Friends: Vincent and I were having an ultimate cycling day having ridden all seven stretches of Stage Three's cobbles and were presently stationed in the middle of the last section two hours before the peloton was due to come streaming past. The day turned to an even more of an ultimate day when several veteran Flemish fans, men who live and breath cycling, slipped in alongside us. They all spoke English, and were curious about our bikes and what we were doing. Once we filled them in, we could begin talking cycling.
They had all seen the Paris-Roubaix race countless times, ever since they were youths. Where we were standing is one of the toughest stretches of cobbles, quite narrow and through a field of wheat. Only those through the Arenberg forest and a couple of others have a higher rating. They assumed I was a Lance fan. I said yes, but also of Vande Velde. They gave me the heart breaking news that Christian was unable to start today's stage, suffering more broken ribs and a lacerated eye in two crashes yesterday. He has truly been cursed the past year.
After twenty minutes a thirty-year old reporter came along and wanted to talk to the guys with the touring bikes. He was a features writer for a newspaper in Lille, the largest French city in the area. He was particularly interested in us as he too is a touring cyclist, having recently toured India. After half an hour of animated talk he put down his pad and paper and we just talked touring. The people around us were all leaning in to hear our conversation as if we were conversing on the set of a television show.
We talked and talked until the helicopters began to approach, indicating the racers were nigh. First past was Garmin rider Hesjedal, certainly inspired by the absence of his team leader Vande Velde. Then came past Cancellera and Andy Schleck and Hushold and Evans. We anticipated them all, as someone with a radio was keeping us updated. Vincent and I would have loved to have been watching it on the large screen at the finish, but nothing could compare to this, the racers rushing just inches by us.
This Internet outlet in Cambrai is closing in two minutes. Vincent and I are hoping to get 25 or 30 miles down the road before dark to put us within seventy miles of tomorrow's finish in Reims. We weren't even sure if we could spare the time to stop for the Internet with it past 7:30, but we had to get all the details on the day's stage.
Loads and loads to report from the past couple of days riding for a day with three other madcap Aussies and being offered the opportunity by Skippy to meet, or at least see, the king of Belgium, and not Eddie Merckx, but the real king, at the stage finish in Brussels.