Brussels - Paris - Brussels
"Da's ne keer een schoon ritje..." is what 'nochain' wrote on a belgian cycling forum. It's a sentence you can't translate. Just like you can't translate into flemish "Lets have a nice cup a tea". Three out of five might be having coffee, but you are still all having 'a nice cup a tea'. The ride might be 600km long, but it still is a 'nice little ride'.
I said this BPB could be a good preparation for PBP, and I think that is true. For the first time I sampled 'Le Paris Brest'. They were available in every boulangerie I entered.
The first control in Bavay was brilliant. The venue was the most cycling dedicated I've ever come across, it can't get any better than this. Look at the sign outside:
This was an old school converted into a randonneur stop. It had old bikes hanging off the ceiling, had a workshop, a bar, showers, sleeping facilities, teaching corner, maps, routes ...
I bought a coffee, and noticed a bottle of beer next to the line of soft drinks on sale. The name 'La Bavaisienne' hinted at this being a local beer. Indeed, I was told the brewery is just behind the school, you can see it in the winter when there are no leaves on the trees. I indicated I wanted a bottle, but had to stop the volunteer quickly from opening it. Luc, the organiser, kindly offered to take the bottle with him in the car.
The other stops were cafes, where you could eat what you had bought at the bakers', supplemented with one of those lovely coffees which are served at the speed of light. 'Un cafe s'il vout plait' ... while you scratch away finding your euros, le patron, in a rhythmic way, saucer, spoon, sugar, turn to coffee machine, pick up cup, turn again and down ... voila ... still scratching for the right money, oh bother, here is a note.
The cafe in Ribemont doubles up as a betting shop. Not unusual apparently. Betting on horses is very popular in France. The wall screen was on with the racing showing - PMU is the brand.
But no football anywhere! I asked various people about the world cup and shoulders shrugging is what I got every time. Nobody seems interested. The only sign of a world cup being on was not on this ride, but when I stopped for petrol just after coming out of the eurotunnel. A french guy was impersonating a Brit making fun out of France vs Mexico. All the staff were in stitches, it was very funny.
There was a brocantes (bric-a-brac) event at Maroilles which drew in the crowds. No wonder we hadn't seen a soul for the last 5 hours' cycling, they were all in Maroilles! There was quite an ambiance. We had a good break there eating lovely baguettes with ham. I resisted 'les frites'.
When the instruction is to 'get stamps' for your brevet card, that is really true. The cafes have stamps, I don't mean postal stamps, but those automatic stamps which make a noise of authority. You don't get a datetime with that, but you just write that in yourself. Its the un-fake-able stamp that is all important.
There is only one John Spooner, but I do believe I have met the John Spooner of Belgium. Ten PBPs under his belt! That is 40 years (at least) of long distance cycling. I had dinner with him and Luc the organiser, at the half way stop. That is right, dinner, dinner in a restaurant. I had time for dinner and four hours sleep. Erwin and Toon skipped dining out and maximised their sleep instead. I do like the break being at 300, instead of 400 for the BCM. This is why LEL is 'relatively easier' than the BCM also, you never have to cycle through the night - unless you want to. PBP will be a different story again, where you start with a night ride.
We agreed to set off again at 4 in the morning. The day ahead was going to be one of relentless headwind. We knew, because how else did we cover 300km in 15hours on the Saturday. That is very quick in my book. Luc thought it was a good average.
I was very well looked after, I was spoilt. I did my own navigation, but didn't have to rely on it really. I was always in company, despite me encouraging companions to go ahead if they wanted to. I am used to cycling on my own, I don't like to hold anybody back, I like to stop and take a few snaps. But the company was very much appreciated, not just for navigation, but for hiding from the wind. After all that support Toon gave, he DNF'd after a third spoke broke. Now I feel very bad because I might have contributed to the problem by not managing to avoid a stick lying across our path. The stick snapped and then probably got into the wheel of the person behind me, which would have been Toon.
The route has 4800m of climbing. Not to be underestimated! With the climbing and the headwind, the second day was very tiring. Erwin navigated through Mons, and although I know perfectly well the location of Mons, I asked him, if Mons was on a hill. Of course it is! But you know, that relentless headwind was messing with my brain. And the climbing had taking the strength out of my legs by then. So I was beginning to imagine that an administrator had come up with this brilliant idea to move Mons to another location. The old Mons location would now be referred to as Monstoe ('toe' as in mangetout, 'toe' meaning closed). The reasons would have been purely bureaucratic, but the benefits right now, would be no climbing in Mons. There is a flaw in this somewhere and the idea was never conceived. The climbing in Mons wasn't as challenging as cycling in Brighton anyway. So Mons stays.
Before I finish with an anecdote, I would like to say thank you so much to Luc, Erwin, Toon, Claude and all the riders who made this a very enjoyable event for me. I absolutely loved it from start to finish. Although I drove over, you could probably take a bike on the Eurostar to Brussels and do the ride. Of course for me, the event was even more special because I could share the experience with my parents, who normally only get tweets and blog posts.
The anecdote is from a pub quiz. The question was as follows: 'Silly' is a town in the Netherlands, true or false. My team mates looked at me for the answer, when I said: 'Don't look at me, I'm from Belgium'. When it came to marking the sheets, the quiz master milked it and slowly said, no ... Silly is not in the Netherlands ... it is ... Els ... in Belgium. Whoosh, where can I hide?
If only I had ridden BPB earlier in my life!
The rest of the photos are on the slide show till the next ride or here: Clicky
And a couple of points of interest:
Pierrefonds is the birthplace of Gustave Adolphe Clément enterpreneur in the bicycle industry - you will know the Clement Gladiator posters.
Sint Pieters Leeuw is the birthplace of Thomas van Cantimpre who wrote Bonum universale de apibus, a bee book Clicky