La Chaussee-sur-Marne, France
Today we did something we’ve never done before and we may never do again: pavé. Well, Steve might do it again, but then he’s the athlete in the family. Pavé are the old cobblestone roads that you find in the north of France and the south of Belgium. They are a legendary part of cycling’s Spring Classic races and they are very difficult to ride.
We started the day on a ride that followed the actual Tour de France route about four hours before the peloton passed. Today’s stage had seven pavé sectors and we had the “opportunity” to ride three of them. I made it through about the first 20 yards on my bike and walked the rest of the way. Steve powered through all of them, along with the full 40 mile ride.
Riding pavé is like holding on to a jackhammer while you are trying to stay upright on a bike, while your teeth are rattling out of your mouth and your eyeballs are shaking out of their sockets. The roads are not level and it is hard to find a good path that allows you to move forward. For the Tour riders, they do this at speeds of about 25 miles per hour, in a group as large as 190 riders, while crowds of spectators are screaming at them from both sides. There’s nothing else like it in the world. The Tour de France does not always have pavé sections but this year it is a highlight of the route. It broke the peloton apart, riders went down, lost tires, and came out of it very dirty.
The finish line was located right next to the entrance to the Arenberg forest, which begins with one of the most legendary sections of pave. You can see how excited Steve was to actually see this section of “road” even though we weren’t able to ride on it. Maybe next time?
After our ride we drove through the finish line, parked, and were escorted into the Izoard, or VIP area, where we were offered drinks, snacks, and then champagne once the race was over. This exclusive area is less than 100 meters from the finish line and was located right next to a large jumbotron-type television, which allowed us to watch the race progress.
It was quite a day. The photos might give you some idea of how close we were to the action.
We are now traveling by bus into France to our next hotel and the next stage of the Tour, which is through the champagne region. We have just two days left of our adventure and it’s going so fast!
Six of our group left us this afternoon and six more will join us this evening for the next phase of the trip. It’s been a great group with very supportive people, even though our riding abilities vary greatly. We have a professional bike racer from Greece, a triathlon coach from Australia, and an exercise physiologist from the USA among our “Team Custom Getaways.” That’s what we love most about these kinds of trips: the diverse group of people you get to know.
The Netherlands are in the World Cup finals. Steve gets to wear his orange jersey again on Sunday!