Testing the Prayer Candles: The Incident

The 5th day of the Cevennes Tour is the ‘Queen Stage’, the longest and hardest day of the tour. 75 miles and 7600 feet of up and down.

Chain Off, Derailleur Broke and Hanger Bent: DNF for the Queen Stage

I was worried about my legs and the weather.  But the winds of the previous 3 days finally died down, and it was sunny and dry with comfortable temperatures. And my legs were ok. Not great, not snappy, but ok.

This ride has 6 cols to cross, but two are pretty small ones. The other 4 are all significant ascents. The last one is the Col de Perjuret. After a long gentle rise the grade gets much steeper for several kilometers,  then eases just a bit the rest of the way to the top.

I finished the steep stuff and stopped at our van for some water before finishing the climb. I was feeling good and was sure I was going to make it to the summit, and then enjoy the 12 kilometer descent to our hotel. I was doing about 6 mph on a 7% grade when the ‘incident’ took place.

I heard a swarm of motorcycles whiz past me. I ignored them. The roads in the Cevennes are largely deserted,  but the Perjuret is closer to civilization and gets a bit more traffic. I expected the motos to be past in a flash and I would again have the climb to myself. I was riding close to the edge of the pavement and well out of the way of the wasp-like buzzing bikes.

I felt a bump from my rear wheel as if I had hit something. Then my chain came off the front sprocket. Since I was going so slowly my velocity went to zero before I knew what had happened, so I unclipped and stopped without falling. I looked back and there was a motorcycle rider on his feet, trying to pick up his bike which was laying on the pavement.

Cars and motos backed up behind where we were blocking the narrow road. The motorcycle rider came up to me looking very concerned. He pointed at my rear derailleur, which I saw for the first time. The cage was destroyed, the hanger bent 180 degrees leaving what what was left of the derailleur above the cassette pointing skyward. The pulleys were on the ground. No wonder the chain came off.

I got 5 cols out of 6, including this one, before the 'incident'

He was speaking French, but when I said I didn’t speak French he switched to English. “It is my fault” he said, several times. Which it clearly was.

Meanwhile, tour leader John and Diane are in the support van in the queue of backed up cars and bikes. Diane is in a state of near panic. She sees the stopped cars and can’t see me but knows I am just in front. I’m certain John was none too calm either.

I see the van in the queue and wave them forward. John somehow pulls past the stopped cars in front of him and reaches the ‘crash’ site. I suppose a motorcycle on its side is a crash, but the Tarmac stayed upright. Diane sees me standing up and her heart rate calms a bit.

What follows took place mostly in French between John and the rider. The rider wanted to pay for damages. He asked how much. It is a SRAM Red rear derailleur. I said 250 euro, knowing that was too low but thinking he would never believe even that. He said he didn’t have that much cash, but he would get it. He handed Diane his ID card and said he would come to our hotel. I was so mad I gave him his card back and said I trust you but if you don’t show up it doesn’t matter, you have damaged my bike and ruined my big ride just before the final summit. Since I was speaking English I doubt he understood me. But he knew I was angry.

Some of his buddies showed up and between them they got 250 euro together and gave it to Diane. I had gotten into the van to keep my anger to myself and let John and Stoker deal with the problem.

John put the bike on the roof rack and we stared up to the summit to support Jack and Katy who were riding ahead. I was furious. I had done nothing wrong, but my bike was broken and I couldn’t finish the ‘Queen Stage’: I came up about 800 feet short of the final summit.

John and Diane pointed out to me that I was lucky I didn’t go down and get hurt. This is true, and my logical brain knows this. But take a cyclist whose heart rate has been pounding in Zone 4 for the last 1/2 hour and who is tired from a long ride and frustrated that his effort has been terminated by factors beyond his control, and his logical brain goes on sabbatical.

Two of the 76 candles we lit during our stay. Moto mojo?

I am not certain what happened, but I have a theory. There was a slower car that the motos were going around. I was in front of the car. This particular motorcycle went around the car and pulled back into the right lane, and didn’t notice the bicycle in front of the car until it was too late. The motorcycle driver braked hard and lost control, but he was able to keep on his feet while laying the bike on its side on the pavement. He hit me hard enough to cause some damage (maybe a lot, I don’t know yet) but not hard enough to knock me off.

Back at the hotel we looked at the damage. Rear derailleur and hanger totaled. Rear wheel knocked out of true, possible damage to the rim or spokes. The right rear dropout is scuffed and pitted on the bottom. This might just be cosmetic but needs evaluation by an expert. The cost will be at least 400 euro for parts and labor, and much more if the frame damage is significant.

Since I am completely uninjured, I am going to give the prayer candles that Diane and I lit daily a pass. All I ask is for them to keep us safe. Broken bikes are not such a big deal. Broken bones or broken skin are. So the candle karma is intact. But I sure wish I could have finished that ride.

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  • Blog Author

    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
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