"The Tour" Chapter 1
"The Tour" is the sequel to last years Franklin Award winning novel "The Race."
A young rider, Ben Barnes continues his life long dream of winning the Tour de
France with more than the roads and competition to confront.
The Daily Peloton is pleased to publish the first chapter of Dave Shields "The
"Dave Shields' new novel, The Tour, is a captivating reminder that while the
highest human endeavors are never without cost, the heroism of spirit and sheer
will are what make us fans of this incredibly difficult sport."
Janna Trevisanut, Editor
cowbells, women cheered, and men waved colorful banners in the thin alpine air.
Passion supercharged this corridor through the outskirts of centuries-old Bourg
d’Oisans. Blistering mid-day heat rose from the tarmac. One hundred and
sixty-two men had survived a week and a half of bicycle racing to reach this
point on the road, more than eleven hundred miles from the start of the Tour de
France, yet still almost a thousand short of the finish line in Paris.
near the crest of the peloton, shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s greatest
cyclists, Ben Barnes savored the electric moment. What a journey he’d taken in
his twenty-four years. Today he stood within reach of his ultimate goal: winning
the Tour de France. He vowed to make his supporters proud.
side of the narrow Romanche River Valley, limestone peaks scratched at the clear
sky. Where the cliffs were too sheer for vegetation, exposed swirling strata
signed testament to the powerful forces that had shaped this land. Trees, vines,
and grasses clothed the lower slopes. Ben wondered if eyes like his, having
spent their formative years in the Southern Utah desert, could ever take in
enough greenery. In the river basin, every arable patch of land had been sown,
but no one worked the fields today. The families who called these hills home
stood side-by-side with bicycle lovers from every corner of the globe.
A Swiss band,
complete with an accordion and three twelve-foot alpenhorns, yodeled an
impossible tune. Fans danced in the street, screaming joyfully. In the athletes’
struggle against elements, terrain, and competitors, these enthusiasts seemed to
have discovered the perfect microcosm for their own lives. Raw grit set them on
fire. They worshiped warriors incapable of giving less than everything.
had turned in the sort of legendary performance that the fans loved. He’d bested
everyone in a six-hour quest that ended atop cycling’s most legendary climb,
l’Alpe d’Huez. His exhausted muscles had tightened and seized overnight. Now
underway, renewed effort deadened the pain. He cruised along behind his
teammates, hiding from the wind and conserving energy for later in the day. He
needed to gather his strength for another explosive finish.
veered onto a new highway, and soon bent upward. The clickety-clack of shifting
gears reverberated like the grumbling of a huge, metallic stomach. The sound
brought to mind the peloton’s insatiable appetite. One day ago Ben had been the
prey. Today he was, as usual, a part of the beast itself.
route confronted a cliff so abrupt that the road scaled it on a sloping viaduct
built adjacent to the rock. The fight against gravity ignited a pleasant burn in
Ben’s legs. Today’s race would cross four alpine passes on the way to
Digne-les-Bains. While the profile wasn’t nearly as difficult as yesterday’s,
exhaustion ensured that the ten remaining stages were going to be even tougher
than the ten the riders had completed.
Il mio amore!”
recognized Luigi Figanero’s voice. Widely recognized as the world’s best
climber, he bragged of even more prowess as a lover. Thousands of women seemed
anxious to find out for themselves. Ben scanned the roadside for the Italian’s
most recent conquest.
sprinted ahead of the peloton, and then stopped among the crowd with arms spread
wide. He embraced a shapely blonde while he kissed the gorgeous brunette next to
her. Then he switched his lips to the blonde while the peloton cheered. “Avete
amiche? There is enough Luigi to go around.”
rolled by as an appreciative roar rose from the fans. Ben glanced at his Italian
friend, still at roadside and now giving passionate attention to a very large
forward, chuckling. How did the guy get away with it? Not in a million years
could he play a crowd like that. On top of everything else, it took guts to drop
behind the pack, even early in the day before the racing turned fast and
approached the village of Ornon, the hill relented and the pace increased. The
village was packed with spectators. Ben watched a flag blow from a fan’s grasp.
It floated across the route, colors swirling. For a moment, he thought he might
reach up and grab it, but then the emblem made a swan-like dip directly into his
path. With cyclists on three sides, where could he go? Suddenly the spokes of
his front wheel grabbed the banner and devoured it.
The village back-flipped as he cartwheeled, his feet still locked into the
pedals and his bicycle inverted above him. He slammed onto his head and
shoulder. Pain shot down his spine. Skittering down the road, rubber side up,
his left eye was so close to the pavement that approaching pebbles resembled
tire from a trailing bicycle closed the gap to his face. Ben shut his eyes and
braced for impact. No collision. He opened his eyes as someone’s rear wheel
soared over his cheek. The cyclist had bunny-hopped his head.
bicycle skidded toward him. Rubber tires screeched across the pavement. The
front wheel bumped into his chest and stopped. He breathed again, even as the
familiar sting of road rash warmed the left side of his body. Cringing, he
grabbed his tailbone. He evaluated his injury quickly: a deep bone bruise.
Painful, but not debilitating.
arm, and hip were also bruised but not broken. Ben rotated his neck from side to
side, trying to relax and clear his head. With a twist of his toes, he
disengaged his shoes from the pedals and separated himself from the bike.
Cyclists streamed by on both sides for what seemed an eternity. Ben climbed to
his feet, points of light swirling through his vision. The vehicle caravan
approached. Someone handed him his sunglasses and he put them on.
voice asked, “Are you okay to continue?”
still gathering his senses.
line">Fédérale’s lead mechanic, sprang from
the team car like a greyhound lunging from its trap. The ends of his long black
moustache trailed behind like twin tails on an exotic kite. He looked worried.
In his left hand he carried a spare front wheel.
in from all sides to watch. Support vehicles threw dust into the air as they
veered wide to get past. Honking. Braking. Revving.
numbered well over fifty cars, most with a half dozen bicycles mounted on their
roofs. In addition to two logo-covered support vehicles per team, there were
other cars for race officials, neutral support, and press from around the world.
Swarms of motorcycles zipped among them carrying television cameramen, course
marshals, still photographers, and others.
teammates gathered near. First lieutenant Albert chewed gum nervously. His sleek
physique and bony face reminded Ben of a gazelle, built for endurance over hilly
terrain. Beside him, Rikard, the team’s charismatic sprint specialist, looked
huge and angry. A thoroughbred racehorse, hard charging even at a standstill,
his specialty was speed on the flats. Men like Rikard were dead meat in
mountainous terrain, but give them a long, level straightaway and they’d eat the
cyclists were called domestiques, literally “servants.” They played integral
supportive roles, often sacrificing personal results to put their team leader
atop the podium in Paris.
Rikard had made it clear that he didn’t approve of using a French team to
support an American cyclist’s efforts. Yet he was here when needed most. Ben
owed these men, big time.
to remove the damaged wheel from the bicycle. With a wrenching tug he jerked it
free. “It takes a licking…” He snapped the new wheel into place, cinched the
quick release, and spun it hard. “…and keeps on ticking.” He gave the other
components a once over then patted Ben on the back.
groggy, Ben swung a leg over his bike. All seven remaining Banque
line">Fédérale teammates watched. The only
member of their squat who’d dropped out of the race so far was three-time
champion Thierry DePerdiux, the victim of a crash the day before. Ben looked up
to the man like a big brother. Thierry had broken his ankle in the accident but,
relentless as ever, he’d returned today to become their new directeur sportif,
their coach. He drove the vehicle carrying Fritz. One good foot was sufficient
for that job, provided it was attached to a mind like Thierry’s.
Ben nodded to
his teammates, signaling them to shove off. Fritz gave Ben a running push,
sending him up the road. Ben rose from the saddle and sprinted up to speed. The
men settled into their draft line while, beside them, the convertible roof of a
neutral support car disappeared into its trunk, revealing the Tour’s doctor
kneeling on the back seat. He waved Ben over. “Ah, Monsieur Barnes. I
must see you.”
Ben looked at
him helplessly, and then gave in. The other Banque
line">Fédérale cyclists kept pace as he grabbed the windowsill of the
first,” the doctor said.
the man’s swaying index finger with his eyes. He’d been through this drill
put a firm hand on Ben’s shoulder and squeezed. “Any pain?”
tenderness but no sharp sensations. “I’ll be fine.”
nodded, lips pressed together.
down. Asphalt-blackened fabric edged the hole around his bloody shoulder wound.
His brand new maillot jaune, the yellow jersey that spotlighted him as overall
race leader, had been baptized by fire. “What a start to the day.”
But you ought to be thanking God for your helmet.” The doctor used a water
bottle to wash gravel from the road rash on Ben's left shoulder, elbow, and leg.
“Better to destroy a bit of high tech foam than your skull. Non?”
The doctor unhooked the chinstrap and removed the head protector, showing it to
Ben. The outer shell still held it in one piece, but the impact had shattered
support vehicle and get a new one.” The doctor rose to sit on the rear dash and
inspected Ben’s head through his stubbly haircut, looking for blood or signs of
his radio. “Busted my brain bucket.”
dig a spare from the cargo bin,” Thierry answered.
minute.” Thierry sounded unimpressed by the crash. Mishaps were part of the
sport. Professionals were expected to handle them and move on. Thierry’s concern
at this moment was brokering deals with other teams and building key alliances
to keep Ben in a strong position. No one could win the Tour de France without
lots of help. Complex maneuverings formed the backdrop to everything.
his teeth at the stinging sensation as the doctor sprayed antiseptic onto the
wounds. The physician finished and waved Ben forward. “Allez c’est bon.”
Ben let go of the window and hurried toward his teammates’ protective draft. The
purple-and-green Banque line">Fédérale
bicycle train quickly got up to speed again. Ben sat in the caboose position as
his companions escorted him toward the main pack. Had this spill occurred
twenty-four hours earlier, he would have been left to his own devices. Today,
since he wore yellow, his squad sliced a path through the wind for him. One of
the strategic keys to bicycle racing was preserving as much of the team leader’s
energy as possible so he’d have strength late in the day. Ben could get used to
a change like this.
reached the vehicle caravan and wove their way through. To gain additional
protection from the wind the athletes stayed close to the cars. It was a
dangerous proposition. The drivers were alert, but a fall here could be the last
one a cyclist ever took.
line">Fédérale car pulled alongside and the
mechanic handed out a new helmet. “You’re in good hands with Fritz-state.” Fritz
loved American culture, so much so that he’d invented a unique way of expressing
himself that he called “Ameri-jibberish.” He always had the appropriate jingle
at his fingertips.
clipping the helmet into place without slowing.
The car kept
pace, and Ben crouched down to glance inside. In the back seat Coach Bill and
Fritz worked intently on some component. In the front passenger seat Thelma
looked his way and smiled. She was the closest thing to a mother he’d known
since his own mom died on his eighth birthday. Ben still couldn’t believe that
Thelma and Coach had traveled halfway around the world on a moment’s notice just
to show their support.
Ben keyed his
radio. “I need a ‘fix’ at dinner tonight.”
grinned at his reference to her spaghetti, famous throughout Southern Utah. In
his youth, Ben used to cycle over the top of Boulder Mountain regularly to get
his concentration to the wheel in front of him, anxious to close the gap to his
rivals. Five minutes later, relieved and exhausted, he and his team rejoined the
peloton. The air current created by this mass of surging cyclists enveloped them
like a mother’s arms.
of catching the group from behind was entirely different from being captured by
it at the front. Every pro understood the love/hate relationship. Within the
pack the punishing headwind disappeared, and a neutralizing tailwind took its
place. A rider could reduce his wind resistance by up to forty percent by
remaining in the draft of others. The effect was less evident on an incline like
this, but slipstreaming wasn’t the only benefit of the peloton. Pace making also
played a key role. Following wheels simplified decision-making and reduced
stress. This big pack served as a great equalizer, complicating tactics and
enabling some men to complete the distance while expending far less energy than
others. Until the mountains blew things apart, the peloton could be the perfect
place to hide.
line">Fédérale men sagged over their
handlebars. They’d spent a lot of energy closing the gap created by Ben’s
accident. Finally hidden from the wind, they needed a moment to recuperate. Ben
didn’t have that luxury. He had to work his way toward the front. Leaders
couldn’t risk being trapped deep in the peloton should a key rival launch an
forward, noticing that his competitors were in a somber mood. His crash in a
rare lighthearted moment had apparently caused many of the other athletes to
consider how quickly things could go wrong. Hundreds of rubber tires whispered
along the asphalt while men from various teams asked after him.
“Bit of bad
krafter, nya tag!”
think.” Even though Ben didn’t understand everything they said, he nodded
acknowledgments. In addition to English he spoke fluent French and pretty good
Spanish, but not much more. With nineteen native tongues in this year’s peloton,
only a smattering of words could be understood by all.
become increasingly international. Each team had a home country, but the
athletes who made up the team often came from around the world. Even those
squads that emphasized local connections tended to have foreign talent. That was
lucky for Ben, who had found a new home on the primarily French Banque
line">Fédérale squad after losing his job
with the mostly American Megatronics team.
rode he surveyed his competitors for potential weakness: a wrap on a previously
naked knee, redness in someone’s eye, an unexpected change in equipment. He
loved the hidden intensity in these moments when the racing wasn’t going full
throttle. A rider could rest his muscles and forge alliances. Men might learn,
or be tricked into believing, that cooperating with various rivals could advance
their goals. Competitors spent breath on bits of conversation, laying groundwork
for chaos later in the stage. The coalitions were necessary because working solo
was nearly always suicidal.
The cyclist ahead of Ben
wore number thirty-one. Curly black locks reached to the shoulders of his red
shirt. He had no water bottle in his cage, preferring that his teammates carry
liquid for him whenever possible. It was Kyle Smith of the American based Megatronics team.
Three years ago they
were both neo-pros, rookie cyclists, for Megatronics. On the bike they pushed
each other hard. Off the bike they couldn’t see eye to eye. Kyle continually
chased Ben’s girlfriend. Eventually that escalated into sabotaging Ben at the
U.S. Cycling Championships. Kyle had ended up winning the race, and then he used
his resultant influence to force Ben from the team. The guy was a master of PR,
and he used those skills to promote himself at others’ expense. The fallout
nearly cost Ben his career. To him, the backside of Kyle’s jersey served as a
“Looks like you passed
your first test,” Kyle said as the two drew even.
“Bouncing down the road
on my head is a test?”
“Yeah, but you’re the
only one dumb enough to take it.”
Typical. Ben pedaled
harder. He’d rather not think about his aches, and he definitely wasn’t
interested in discussing them with Kyle. The real test, as always, had been
getting back on the bike.
Kyle accelerated to stay
alongside. “You sure act cocky for a guy with only two seconds to spare.”
It was a reference to
Ben’s General Classification lead, the standings that listed cumulative times
for each competitor. Was he fishing for congratulations on second position or
something? It didn’t matter. Ben had better things to worry about than Kyle’s
opinion of him.
Kyle ripped open an
energy gel with his teeth, and spat the package top onto the road. “Still the
same motherless cowboy you always were. Let me tell you something, Barnes. You
ain’t fit for yellow.”
“We’ll see about that,”
Ben said, touching his shoulder through the torn fabric. The maillot jaune
wasn’t holding up too well, but somehow it felt better than ever. He powered
forward, separating himself from his nemesis and moving beside the next guy in
line, Gunter von Reinholdt.
Ben wished Kyle were his
only concern. Gunter stood third overall, a mere second behind Kyle in the
General Classification. The German led a super-strong team called Deutscher
Aufbau. It was rare for the top of the leader board to be so crowded this late
in the race.
over, a friendly expression masking his famous killer instinct. Blonde eyebrows
arched over intense blue eyes. Criss-crossing scars on his chin spoke of
multiple meetings with the pavement. He patted Ben on the back. “Sind sie
needed to sand off some irregularities.”
laughed, “We hoped you were okay.”
Why did the German always refer to himself in the plural? He liked this guy,
despite his quirks.
was tenuous. He could be overtaken by both Kyle and Gunter in the time it took
to swallow. He could hardly believe he led such cyclists at all, let alone the
entire rosters of eighteen more teams.
Settling on his saddle,
he removed his sunglasses and fit the arms into helmet vents so they were
available but out of the way. He spotted a boy, about twelve years old, beside
the course. The kid straddled a too-large bike, just like Ben had in his early
teens. As the boy noticed Ben’s stare, a grin exploded across his face and he
shot a thumbs-up sign. Ben winked.
He loved helping kids.
He knew firsthand what it felt like to grow up without parents. Ever since he’d
turned pro, visits to disadvantaged children had become a regular part of his
routine, a sort of repayment for the investment others once made in him. Four
months earlier, the evening after he’d settled into his European training base
of Gerona, Spain, Ben dropped by the local orphanage to say hello. The children
were in the midst of celebrating Toma Subic’s thirteenth birthday. He was a
frail little waif with a smile that filled half his face. Ben smiled back,
noticing that the kid had pasted cycling photographs over every inch of his
meager personal space, including the backside of his headboard.
“Do you know Thierry
DePerdiux?” Toma asked when he learned how Ben made his living.
I’ve just joined his team.”
grew round. “He’s my hero.”
never gives up. I love him for that.”
each time Ben visited, Toma followed him around. Ben answered the boy’s endless
questions while noticing the children’s tattered clothes and lack of books. One
day he pulled a caseworker aside. “What can you tell me about Toma?”
“Not much. As
outgoing as he seems, he keeps his thoughts private.”
noticed. How did he get here?”
evacuated from Croatia about six years ago. A labor camp left him behind when
they moved to a new location. He nearly lost his left foot to gangrene. It was
months before he uttered a word. Once he did, he told us he’d seen his mother
murdered. No details.”
air through his teeth.
caseworker continued. “Toma’s a smart kid—speaks three languages.”
happened to his father?”
caseworker shrugged. “He gets jittery if you bring him up. My guess is that he
doesn’t remember having a dad. At the time of Toma’s rescue he was seven years
old and had been in forced labor for at least a year. Despite all that, he’s
still got an insatiable thirst for life.”
“That I do
know. Every time I’m around him I feel better for it.”
Ben saved money and
gathered donations for two weeks. He’d never felt happier than the day he
delivered books, some clothes, and a shiny new bike to the orphanage. He spent
his free time training Toma. The boy wasn’t particularly talented, but his raw
determination resulted in an age-division victory by his third race.
Ben on the day he left for the Tour and kissed him on the cheek. “I love you,
Ben. Good luck!”
moment, neither of them could have imagined the luck Ben would have on l’ Alpe
d’Huez. Yesterday’s victory on the Tour’s toughest mountain stage had been
unthinkable. Today it wasn’t Thierry’s name painted all over the road, but
Ben’s. He felt obligated to live up to his mentor’s reputation, and to make Toma
American flags had sprouted like dandelions. He even noticed a Utah flag waving
in the wind. Ben had never realized he held feelings for that dark blue bed
sheet of a banner, but today it energized him.
A group of women
cheered, “Barnes-tormer, Barnstormer, Barnstormer!”
“You’re making me
jealous,” said Luigi.
Ben laughed. “I’m not
interested in those women. Bridgette is the only girl for me.” Yesterday, in the
midst of all the excitement, he’d asked her to marry him. She’d said yes.
Luigi breathed easily,
hardly tested by riding in the draft at the current pace. “Ahhh, to love just
one woman. How can you do it? Monotony will never be for me.”
The Italian furrowed his
brow. “I tell you a better idea. Luigi will take care of your spare women. Think
of it as my engagement gift. Bene?”
There were spare women.
There was an abundance of people of every kind, all wanting a piece of him.
Whether in person or through the lens of a television camera, everyone sought a
glimpse of the yellow jersey. Millions of eyes weighed upon him. The
expectations of generations were his obligation to fulfill. He would give
everything he could.
Today, even the French
believed in Ben Barnes. Yesterday, the day their legendary hero went down, Ben
had transformed a disastrous stage for Banque
line">Fédérale into an unforgettable triumph. As a result, in the span of
twenty-four hours he’d gone from outcast to adopted son.
He looked at the fans
gratefully, then noticed a red-faced boy holding up today’s edition of the
newspaper Français au Fond. Ben’s smile faded. The paper bore a photo of
him crossing yesterday’s finish line. His raised arms appeared to hoist the
gigantic superimposed title: “Doper?”
Ben stopped pedaling as
a sickening chill shook his spine.
The cheers of the
roadside crowd rang hollow. Someone had painted the outline of a syringe with
long needle on the asphalt. “B-E-N” was printed in the chamber. He’d never
imagined his success would be turned against him like this. If the only evidence
required to assassinate his reputation was the strength of his performance, then
the harder he worked, the guiltier he looked. Could anybody ever win a battle
Some people obviously
assumed there was something behind these accusations. Most of Europe, plus large
chunks of the rest of the world, paid close attention to the Tour. This sort of
innuendo could spread like fire in a hayloft. Who had started it? Why? How would
Toma react? What about other young cycling hopefuls, kids Ben tried to set a
positive example for?
He keyed his radio.
“What’s this au Fond headline about?”
“Ignore it,” Thierry
“The press will say what
they like as long as you are relevant. When the gossip stops… that’s when you