Thursday found us on the French Pave, heading back towards Roubaix. Today we were to try and rendezvous with the pro teams that typically did their reconnaissance rides before the big day on Sunday. After the usual, delicious breakfast, we drove back and landed below Carrefour de l'Arbre, near the pavé of Beuvry-la-Forêt/Orchies. We parked near a cemetery and unloaded and suited up. As I was getting ready, Alex introduced me to, Charles, a journalist from a local newspaper, Nord éclair, who was doing a special, Dimanche Edition on Paris-Roubaix. Charles asked if he could ask me a bunch of questions as the newspaper was very interested in our group - I completely forgot that they were also loitering around during our Johan Musseeuw ride on Tuesday. Charles was incredibly polite and asked several questions mostly curious as to why I had chosen to do this. I had many quick answers for sure! Plus, he seemed very fascinated with my decision to celebrate my birthday by beating myself silly on the pavé. Funny. I'd ride pavé all day on my birthday - just as long as there's cake at the end.
Anyhow, our starting spot had us hitting cobbles almost immediately - we were not in a terrible hurry as the whole point of this outing was to run into, or waiting to be run into by the teams. Well, as it turned out, we ended up attacking the secteurs at such a pace that we made it all the way to l'Arbre before finally seeing the teams catch up. They started a bit later while we started a bit earlier - I'm not going to suggest in any, way, shape, or form that we managed to ride a quicker pace that the pros. Ha. I know better. But I will say that getting back on the secteurs felt pretty, darn good! We all felt a little more seasoned and experienced as the brutal stones didn't quite get the best of us this time around. You should know that there are a few different types of pavé out there - the stones change shape and color as well as patterns in the ground. The dark stones, or "blue pavé," for example are absolutely the most evil rocks in the bunch. Everytime I see them coming, I prepare for the worst. And when those bastards are arranged with just a little more space inbetween, you then have found yourself the true "hell" in the phrase, "Hell of the North." Well, there's a lot more to that then the stones themselves, of course. When Paris-Roubaix is hit with just the slightest weather, meaning rain, wind, and cold, it quickly compounds the experience, thus you've suddenly found yourself in "hell."
Anyhow, this go-around was better. We all concurred that we felt a bit more confident and for lack of a better term, comfortable riding the pavé. Crazy to type that, much less think it. I've included a map, so you can see the route - remember, Saturday last, we did 21 of the 27 secteurs, beginning at Aulnoy-les-Valenciennes on up to Roubaix. Today, we were to do the Orchies to Carrefour de l'Arbre.
No sweat, right?
I was feeling much better and continued to stick to the center of the pavé, or the crest or crown. The Velominati Keepers had decided earlier this week to make that a new rule - of their famous cycling rules - "Always Ride the Crest!" If you ride the gutters, then you are not truly experiencing the pavé. I refused to hit the gutter - except for when I made a pass or dove into the corners, which always gave me a nice, brief reprieve.
We did try and slow the pace as we got closer and closer to l'Arbre - only getting passed by a solo Lotto rider who was hammering the secteurs with a team car pacing him. Once we got to l'Arbre, the teams arrived - only about 15 minutes later. William concluded that they all must've just started later in the morning - even the locals had been out waiting, many of whom cheered us on as if we were a team. Funny. I think one of the guys found themselves in a collection of Flickr photos from someone who'd been out there shooting the teams. He or she thought Velominati was a pro team or something! Good stuff.
l'Arbre was packed with fans and team buses - more proof of the secteur's popularity, which is justified considering that it's the last hard section (if not THE hardest) of pavé. We took a pit stop and shot a bunch of photos. I ended up seeing Glenn Kasin from MJ's shooting pictures for RadioShack, which was cool. George Hincapie said hi as he buzzed by, as well as Stuart O'Grady. Taylor Phinney came by the fastest while we were there - he was totally muddy and just hammering it! Also saw Alessandro Ballan. All pretty cool, for sure.
Once we got our fill, we headed back to the cars, taking a route that avoided most of the pavé, except for the Orchies. Uff. We collected our wits, loaded up, and headed for Alex's house nearby to shower before our tour of the brewery. Alex's place is great, and he built it himself! Very impressive to say the least! Alex is incredibly hospitable and generous - both he and William continued to impress me with their kindness. You could tell that they sincerely cared about our experience there, under their care. We showered up, had lunch, played with Giro, Alex's new puppy, and then headed for Brunehaut, where Malteni is made!
Brunehaut is in Brunehaut, Belgium, about 20 km's from Northern France. It's a very small brewery, also very old, yet extremely well-organized with a passionate owner, Marc-Antoine De Mees. He met up a while back with William and Alex, who approached him about their idea for Malteni. You all remember Malteni, correct? For those who missed out - Malteni is a delicious, organic gluten-free beer that we'd been enjoying all week long! The name is actually a play on the old, Italian cycling team, Molteni ('58-'76) - most famous for Eddy Merckx, who won quite a few races with the Molteni jersey. Marc-Antoine started working for the brewery years ago, and when the owners let the company go into bankruptcy, bought it and built it back up to where it is today. He had just returned from a trip to the states, visiting with distributors and retailers like Whole Foods. Awesome. They're most famous for their St. Martin beer - a very old brew that was started by Monks and is still made with the same recipe. Brunehaut is becoming more and more popular as they insist on making organic, gluten-free beer - as you know, the U.S. is slowly becoming completely gluten-free. Boom, you have a market. But gluten or not gluten, St. Martin is easily the best tasting beer I have ever enjoyed - and I've had a few good ones, most of them Belgian!
It was such a pleasure meeting Marc-Antoine - I had never met someone with the same name as me, and as I found out, he hadn't either! Pretty cool. The only difference is that he goes by Marc-Antoine, while I mostly go by Mark, or Marko, or Markus-bob, or just "hey you."
Here's their website - very well-done, too, by the way!
After a couple pints of St. Martin - which, by the way, I have to thank Marc-Antoine very, very much for taking the time to meet up with us, give us the tour, and feed us his beer! Very generous with his time at the very end of a long work-day, I'm sure! Thank you, Marc-Antoine! Merçi beaucoup! Anyhow, we headed back to the cottage, where I was surprised with a delicious Belgian cheesecake and champagne to celebrate my birthday!
Seriously, this trip just keeps getting better and better with each passing HOUR! I'm so grateful. Thank you for taking the time to read my jibber-jabber! Friday coming up soon...