Le Grand Tour: Stage three
“The sky seemed to split apart from end to end to pour its fire down upon me. My whole body tensed as I gripped the gun more tightly. It set off the trigger. I could feel the smooth barrel in my hand and it was then, with that sharp, deafening sound, that it all began. I shook off the sweat and the sun.”
I’ve never properly understood Meursault. To shoot a man à cause du soleil defied not only reason, but any sense of sympathy I could muster. Sure, the sun symbolised the indomitable, indifferent universe, but, as a symbol, it seemed out of keeping with Camus’ realism. No one would shoot someone because of the sun, not even the cruelest bastard. It only made sense in the abstract.
When the sun had overwhelmed me, I’d always had a cool swim or shower or spot of shade or air-conditioned room to look forward to in the not-so-distant future, until stage three of Le Grand Tour. During stage three, swims and showers and air-conditioned rooms and shady spots were all very distant. My shirt was stiff with salt and my head pounded. The sun hammered down on my neck, cloaking me in a thick sheen of sweat. There were an unknowable number of hours still to ride and the headwind was unbearable. I was almost hopeless.
I’ve also never understood why anyone would cheat in a bike race. It defeats the whole point of racing and would disappoint my grandma too much for me to even consider it. It never made sense to wreck what I love. So, before Le Grand Tour, I promised myself I wouldn’t draft behind the car, even though I knew the temptation would always be there. And yet, although I never succumbed, I now understand the torment that drove Jean Fischer to do it.
In 1903, Fischer became the first rider to be expelled from the Tour when he was caught drafting in the slipstream of a car. I don’t blame him. He was probably exhausted and roasting, shrivelled like a dried-up grape, as I was there in the heart of the Languedoc, as Meursault was.
At that moment, I could either surrender or attack. Purgatory, in the present, was simply unbearable. The heat was too claustrophobic.
So, I fired my bullets, one after the other, into the wind, where they sank without leaving a trace, but for the fact that I had made it a little further. It was an absurd way to ride, but reason then was equivalent to torture. I was an empty cartridge by the end, ready to be picked up and blown away by the wind. But somehow I wasn’t. Somehow, I fired again and again and again and again and again. And, somehow, I made it.