Paris to Nice
We went to see the Paris-Nice Leg 2 in Belleville France. The Paris-Nice is the 1st French pro bike race of the season, and it was fun to see what teams represented, and how the riders are doing.
I have only seen one bike road race about 20 years ago in PA when young friend of mine with giant biking thighs, kind of like the character from the Triplets of Belleville, was thinking he had a chance at an Olympics Velodrome team. Of course I would go watch him ride. The problem is that they bikers whiz by so quick, I am sure I saw him, but really all bikers look a like. I mean, they all have gaunt long faces, helmets, spandex outfits, on a bike, they all look alike. After that race, my friend found out he had 2 nerve bundles in charge of exercise heart rate, instead of the normal one bundle leading to his heart. So when he exercised hard like a bike race, his heart would be twice as fast. While bike racing, his heart rate was closing in on 400 bpm. He had heart surgery to fix this problem, and with any heart surgery patient, he ended up on blood thinners. His doctors ordered him not be bike race because if he fell, he could bleed out from the blood thinners, and die. SO, that was the last time I saw a live bike road race until now.
We drove that morning from the North of Bourgogne to the South to Belleville on the side roads to see what we could see. Since most of these old roads are old, they were curvy and hilly and not necessarily the best for someone with a bit of an upset stomach. I was feeling a bit green by the time we got to lunch in Macon. It was a lovely simple lunch of pasta and a little bit of coke for me to help settle my stomach, and it seemed to work ok. The road we took from Macon to Belleville was the same road the bike racers were going to take as they approached the 2nd leg finish line. This is what the bike racers saw on the road into Belleville. The conditions for this race were hard.
We got into Belleville, it was mix of very cold drizzle to downpour rain. It was about 4 pm, and the riders were due in at about 4 pm, but due to the weather, they were all riding slower and they were about 1 hour behind the original estimated time. I was rather miserable standing in the rain waiting (10 minutes) and I suggested we hole up in a tavern if we could find one.
Luckily there was a little pension with a tavern coffee shop on the 1st floor. This is where we were going to wait for the riders to come through town. It was dry, warm, and they had all the beverages from beer, coffee, soft drinks to wine. Ah. We sat at a table with a drink and watched the flat screen TV with the lastest of the news of the Paris-Nice. I actually thought it was funny that the 1st pro bike race of the season was passing right by this little tavern, and there was a "no bike" sign right outside of the door.
While we waited and waited, the room slowly filled. First it was a collection of old retirement aged men all meeting at "their table" for their daily afternoon cafe au lait. Then, there was another set of old friends that collected at the bar to sip on their cafes. Then slowly the room started to fill with race team support crew and other people who wanted to watch the finish of the bike race, but got tired of the rain, like me. We all were sipping on some sort of beverage, all sharing the view of the Paris-Nice race on the TV. About 45 min. before the bikers were estimated to finish, there was a really slick, freezing rain covered curve that nearly all the Peloton wiped out. The room, including me gasped as we viewed the TV. It was one of those moments when I just felt quite connected with humanity and we all were sharing in on a shared experience, even as there were multiple languages being spoken.
We went outside with another 5 to 10 minutes before the bikers were to cross the finish line. The streets were packed. The riders came in and they were gaunt, drawn, and beaten down by the harsh cold rainy weather conditions. There were riders with road rashed sides from the big crash, with their blood contrasting with their gray complexion. It was a hard day to ride over 100 miles, and not finish first, not win a jersy, and not win any money.
When the bike race was over, I briefly talked to one of the Team Slipstream's support crew. He was a former bike racer in the USA, but lives in Italy now to support Slipstream. Slipstream is mostly privately sponsored by a rich USA dude and Chipotle Chain restaurant, and is the only USA pro-biking team around now that Lance (and before him Greg) are not racing anymore. For such little support for Slipstream, they have 2 race teams that are kicking some butt. I will say this, as 1 of 2 USA spectators there, I had to cheer for Slipstream. I would have cheered for Rabobank (sounds like Rob A Bank) or LiquiGas (sounds like Leaky Gas) because I like how the names sound. FYI, no one from Slipstream won a shirt that day, so they will have to earn their keep on another day.
the video after the Peloton crossed the line
In the end, most riders made it across the finish line. Here is where their support team are telling them were their warm and dry team bus is, and where they can get some relief from the day. The only people who did not get to go into their team bus were the jersey winners and the random rider picked for doping checks. There was a gray trailer, guarded by a temporary chain linked fence, where medical officials were ushering in wet, cold, gray and exhausted riders to get their blood drawn and tested for doping. The way the riders looked, I am wondering how much they had left to give.