Sunday, September 27, 2009

Gent-Roubaix

Monday.

Originally the plan was to ride down to Roubaix, stay the night, ride the Arenberg Forest, stay another night, and ride back home. Time was running short though so I decided to just go down for the day.

I woke up around 8 and was out the door by 9. I took the canal down to Deinze and then continued on to Kortrijk. Shortly after leaving Deinze I was passed by a guy in a Milram kit. I came to my senses soon after and passed him. Then, he passed me again. This time I asked, “Whereyagoin’?”
“What does that mean?” he asked as I remembered they don’t speak American here.
“Oh, where do you go?”
“Kortrijk.”
“Cool, me too” I replied.

We chatted all the way to Kortrijk. His name was Miguel and he was a barber with his own shop. I told him how I loved going to the barber but there aren’t many back in the U.S. He had good stories about seeing PROs out on the canal during the Spring Classics. He also said Stijn Devolder and Niko Eeckhout lived nearby.

He asked how I planned on finding my way so I pulled out my list of cities. I’m not sure if it was this or his enthusiasm for the journey, but he decided to take me past Kortrijk to the first signs for Roubaix. He thought going all the way to Roubaix would be too far but he wanted to make sure I didn’t get lost. He had never seen the velodrome.

Miguel took me within 11k of Roubaix. We stopped to exchange emails and asked a shopkeeper to take a pic of us.



We spoke to the shopkeeper in French-Wallonia at last! As expected, a wonderful French bakery was around the corner.



Twenty minutes later I was in Roubaix. Ian had told me the city wasn’t very nice but I didn’t believe him. The city was dirty and there was lots of broken glass on the bike paths. I almost got ran over twice. Both drivers waved after, so that makes it okay…

I pulled over at a bus stop to see if I was close.



VoilĂ ! I was close. A few minutes later I spotted it.



It was amazing, really, but seeing it through the fence wasn't the experience I was hoping for. I rode around the other side to see if I could get in.



I was waiting for the guy to run me off but he just ignored me. Well, when in Roubaix…



I started riding around the track. The banking is steeper than it seems on TV. The ends were pretty steep and I felt like I was going to slip off. The only other track I’d ridden was Hellyer which is only slightly banked.

I stopped and lay down on the grass. I couldn’t put words to it; the place was surreal. Lying there I could feel the history.

Ten minutes later I got up and rode around a few more times before leaving.



Across from the track there's a club called Au Pavé.



I rode along the main road which is the last stretch before the velodrome. I didn’t have a map of the route otherwise I would have ridden to the nearest cobbled section. I think it’s about 15k away though.

After a while I turned around and headed back home. Along the way I stopped off at the bakery again.



I got home a few hours later.

My return ticket to Belgium is April 1st. Next time I go to Roubaix it’ll be to see the race…

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