Here is an a excerpt of a longer post I originally sent to the Eu07 tour blog- typed on a crazy French keyboard with as many typos as a non qwerty layout will allow in a short time. The story covers some of our skating in France. It proved popular enough to be considered as a stand alone piece, with some pictures added…
::: For those who have never experience this- the Paris Friday night skate is a weekly event with between 5000- 8000 skaters! doing a 30 KM tour of Paris- starting at 10PM and concluding just after 1 AM at Montparnase metro. We arrived on time and after listening carefully to he instructions for that nights ‘course du skate’ (the route changes every week) which were in French and which we understood totally (NOT) we asked one of the crew and he told us this will be a new course which was never tried before- a climb to Montmartre and a super downhill- cobblestones and all- yeah great…Montmartre is certainly one of the more elevated spot of Paris, mmm, so off we went just after 10.15 escorted by police on skates, 2 ambulances, and about 50 crew from the organization.
I cannot find words to describe the incredible sight of 8000 skaters flying at a good pace thru the streets of Paris- the police stopped the traffic at intersections and we all came flying past, traffic and crowds at a standstill, many people cheering, and the skaters moving like a giant snake thru the many districts of Paris. Skaters were of mixed ability, and aside from the cobblestones and hills, the challenge was mainly not to get tripped by other skaters in the huge crowd. Than we came to the big downhill…and big it was indeed! for close to 10 minutes we just flew downhill, at something like 47 Kmh, with lots of people crashing, including 2 support crews and the medical staff, and we had to dodge quite a few people, stay on course AND manage to Stop at intersections as instructed…. wow, this took some years of all of us, and the only stopping style was the good old T stop.
Raph managed to slide on a plastic bottle and got a more intimate contact with the Parisian pavement, but was patched up soon by the crew, and off we went into the night.
Incredible is the only way to describe the sensation, and despite the fact that we spent 3 hours going up and down the hills of Paris, when we got to the finish everyone was feeling a great sense of exhilaration.
We arrived just after 1 Am, too late for the last metro, and so proceeded ( like many others) to the nearest pub for a post skate drink (OK, a few) and then, in what proved to be the biggest challenge of the evening- try and get a taxi back to our hotels. Everyone in Paris appeared to had the same idea just than, but we eventually managed to get a cab to our hotel, making it just on 3 AM- a long day’s journey into night. After a late start Saturday, a leisurely breakfast and a tour of the town (and a skate shop) we arrange the transport for the St Cheron marathon the next day.
On to St Cheron
A train journey of about an hour got us to St Cheron, a pretty rural village south of Paris, where the 3 valleys race was being held. We arrived prepared this time- with safety pins ( to insure no repeat of ‘the Italian experience’)- alas pins were in great supply, and so we had time for a first good look at the course.
The 3 valleys race was indeed going to be an up and down event- something we are not quite used to in Melbourne. We also realized that the surfaces we train and use are in fact far better than what most people are used to in Europe ( the Cesenatico race being an extreme example, but a true one nevertheless) and as we were told, this race was going thru a number of villages and we could expect a variety of road types, including cobblestones, sharp corners, and lots of climbs and long down hills.
Registration and preliminary announcements over, The event started with a fast down hill roll thru town- Le Parade- with much waving a and cheering by the locals, and then a nice roll/ grunt uphill thru the magnificent centre of Saint Cheron to what we understood to be the location of the start line.
We were told that the group of Nordic skaters- on long skates and poles, were to be sent off first, to be followed a minute or so later by the rest of us. This seemed simple enough, but as we headed uphill it appeared a last minute change of plan took place, and unbeknown to us the race started without warning or order, and it took us a minute or two to catch on and get going.
Once at the top of the hill, the route left St Cheron in a long fast downhill and into the countryside, gaining speed and encountering deteriorating surface, but the going was steady, and the landscape magnificent.
Soon we arrived at the next village and the start of some spectacular sharp turns over cobblestones, without having the slightest clue what was around the corner…. The event controllers were shouting instructions ( I think) but the level of my French- especially attempting to comprehend garbled word at fast speed with incredible vibrations through my skates and whole body while shitting myself somewhat (try high speed cobblestone turn and find out for yourself) prevented me from understanding anything but the realization that survival mode was ‘de rigure du jour’.
This is not to say in any way that this was not fantastic fun, just that those corners seemed to be always the start of another downhill through some narrow village lanes- until we got out of the pretty town and into the countryside once more, and a good run out and a bit of level terrain. All of us managed to stay on our skates, with my GPS showing speeds of 45Kmh plus through the route, and the holes in the road appearing more frequent, and bigger. I noticed that some of the locals employed another cornering technique, especially in one very steep downhill, they simply avoided the corner by flying straight into the forest for a bit of tree hugging, then back with a new shrubbery on top of the skin suits- I hope the bushes were softer than they appeared.
The uphills were less difficult than i suspected, although while coming up the valley and looking up at skaters already on the ridge was somewhat demoralizing, but we kept a good pace. At one stage a group of 3 Frenchmen got behind me an literally hung on to me while we skated in a fantastic open valley- telling me ‘Technique Australic‘ was magnific- yeah right- I was just trying to stay upright and keep the pace ( thanks DG & Bas).
In the next downhill I seemed to have lost my French new friends, and joined another skater in a super tuck downhill, something between Olympic giant slalom posture and total out of control reality, but once again, with more luck than skill, somehow made it to the next uphill, and, suddenly, a 2 km sign to the finish- all uphill of course.
Before I realized, I could hear the shouts of the guys at the finish line- which seemed a long way off- especially the last 100 meters of moderate uphill, and then we were there- happy, and in good shape. Raph arrived a few minutes earlier, and Inna and Eva a while after me- all in good shape and great spirits- it was a really enjoyable event in a fantastic landscape- just what I imagined back in Oz when i read about the race.
The other competitors, almost all French, were very friendly and supportive, and were excited about us making it all the way from Australia to this race. We stayed for the presentation of the trophies and words from the mayor, and were told officials results will be posted soon.
It was great fun! and you can see this also in the following SMS Raph sent home:
“3 valleys today at st Cheron (www.rm3v.com) about 1 hour from Paris was brilliant.
It was a tough steep and tight course through beautiful French countryside forests and villages. A lot of altitude changes ~150m! surface varied from AAA to horrid!. Course was 30km downhill sections were fast like the city to surf! and uphill sections were gut-renching locals were fantastic cheering us along the way through cobblestone walled provincial french villages with tight fast corners a real roadrace and very exciting! You will be pleased to know that we didn’t embarrass the club! Everyone finished incident free not sure of exact times but I was about 1:07″
We took the train back to Paris and after a shower and a short rest met for a farewell dinner at our ‘local’ at Place de la republic, where we had a beer (or two) and a great meal and agreed our French experience has been nothing short of- to paraphrase David – Fan tas Tique…
A 5.30 AM start the next day- for those of us heading to Amsterdam- meant a not too late a night- and so by 1 Am we were tucked in.