Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Our buddy Matt says it's because I can't get any baseball or football news over here, but I've become a cycling fan. I even took Monday off work to watch the Tour of Wallonia pass by. Twice. I watched at a hairpin turn a little north of us, then right over the canal in the afternoon, which is when I took this picture. It's the peleton about 4 hours into the race trying to chase down a four-man breakaway.
What I wasn't expecting was all the noise from the caravan. First off, there was the publicity caravan that had musical horns to get everyone's attention. This was followed about 20 minutes later by a variety of cars and motorcycles running up and down the route. When the actual race arrived, first there was the timing car, which was blasting a four-note horn and a speaker spewing out ro-di-ni-a. Over and over and over. Rodinia is the official timer of the Tour of Wallonia. Never heard of 'em? Me neither. Then there was the announcer car shouting, "The leaders are 6'15" ahead of the peleton. The leaders are 6'15" ahead of the peleton. The leaders are 6'15" ahead of the peleton. The leaders are 6'15" ahead of the peleton." If I were a racer, that and the Rodinia car would drive me crazy. Finally the rest of the peleton came. the actual bikes-riding-past part lasted about 30 seconds, and that was because we had a good long view down the road.
I've also become a bit of a riding nut too. I bought a road bike so far back in the 90s that I can't even remember when it was (it still had the old-fashioned strap pedals), but I had used it only about a dozen times. About 2 months ago I spent $300 on gear--clipless pedals, shoes, tires, tubes, clothing, new helmet--and started riding. I love it. And I'm getting spoiled because Belgium is a great place to bike, mostly because it's such a huge sport here. When Tom Boonen won two Tour de France stages this year, it was the 453rd and 454th Belgian stage wins (mostly by Flems), second only to France itself.
Cyclists get away with murder here, and drivers let them. Traffic laws essentially don't apply. There are signs posted officially allowing cyclists to go the wrong way down one way streets (they even have an acronym and a name for this--SUL, which stands for limited one way). If your tires are 25mm or less wide, which is where "serious" road bikes begin, safety equipment rules don't apply. You are officially permitted not to signal turns if, in your opinion, doing so would endanger you. Like, "I was afraid I would slip on that gravel there, officer," even though 2 minutes before you were riding with no hands, eating a candy bar. There's one stretch of nasty cobble stones where I ride down the wrong side of the road to avoid them, and cars just move for me. There are bike lanes all over, but they're often really rough, so you don't have to use them. You run stop signs, and cars with the right of way stop for you. Guys riding in groups never go single file but spread out all over the road, and the cars wait patiently for a chance to pass. Drivers understand because they're cyclists, too.
I've already fallen off once...in the stupidest way possible. About the third day I went out, I finished in front of the house, came to a dead stop, couldn't kick my foot free of the pedals, and just tipped over. This is apparently something everybody who gets clipless pedals has to go through. Don't worry: the bike was unhurt.