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Monday, April 16, 2007

Heat dust and lycra

We have just waved goodbye to our frends Stu and Tiff - their second visit - after a 12 day stretch of visitors and now have 1o days "off" before our next invités arrive. The weekend was a success not in small part to the enthusiasm they both have and especially yesterday when we ventured into the unknown and went to see the Paris-Roubaix cycle race.
This gruelling challenge in its 105th year is also known as the "hell of the north" as it includes over 50km of cobbled roads, many of which are in the middle of the countryside and are not in the best state of repair.
We worked out that we were only about a 20 minute drive from the Carrefour de L'Arbre a notorious spot of pavé road and so set off with hats and umbrellas to shield against the August temperatures. We couldn't get too close as the roads were already closed off in readiness but the 4 km or so we had to walk to be in the midst of the cobbles was a pleasant Sunday stroll. Another person's enthusiasm indeed passion, can be infectious and we were strangely enjoying being in the middle of the countryside under the blazing sun with the dust rising around us. We found a likely spot in that seemed to be the Belgian supporters' area and took advantage of the reasonably priced beer available from an almost cartoon-like vendor whose Jack Russell entertained us as we awaited the first bikes.
Suddenly they arrived as if from nowhere and swished - or rather rattled - past us looking impressively fresh given they had already traversed some 240km from the starting point in Compiègne and virtually all of the pavés. Everyone was applauded. It was almost as if the arrival of the cyclists was almost incidental to the overall feeling of being there and enjoying the expectation and the camaraderie.
Back at home we discovered that if we played the recording back in slow motion we could catch ourselves on the television and we had confirmation that the pictured Stuart O'Hagan had taken the prize and we had participated or at least assisted in one of France's favourite sports.