Before I even met my boyfriend, I learned about the famous Paris-Roubaix race–a spring classic that always set the tone for the season to come, heavily lined as it is with patches of knobby cobblestone, an unforgiving challenge regardless of wet, sloppy rain or, like it was Sunday, hot dusty clouds of dirt to pervade the course. It has historical weight as one of the oldest one-day races starting in 1896. It is alluded to throughout the season like no other. It is special. Incomparable. And I couldn’t have randomly picked a better one to witness.
I sat in the back of a team car with both the aerodynamicist and doctor for Garmin-Cervelo. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect–dry, 70 degrees f, breezy and clear. If it hadn’t been for my fricken car sickness that had me sleeping between each stop, I may have had more to report. But the moment that car moved, in the Nascar way it does, I was down for the count.
There were 27 cobblestones patches to complete. Our job was to bring spare tires and water bottles to a few stations. Thankfully, we didn’t have to use the tires. The course was crowded near the sections, so we had trouble maneuvering our way. Actually, let me sketch a picture as best I can. In a car, what matters is getting to the next spot. That day is entirely about the race. So driving 60+ miles per hour down windy town roads is not uncommon. But these people… it’s like they all have a death wish. Left and right, people and animals cross the street or unthinkingly dart out into the road. Teens on bikes swerve to the center. Small children toddle unsupervised to grab a forlorn pebble. A race car (not ours) actually hit another and was forced to climb the side, where a little old lady in a wheelchair sat helplessly (albeit way too close). The car stopped in enough time to prevent fatal damage, but she was nudged for sure and tumbled out of her chair, left in the dust for her screaming daughter to assist. It is a total sh%$ show. I kept my seat belt on, did a hail Mary and shut my eyes.
We somehow found ourselves at the finish with 15k to go. At this point, VanSummeren was out front with no one behind for about 15 seconds. This only grew to be 35-40 second over the next 10k. We hung on with unbearable excitement. I have seen this go both ways. What I learned afterward was that VanSummeren actually got a flat with 5k to go… But he pushed through it.
And, as many of you may already know…he won!
He was not a favorite for the race, per se (meaning he wasn’t expected to win), but he was Garmin-Cervelo”s by the end of the day. It was the most memorable cycling finish I have ever seen. Of the spring classics, Paris-Roubaix is undoubtedly the pinnacle of accomplishment.
That last evening was spent traveling the TGV to Paris for a great dinner at Alcazar on the Left Bank. It was certainly modern in decor–no stereotypical Bistro feel like many of the others. In fact, one person we dined with compared it to Nobu in London—chic, glossy and contemporary. It was like a gourmet bistro, I suppose. I had my mozzarella salad with a filet and fries, while others had eggs, foie gras, salmon and cod. It wasn’t too fancy. The prices were by no means cheap, but they weren’t outrageous. It was a good recommendation, a restaurant with solid food, service and appeal. We had a sensational Pascal Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru from 2008 as well as a 2000 red from Moulis–a little village I learned was within Bordeaux’s Medoc. It was not oaky at all. Very linear, acidic and structured, it showcased Cab’s purity.
We concluded with a night cap at George V/Four Seasons–I with an AR Valdespino Pedro Ximenez (excellent, luscious, traditional style), my guy with a chocolate martini. It was a sweet note upon which to end a sweet day.
But the ride home was pay back for perfection. It was quite possibly the worst plane ride back to one of the best possible places: home. It was delayed, indirect and rerouted, so as to add a couple more hours onto an already epic ride, making it 11.5 hours…to my connection. This Continental Airlines flight didn’t give you your complimentary, plonk wine (I don’t know why, but up here it’s somehow acceptable… a dependable comfort), nor did it have movies. This is when I typically catch up with the rest of the world. Check out the new movies and tv series. There were 3 measly channels: something on space odyssey, the other on crime and another on where our plane was each moment. I was driven to write and watch my battery fade. Sleeping wasn’t an option if I had any hope of recovering in the next few days from jet lag. And to top it off, the man next to me had OCD… So I watched him repeat the same behavioral sequence of opening his computer, shutting it, putting it away, putting on his coat, taking it off, getting out to walk up the aisle, sit back down, pull out the computer, and so on… about twenty times. It was awesome.
As the battery indicted ten more minutes, I looked at the time and saw there was still eight more hours with one New Yorker, a Saveur and a pen.