one is yours.”
Her teammates released each other and as she took a step, the pain flared again in her leg and she stumbled. The paramedic caught her again and helped Loren walk to the stage area where Aria waited for her.
Perhaps it was the weather or the knocks to the ground, but Loren couldn’t shake a foreboding feeling. As she stood on the stage waiting for her name to be called, there were more reporters and cameras below, staring up at her. Theo Arnold, in his tweed suit jacket, waved to her from the crowd and she mustered up a tight smile.
As she stood on the winner’s podium, Loren accepted her medal and jersey with the customary kiss on each cheek. She turned the opposite way to see Graham standing off to the side of the stage. Loren shook her head and smiled a little wider as she accepted the bouquet and a kiss on each cheek from the representative from Le Tour. When she glanced to the other side of the stage, Felix stood there, his dark eyes affixed on her.
Loren raised her arms as the crowd cheered and she smiled in spite of her intense feeling of unease.
As Graham watched the awards ceremony from off stage, he glanced at the opposite side of the stage. A well-built, dark haired man stood there, his intense gaze locked on Loren. Who is that?
A young woman in a yellow dress and sash with ‘Le Tour’ on it stood next to him. He leaned in a little toward her. “Pardonnez-moi, mais qui est cet homme? ”
The podium girl smiled up at him. “That is L’Assissin, Felix Lelonde.”
When Graham turned back to the stage, Felix was no longer watching Loren. His hate filled glare were firmly fixed on Graham.
Names, businesses, places, events and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are being used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
That said, portions of this novel are derived from real events, and as such, are meant as fictionalized dramatizations of those events. See, Aviva Women’s Tour, Giro Rosa, La Course, etc. The use of such names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are not intended to disparage or harm any such person, place, business or event.
Speaking of persons, the individual characters in this work are fictional and/or inspired by several individuals and from the author’s wildly creative imagination. That is, unless the person actually replied to my contact and agreed to have a cameo. Otherwise, the use of such personal characteristics is not intended to injure or vilify that individual personage. You have the author’s sincerest apologies if you feel injured or vilified. Hit me up on Twitter. We’ll talk about it.
Unless you’re Jude Law, that is. Mr. Law, I hold you in quite high esteem and use you as a comparison only because you’re awesome. I hope you don’t mind and at least got a chuckle out of it.
Thank you, and have a great day, unless you have something else planned. If that’s the case, don’t go solo. Take a Wookie with you.