03 April 2012

A day of pave in France and Belgium

I am in awe of the men who race the Paris-Roubaix

Another fantastic day in Belgium where I had no clue what my day would entail, but by day's end I found myself giggling on a bicycle. Yesterday on a Skype call to my Father, he asked me, "you rented a bike there, right?" "No, not yet I haven't." When I hung up with him I thought, hmm must change that. Little did I know I would be riding a bike the very next day.

A visit to the Roubaix Velodrome 

I awoke at Maison Kerkhove to the most spectacular homemade breakfast and real espresso. I thought I would drive over to Roubaix to tour the Velodrome and clubhouse (the finish stadium of next's Sundays Paris-Roubaix race). The Paris-Roubaix is the second race I am here to see, only it is of course, in northern France. I also wanted to drive some of the last typical sections of pave on the race route. On actual race day I hope to be in the Arenberg Forest and will likely not see other pave sections that day. I drove along the Carrefour de l'arbre and was amazed at how ruggedness of this road. I don't know how they do it.

Images from today at the Velodrome in Roubaix. Can you imagine how exciting it must be to be the first rider to enter this stadium. Today painters were out giving the track a fresh paint of coat. 
The track
The stadium
Final turn into the Velodrome
The best view in the house
Images of the Clubhouse at the Velodrome, you can stop in for a drink, look at the memorabilia, and buy a souvenir.
The Roubaix velodrome clubhouse is across from the stadium
Inside the clubhouse
You can enjoy a drink at the bar
They were bringing in a larger TV for the big day

Images of the last section of pave in the Paris-Roubaix race. This section is in the city and leads to the final turns into the Velodrome. I had no idea this section of pavé was like the Hollywood Walk of fame, rider's names are etched on large stone plaques and placed among the cobbles. The first winner's plaque is located closest to the velodrome entrance, the most recent winner (Johan Vansummeren) is furthest from the Velodrome and the first name seen when a rider enters this final section. It was interesting to walk along and read the names and dates in history pass under foot.

Drive on the route of the Paris-Roubaix

Images from the Carrefour de l'arbre. These are tough cyclists who race this road.

A surprise crossing of the road on my return drive back

My ride up the Koppenberg and Kwaremont

I am saving the best for last today. At Breakfast my hosts mentioned, "you can rent a bike 3km away, you know?" "I might just do that when I get back," I replied. And so I did. I ventured up the road to Anzegem and rented a bike (BartBikes.be) for 10 euros. Again I had no idea where I was going to ride for my 10 euros. I pedaled away from the bike shop, as the owner looked at me wondering if he'd ever see me or his bike again, "don't worry," I said, "I have two maps with me."

Off I pedaled toward the river where I rode in peaceful solitude in the quiet countryside near Oudenaarde. Barges motored by on the river, cows, sheep, and horses passed the day in green fields. I pulled out one of my maps, hmm, I think the Koppenberg is right up that hill over there, why not go take a look. In fact why stop pedaling until I need to. Next thing I know me and my 45lb seat-too-low city/path 10 euro rental bike and my Salomon trail running shoes and jeans were pedaling up the Koppenberg. It was instinctual, I just kept pedaling ... until I stopped. I put a foot down short of the top.

I was so close to the top (my bike up on the right)
My powerful steed
Looking down the climb
Darn. I smiled and stopped to mark my place, thinking next time I come I will remember my first ride up the Koppenberg. I rolled back down the hill smiling and began pedaling east along the bike path. Tricked-out road cyclists rode toward me returning the smile I still had on my face from my ascent of the Koppenberg. The thought occurred to me maybe I didn't need to put a foot down, maybe I just needed to click into a harder gear to keep my bike from rolling back down the hill. Feeling a renewed confidence in my 10 euro rental bike, I decided this biking stuff was all about attitude. I needed another challenge, just at this moment of revelation, I looked over and saw what I thought might be the Kwaremont (after six days in Belgium I know just enough to be scary).

Left turn it is, I'll go take a look at the Kwaremont. Next thing I know I'm riding up the entire length of the Kwaremont with a huge grin on my face. This time I was certain there would be no foot down on the cobbles. Workers who were busy taking down the tents from the race 2 days earlier could not believe the site of me cruising up the cobbles and gave me huge grins of approval. I was having such a blast I decided to reach back and pull my camera out of my napsack to take some photos. Wow this attitude stuff really works, now I'm riding up the Kwaremont one handed, taking photos as I bounce along. I reached the top giggling with delight, I can't believe I just did that. Coming to Belgium was the best thing I could have done to break away from the pretense of cycling in Colorado and get back in touch with the pure joy of riding a bike.

They were still taking down the tents on the Kwaremont
I sat on the right side of this hill during the Tour of Flanders last Sunday
I made it to the top!
Riding a bike is FUN!