Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Parigi-Roubaix 2012 part 2

Our Paris-Roubaix adventure started on Friday afternoon. We took a flight from Catania to Milan to spend the night before flying the next day to Brussels, Belgium. We enjoyed a dinner with some old friends on Friday night at their restaurant and after a good night's sleep flew off to Brussels. The car rental folks were low on cars and when Larry insisted on a manual transmission, all they had was an Audi A3 "sportback" which we happily took at the rate we paid for the most basic car! The logos looked pretty good on this fancy car, don't you think? We headed off to Oudenaarde for a visit to the Tour of Flanders museum, which we'll cover in another post. Our final destination was the Hotel Kennedy in Kortrijk, a place our friend Mauro Mondonico had told us was frequented by a lot of the teams during the cobbled classic week. We rolled up to see vehicles from Omega-Pharma and Radioshack-Nissan in the parking lot, but no sign of bikes, riders, mechanics or service trucks. Perhaps they were already in Compiegne at the start? We drove around Kortrijk a bit, picking up some stuff for dinner as the hotel restaurant was closed.
We both remember the iconic images from Paris-Roubaix during the Greg LeMond years, not to mention the fabulous film "Sunday in Hell" from 1976, so seeing this race has been a dream of ours for a long time.
Sunday morning we drove to Roubaix to check out the finish area. Sadly, they wouldn't let us get close to the famous velodrome so we settled for a photo of the car on the last, symbolic section of cobbles and some souvenirs before heading down to the Arenberg forest section. We parked the car a few hundred meters from the end of the cobbles and walked the length - at the beginning of this section were fancy tents and entertainment and a lot of people already, quite a few of them seeming to have already consumed their fair share of beer and champagne! We walked back to the other end to get a classic grilled sausage sandwich and beer ourselves before things started to get busy. Before too long the police arrived to secure the route and the small publicity caravan went past, though NOT on the cobbled sections. One of the best things about pro cycling vs most other pro sports is the fact that pretty much anyone can get close to the action as these photos show. Once most of the race caravan had passed, we jumped back into the car and raced off to the finish, plenty of time to easily park and walk up to the final right turn leading onto the road to the velodrome to wait for the arrival of the racers. We'd heard rumors that Ballan was leading but of course it turned out to be none other than Tom Boonen. As you can imagine so close to the Belgian border, there were thousands of ecstatic Boonen fans cheering wildly! When we returned to the hotel there were already TV crews waiting, along with this photo and message on a video screen in the hotel lobby. Larry waited around for awhile, but nursing a nasty cold, eventually went back to his room and bed, missing the arrival of Tommeke. Monday morning we returned the car to the Brussels airport and flew back to Sicily via Milan. This makes three of the five "monuments of cycling" we've seen now, Tour of Flanders will be next in 2013 if all goes as planned.

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