A carnival atmosphere filled the air at Le Vélodrome National de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines on Saturday as several thousand PBP riders from around the world arrived to complete the check-in process.
I sat by the entry point to Vélodrome and watched cyclists from the U.S., UK, Ireland, Russia, Singapore, Australia, Norway, Germany, and many more countries approach with expectant and excited expressions. Two gendarmes posted here directed riders around a big field toward the Velodrome entrance.
This was a day for checking out other bikes and meeting up with old and new friends. I saw lots of racing bikes, a triple (a tandem complicates things more than I can handle–how do you deal with three different people on one machine), a trike, and a whole tribe of velomobiles.
I finally met Mike Dayton, RUSA president, in person. Since we work so closely on American Randonneur, it’s strange that it’s taken nearly two years for us to meet. We talked briefly about the next issue, but neither one of us was prepared to spend much time on business this day. I also briefly met Dan Driscoll from Texas and Vinnie Muoneke from Seattle…guys I’ve talked with on email about articles for AR. I said hi to Santa Cruz ride organizer Bill Bryant on his way to help Lois Springsteen with some issue about her bike. Of course the NJ contingent was there in their new striking jerseys. One woman who passed by me while I was hanging out at the entrance seemed determined to put off being a grungy cyclist for as long as possible. She walked away from the velodrome in spiked heels and stylish street clothes, wheeling her bike along. I assume she planned to change into more suitable kit for the ride.
Groups gathered for photos, the NJ randos and the whole US contingent being among them. Lots of smiles and cheers accompanied the photo taking. A lone food truck in the field was selling jambon et beurre sandwiches as well as beer…but this good cheer was not alcohol-inspired. The pre-event excitement was intense and catchy.
Even on the roads surrounding the velodrome, drivers seemed to know what was going on. Many honked and did fist pumps as they passed, but they were expressing support and admiration rather than annoyance.
While these festivities filled the field outside the velodrome, the long and exhausting check-in process took place inside. I snuck in for a couple of minutes…long lines of riders waiting to register jammed the area in the middle of the velodrome track. It was definitely more fun outside.
PBP is such a big event and the participants speak so many languages and represent so many different cultures, that at first it seems surprising that the whole thing happens as efficiently as it does. But then I think about the long history of PBP in France as well as the general appreciation and respect for cycling and cyclists, and it’s not so surprising that the French can make this event happen every four years.
It’s really something…what generosity of spirit. To invite the whole world to come and ride bikes for four days through their villages and towns, and to support the riders and party with them as they do it. It is amazing.