Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Paris and #6

> Our Paris hotel was very nice, but did not have internet access so this report is a bit
> late.
We arrived in Paris early Saturday afternoon and did a bit of strolling and sightseeing before our tired legs pleaded with us to head back to the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Balzac, just a block off the Champs Elysee up near the Arc de Triomphe. It's a very nice old hotel with very modern, stylish furnishings, but as is the case in France no shower curtain. We've gotten pretty good at taking a shower and have only totally soaked a bathroom once.

We were tired so we ordered carry out from the Indian restaurant next door and it was
so good. After a week of French food it was nice to get a change. I can't tell you how much we are craving some good Mexican. We're not the only ones either...we met Scott Sunderland's wife and young son near the finish line Sunday and she said that he was craving Mexican (and margaritas!) so much that they were going to celebrate that night at a Parisian Mexican restaurant. chips, salsa, cheese dip, burritos, chili rellenos, margaritas...bring it on! we've had plenty of foie gras, pate, etc, etc.

Sunday morning we were up early for a group ride. We cruised up the Champs (where I
flatted) then headed west to the Bois de Boulougne, a big Park on the edge of Paris.
In the park is a big oval road the encircles the horse track for about 2+km. On the
weekends Parisian cyclists come out to train and mock race. There's a finish line
painted at the top of a gradual rise that marks the sprint point for each lap. The
peloton gets cruising around the track and really cranks it up before the rise
whereupon the leadout and sprint lets loose. It's pretty crazy with everyone jockeying for position and lots of testosterone flowing.

A bunch of us jumped into the peloton and did some hot laps. Once we got the hang of
it we decided to do some sprinting. I got on the front on the backside to set the tempo and start the leadout, but nobody came around me so I rolled across the line first. At this point the pack was only about 20 riders, but over the next few laps it grew to more than 50...and the word is that a bit later in the morning it would be over 100 and very sketchy. The next time around I came from 4th wheel and came around a guy just before the line to take it. Then I tried to do the same thing the next lap, but the same guy threw his bike at the line to win by a hair. Next lap one of the guys in the group offered to lead me out so we settled in the first 10 guys behind a couple of strong french guys and waited. As we hit the foot of the rise he took off up the side with me in tow. He pulled off about 350 meters from the line (a long way to sprint), but I went anyway. Our leadout had gotten a gap, but one of the French guys had gotten my wheel. At 50meters to go I could hear him starting to come around me so I dug again and held him off. He was a bit pissed I think because when I tried to talk to him after the sprint he only said "I am not a sprinter" in a haughty french accent. Me and some of the other guys in my group did a few more fast laps and sprints before our group reformed to hit a few sites of Paris.

We rode through the city checking out many landmarks. The highlight was probably the
view of the Eiffel Tower from the Trocadero. It was incredible. We got a few nice
photos too.

We gradually worked our way over to the Champs where the barriers were up and the road closed for the race. We got out on the course and did a lap on the cobbles before snapping a few more photos and heading back to the hotel.

After getting cleaned up we all walked over to the Place de la Concorde to the Automobile Club de France, a private club right next to the Hotel Crillon overlooking the Place. Trek Travel had rented out the club for our party/race viewing. It was a beautiful old building with a huge front balcony overlooking the race course. Inside there were food and beverage stations and big screen TV's in every room. We hung out there for a while, but eventually Melanie and I, along with one of the guides, decided to try to sneak our way over to the finish line grandstands. You need a special pass to get in over there, but we managed to find a way to get seats at the 200m sign before the finish line.

We watched the breakaway struggle to keep their advantage for a few laps before getting swallowed up by a peleton determined to set up the sprint for a final showdown for the green jersey. The next to the last lap the pack was absolutely flying single file and on
> the last lap the leadouts started early as teams sought to keep the field strung out
> and
> fast. When they came around the bend it was a blur and right in front of us Tom Boonen
> stepped on the gas and held off his rivals to win the stage. It was exciting.
> From there we decided to hop the fence to get up against the barriers where the press
> photographers were standing. That's when we met Scott Sunderland's wife. She was
> squezzing past the fence to greet Scott so we chatted with her and escorted her right
> up
> to the barriers. Scott was very nice and incredibly excited to have finished the Tour.
> He's one of the older riders in the race and did not think he would even have a chance
> to
> ride the Tour.
> We tried to get over to the podium, but could only get about 150m away before we hit a
> line of gendarmes. We found a spot right on the barriers from which to watch the post
> race parade of teams. Right next to us were a couple of French guys that are training
> parnters of Christophe Moreau so when Credit Agricole came by he stopped right in front
> of us to talk to his friends. We got photos and Melanie even got a kiss on the cheek.
> We also got an invite to the Credit Agricole party later that evening, but we passed
> since Melanie was fighting a cold and we were both exhausted. We stayed there and
> watched all the teams file past right in front of us. They were all very very happy to
> have finished and the crowd was showed their appreciation. It was a cool scene.
> Once that was done we headed over to the back of the Presidential grandstands where the
> big wigs had been seated. Right on cue we saw Lance's Mom, Sheryl Crow, Robin Williams
> and a bunch of others descending the stairs. Melanie called out to Lance's Mom Linda
> and
> she came over...crazy. They had a chat for a couple of minutes (really) and then Linda
> gave here a hug. Then Melanie tracked down Robin Williams for an autograph and a kiss
> on
> the cheek. It was a surreal scene.
> Our group reconvened for a parting dinner at a hip Danish restaurant. The food was
> super
> bland, but we had great conversation recounting stories from the trip. We had a
> wonderful group of people on our trip and enjoyed getting to know them all.
> Yesterday we caught the train to Amsterdam. We'll be here until Friday. There are
> bike
> everywhere...more bikes than people I think. What a cool sight. We are staying in a
> nice hotel right on one of the many canals. We'll do some sightseeing, shopping (it
> seems sooooo much cheaper than Paris where you can pay 11 euro in some places for a
> beer), and museum gazing in the few days we're here. Our legs and seats are thankful
> for
> several days off the bike after so much riding last week.
> Thanks for reading.
> Chris and Melanie

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