While surfing the cycling forums and info sites for Paris, I found that the “Club des Supporters de l’equipe cycliste de La Franзaise des Jeux” was having a ride with the team, with the proceeds supporting handicapped sports programs in France. It sounded like a chance not to be missed, so I marked it on the calendar.
However, as this week started, the weather was deteriorating. We had our first snow Monday morning, and being a southern boy, I was quite perturbed. I mean, the sun already sets at 5 p.m., something I’ve never gotten used to coming from North Carolina which is as far south as Morocco, but snow too? We should scrap the road ride and do some cyclocross! The rest of the week was a fogged-in wet mess, culminating on Friday with a tempest that killed two people in Paris who were crushed by falling trees. Friday night, eating dinner and watching the news, I thought the ride was off. “Oh no, the weather will be good tomorrow” my wife said.
Saturday day morning I was shocked to see blue sky for the first time in weeks! I scraped the ice of the windows of the car and loaded it up, and headed out for the adventure of driving in Paris. I wasn’t actually going to go into the city, just going to skirt around the side, as I live on the south side and the meeting place was far north of the city, past the Charles De Gaulle airport. Armed with a
complete map of Paris, a 500 page book of maps of Paris suburbs, and the directions printed off Mappy.com, I still managed to get lost, and found myself wandering around little villages in the north of France. Beautiful, but annoying.
The French have fanatical fans just like us… well sort of.
Modern Technology To The Rescue
I pulled over, as it is completely illegal to use a cell phone while driving here, and called my wife. She got back on the net, plugged in the name of the little village where I was, and relayed new directions to me. I hung up, and noticed a man standing next to my window. I rolled it down and got a laugh as he asked me for directions… “Je suis йgalment perdu!” I answered, and headed off to see if I could remedy that situation.
Once again, the directions didn’t seem to correspond to the roads, and I started to get frustrated, but then I was passed by a FD Jeux team car! Inspired, I drove on and saw a sign for the town I was looking for, et voila, I finally arrived.
You know you’re there when you see one of these.
I had imagined that the 40k ride might take an hour. I had thought to myself, there will be a lot of serious riders there, and certainly
some masters too, but they tend to be fairly solid riders in my neck
of the woods. But what I had forgotten about was this is France!
That means the bicycle culture is ingrained deep, and there were
scores of kids there, from possibly as young as 7 up to 17! Kids on
carbon aluminum mixed frames, with campy wheelsets and Ultegra.
Full team kits were everywhere, from the local teams to FD Jeux kits down to the shoe covers. Wow! I took the trusty Bianchi with Mirage out of the Renault, and then went to pay. Upon registering we all received a musette and a route map. In typical French fashion, the ride scheduled to leave at 1:30 was now pushed back to 2:00.
Nothing like full moto support.
Let’s Roll – And Kiss Some Babies
At 2:00, we all assembled at the entrance to the building, which was FD Jeux’s actual headquarters. The six escort motorcycles fired up their engines, and the gate between us and the offices opened, and out rolled the entire team except for the Australians, along with the VIPs. Carlos Da Cruz and Sandy Casar seemed to be the crowd
favorites, and Carlos was immediately pressed into service kissing
babies. Mothers were offering up their children, saying, “Marianne,
est-ce que tu veux faire la bise а Carlos?” Some were too
star-struck, hiding their faces in mom’s jacket, in which case mom
stepped in and did some cheek kissing.
The group started rolling, with the security motorcycles stopping
traffic for us, the team bus and an ambulance following us, and the
group spread across both lanes of traffic. That was a first for me.
Only in Crits in the US had I ever ridden on both lanes. There were
probably 500-600 riders, making this one of the largest rides I’d ever done.
Start ‘em young – there’s a lesson we could learn from the French.
We rolled through one little village after another, each one
separated by four or five kilometers of fields. The pros were spread
throughout the whole mass of riders, chatting and enjoying a mellow afternoon. I came up on two members of the team, and heard English being spoken. It was the Austrian with the Australian accent, Bernhard Eisel, and the lone South African on the team Ian McLeod.
Ian and I started chatting as we rolled along, talking about South
Africa, the Afrikaans language, and what it’s like to be a foreigner
in France. I think we were both honestly happy to not be struggling
through a conversation in French.
After a while, another FD Jeux rider rolled up next to us and said to Ian, “So, you’ve found a friend?” It was Thomas Lцvkvist the young Swede who has certainly taken his place as an upcoming star on the team. After a bit, Lцvkvist and the other Swede, the espoir Johan Lindgren, said, “Let’s move up” and they jumped. I took off following the invite and we left McLeod behind.
The All-Access Hall Pass
It was thrilling to me to follow these two professionals as they made their way through the pack. I wouldn’t normally try to pass so intensely unless it was a race, but sucking the wheel of these two, I felt like a 7th grader with an all access hall-pass. We moved from the rear of the pack up to the front third in a matter of minutes, and I had that rush that up to this point I had only felt in races.
After the ride, fans mingled with the FDJeux riders and begged more autographs.
After a bit, Lindgren and I were separated from Lцvkvist, and we
started talking. However, at the same time, we were closing the gaps, one by one, jumping from group to group. I was trying to be casual, but as we crested the little rolling hills at 37 kph, it was becoming more and more difficult to talk. I rode next to him, and we soon had three or four guys each drafting off each of us. Now, I was starting to hurt, but I wanted to keep chatting, so I didn’t drop off the front, despite my having huge gasps of breath in between each word.
Just as I thought I was going to have to ease up a bit, we saw the FD Jeux headquarters, and we had arrived. After the ride most folks filed into the reception hall for coffee and cookies. There was a wide variety of team paraphernalia for sale, from cycling gear to casual wear. Soon after the riders started filing in after their showers, and the kids mobbed them for autographs. I took a moment to talk to some of the locals, as I’m searching a local team for ’05, and also chatted with a few of the Pros.
FDJeux had a full contingent of pros on hand – including new signing Frederic Finot – coming from RAGT.
But my stomach was yelling at me that it was now 5:00 and I’d
had breakfast, a cup of coffee and a cookie, and this lack of
nourishment demanded immediate attention, so I hit the road. I must say, it was a great day. So great that after 2 hours of rainy,
holiday traffic on the way home, I was still smiling.
Until next time, keep spinning those cranks!
Breckenridge Cartwright is a 30 year old American actually living and working in Paris. He recently married his French girlfriend, and is enjoying the riding around the City of Light. He loves cyclocross, and yes, that’s his real name, but you can call him “Breck” for short.