Monday, August 1, 2011

Moret-sur-Loing, France

Friends: Foiled again, much to my regret, of gaining entrance to the bicycle museum, known as the "Conservatoire du Vélo," in Moret-sur-Loing, fifty miles south of Paris, as it is closed today. I suspected that possibility, so I was hoping to make it by Sunday, but my circuit of the outskirts of Paris taking in the villages where Van Gogh and Monet lived out their lives made too wide a circle delaying my arrival at the museum until Monday afternoon, the usual museum-closing day in France.

Its not the first time I've arrived on a day its been closed. Several years ago I passed through Moret-sur-Loing on a Tuesday, the other day it is closed, on my way back to Paris after The Tour and could only peer in through the windows at its displays. I'll just have to make it my first destination when I return to France next year for Cannes and The Tour and make sure it's not the beginning of the week.

But my circuit beyond the outer-reaches of the Paris metropolis was not without a submergence into the realm of bicycling lore, as Ralph loaned me his copy of his fellow Scot's just published autobiography "Racing Through the Dark, The Fall and Rise of David Millar." Millar, who has won several Tour de France stages over the years, intimately details the pervasiveness of drugs in the peloton when he turned pro in the late '90s. It came as an initial shock to him. He was determined to race clean, but eventually gave in after being wiped out by the fifteen mile climb up the Madeleine in the The Tour.

After The Race he goes to the house of a veteran Italian Cofidis teammate, who he declines to name, in Tuscany for two weeks of EPO-taking and training before the Tour of Spain. It gives him a significant boost and allows him to do things he would not have been able to do otherwise. But he feels great guilt. He can no longer take pride in his victories, not even winning the World Championship Time Trial in 2003. He never failed a drug test, just like Lance, but rather was outed by a teammate he didn't get along with. His accusations were enough for the French police to ransack his house in Biaritz, finding two empty syringes of EPO hidden in a book.

He serves a two-year suspension and then returns with the Spanish Saunier Duval team. He is an outspoken transformed former drug-user and is chagrined to find no one else really supports his stance. He laments that there was no one he could turn to when he was a young pro to help keep him off the drugs. He wants to be that person now, providing support to those who face the temptation, as do those in Alcoholics Anonymous.

After two years with Saunier Duval, a team that was disbanded a year later when two of its riders tested positive for EPO at The Tour after finishing first and second on a mountain stage, he joins with Jonathan Vaughters to found the Garmin team with an ardent anti-drug stance. He helps recruit Christian Vande Velde to the team, who he heaps much praise on throughout the book. He tells of haranguing Lance at a post-Tour party for not being more out-spoken on drug use. He says he doesn't know if Lance was a drug-taker, but it is highly suspicious that three of his chief lieutenants, Landis, Hamilton and Heras, all tested positive after leaving Lance's team and became team leaders of their own.

Millar offers convincing evidence that it is possible to race clean and win, as he did before succumbing to drugs, and as he has since his drug-taking. His spiral downward makes for demoralizing reading, but his transformation as an athlete and as a person as well as the insights into the Garmin team revive the spirit. Tyler Hamilton is said to be working on a similar such book, and Landis should be as well. As in the Cavendish autobiography published a year ago, he confesses to being reduced to tears on quite a few occasions.

Reading this 350 page book somewhat slowed my riding down, but I can't fully blame it for denying me the bike museum. It was a long and convoluted twenty mile ride north through the sprawl of Paris to get to the small village in the country of Auvers-sur-Oise where Van Gogh spent the final three months of his life, after spending a year in a mental institution in the south of France. His brother Theo, living in Paris, thought the village would make a perfect retreat for him. It had a doctor who could look after him, and peace and tranquility and sites to paint. He painted 78 canvases in 70 days, but couldn't overcome his torments and shot himself at the age of 37.

Both he and his brother are buried in the small cemetery on the outskirts of the village, Vincent dying in 1890 and his younger brother a year later. Their matching head stones both read "ici repose." Throughout the village are replicas of his paintings at the site where he painted them--the village cathedral, its town hall, various homes and also portraits by homes of where his subjects lived. The home where Van Gogh lived in the attic is now a museum. The tourist office offered a fifteen minute movie in English or French on Van Gogh's time there that one had to pay a euro to see.

It was forty miles due west on a hodgepodge of tiny rural roads to Giverny, an even smaller village where Monet lived the final much less tormented forty years of his life. Those were a long forty miles, continually have to consult my highly-detailed French atlas, but also quite tranquil riding. It too was swarming with tourists. I couldn't understand why a woman was taking a photo of a plain pink house, until I realized it was Monet's home on the fringe of the couple acres of gardens where he did much of his painting.

Giverny put me so far west of Paris, it was nearly one hundred miles to get to the bike museum. The cycling though was excellent, especially on a Sunday with the roads dominated by bicyclists, many of them in clusters wearing matching club jerseys and sunny smiles and radiating that French spirit of bonhomie. It made for a nice wind-down to the 5,500 miles I have biked around France these past three months.

The Charles de Gaulle airport to the east of Paris will end my three-quarters circuit of the outer-reaches of the metropolis. The lone site to see is Disney Paris, south of the airport. I won't go in, but will simply give it a circle, and hang out at the entrance and share in the delight and eagerness of all the kids flocking in.

Later, George

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