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J103 - Wednesday, January 27: Collobrières – Saint-Raphaël

72.04km – 9H37’
Altitude : 14m
Departure is in the middle of nowhere, or almost; half way between Pierrefeu du Var and Collobrières.  We are in the heart of the Maures Mountain Mass and forests, which are so vulnerable in the summer, when sometimes forest fires can be deadly.  Michel arrives this morning with the newspaper and a box of glazed chestnuts, which I adore, because Collobrières, besides being the capital of the Maures, is also known for its glazed chestnut factory.  One journalist and a cameraman came from Paris and are at the start, to do a piece for a web TV “”.  They follow Serge for a good part of the day.  In the descent toward Grimaud we have a visit from the France 3 TV station.  But before the descent, there is an ascent from Collobrières to the Taillude Pass (411m) between the 8th and the 14th kilometer and it allows Serge to note that the hinterland of Provence is far from flat.  Yannick, president of the FoulĂ©e de GrĂ©asque Club, near Aix-en-Provence, makes the descent toward Grimaud on bike, having left his car in Sainte-Maxime.  Once past Grimaud, the bike goes into the van and Yannick continues on foot.  He is the only person to accompany us today.
At km50, Serge is really worn out and his emaciated face has shown signs of fatigue since yesterday.  His beard doesn’t make him look good and his dull eyes, deep in their sockets, fuses the image of Serge who is beginning to show signs of exhaustion.
Serge tells us about something after it happened, saying that sometime the race could suddenly end.  He was with BĂ©rengère and Denis, Monday morning, when an object fell off the back of a truck and slid onto the road showering sparks just a few meters from the feet of the 3 runners: it was a power saw.  It’s true, lives were not at risk but legs were.  Yesterday, Serge, as he often does, made a sign to a truck driver who, instead of moving over to make room for him and Claudine, didn’t budge an inch and gave Serge the finger, to which Serge, like a trooper, responded by shouting the worst insults.  The driver was not in much of a hurry and stopped suddenly to settle the matter “man to man”.  Serge didn’t back down, Good Lord, they would have come to blows if it had not been for StĂ©phane who was there and handled the driver.  I don’t need to tell you about the narrow roads where local drivers recklessly speed and pass.  Serge lives in an almost continuous state of stress when he is alone and it’s worse when he is accompanied, except for Monday afternoon when the notion of danger seems to have left him.  I have to say that for me the scariest are the trucks when they arrive head on and there is no shoulder!  I don’t know how Serge can face the monsters.  Our runner stays on the left side of the road to better see the danger coming, except when there is no traffic or occasionally for a photo or a video.
Just before Sainte-Maxime, he is lucky to have a good but too short cycle path before having to run again on the edge of the road that leads to Saint-RaphaĂ«l, with traffic that gets heavier and heavier.  The rocky and jagged coast which falls into the sea is enhanced by brilliant sunshine. Having traveled a bit, I have to acknowledge with a bit of chauvinism that the CĂ´te d’Azur is without doubt the most beautiful sea coast in the world.  The down side is that it’s a place to be avoided at peak season (whenever possible) in order to fully appreciate it.  Serge goes several kilometers beyond Saint-RaphaĂ«l toward Agay along the corniche.
Tomorrow: Departure at 8H00:  Agay – ThĂ©oules sur mer – Cannes –Antibes – Nice (Arrival at 5:15, Primary School of la Baumette: rue de Dante)

Town : Saint-Raphaël (Var)

GPS : N43.41633° W006.8184°