Saturday, June 8, 2013

Velodrome of Dreams

If the French were ever to remake "Field of Dreams," the movie about a farmer in Iowa who builds a baseball diamond in a field of corn to entice his heroes to come and play, their version would be called "Velodrome of Dreams" and would be about someone building a velodrome in his field.  There would be no need to create a set for the movie as someone has already built such a velodrome in a field on the outskirts of the small village of Champagnolles in 1922 and it is still there, seemingly waiting to be used.  And it too is in a region where corn is a prominent crop.

I first heard about it ten years ago from Yvon when we first met at the cycling chapel Notre Dame des Cyclists while he was engaged in his dream of riding his bicycle around France.  He had earlier visited the velodrome on his trip and said it had been one of its highlights. I have wanted to visit it ever since, but it never was on my route or a little too far out of my way when I was pressed for time.

At last I had the opportunity to give it a look.  As Andrew and I closed in on it, we were hoping there might be a locker room that we could slip into for a shower. I knew the velodrome had a grassy surface, the only one in all of Europe, but I did not realize how primitive it was.  Not only was there no locker room, there were no stands nor accompanying buildings of any sort, not even a shed for changing clothes or a refreshment stand or water spigot or toilet.  It was surrounded by a fence with one lone gate, a rather rickety affair that took two hands to lift.

When we first arrived we could barely make out the track, as it was surrounded by waist-high grass on its outside and the interior looked like an overgrown field. The track itself though had been recently mowed, but bore no tire tracks to indicate it was being used.  We had been concerned that it might be clogged with racers and we wouldn't be able to give it a ride.  We had it all to ourselves and could have even camped there if we wished. 

It was a genuine track with  slightly banked turns and two good long straightaways.

The first straightaway was between a pair of trees.

It was 350 meters around and had not a speck of commercialism, no sponsorship whatsoever on the fence around it or at its entry.  There was a small restaurant/bar across the street, but with no outdoor seating.  The only activity we saw in the town were a handful of boys kicking a soccer ball in the town park a couple of blocks away just behind the cathedral.  It was an out-of-the-way, tranquil town, not much different than it had been when the track was built nearly a century ago, a perfect setting for a movie about a bicycle racing fanatic who dreams of luring his cycling heroes to his small town by building them an idyllic velodrome to race upon.

The track though could use some smoothing.  It wasn't as rough as the pavé Andrew and I rode on last June in Belgium before The Tour de France, but it wasn't as smooth as the dirt road we cycled later that evening to our campsite.

The other highlight for the day was being able to recharge my iPad at the community center in the small village of Condeon.  Andrew and I were eating lunch on a bench by its locked entry when a woman drove up in a van to drop off some tables and chairs.  I had earlier checked the door to see if it might be unlocked so I could slip in and avail myself of a socket.  It's not so easy to find a socket when one is wild camping and not eating in restaurants.  Andrew doesn't have the same challenge as I to keep his iPad charged, as he has a generator in his hub that he keeps his iPad attached to all day. It only charges seven per cent per hour, just barely enough to keep him even, so he has no spare generating time for me.

When the woman opened the door beside us, I showed her my iPad and its cord and asked if I could plug it in.  She unhesitantly replied with a "Oui."  As she energetically bustled in and out of the building, I was sorry Yvon wasn't along, as he would have eagerly chatted her up.  She looked like a most interesting sort--an attractive 50-year old who dressed with flair, clad in a short skirt and low-cut blouse revealing a tattoo on her left shoulder and wearing calf-high boots.  She was lightly tanned and had a worldly look and strong self-assurance.  She oozed personality.  When I observed to Andrew that she no doubt had to have some entertaining tales to tell, he, as a 42-year old more interested in younger women, replied, "In Australia we'd call her a rough old bird."  He added that it wasn't necessarily a derogatory term, but just meant that she was a bit weathered and no longer as attractive as she once was.  I didn't necessarily agree, but was glad to have increased my Australian vocabulary.    Later when he had an encounter with a white-haired lady in a bakery, I asked if she too was a "rough old bird."

"No," he replied, "She was a batty old lady."

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