Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chasing De Panne, Part II

And suddenly it was. What I had expected to be a ride of an hour and change was rapidly approaching two hours. When the Bouyges Telecom team bus passed slowly a few kilometers outside of Middelkerke, I tried to jump in its draft. Somehow, it accelerated too quickly. But a team station wagon was behind it, and the driver motioned for me to jump on. So I did. I knew they wouldn't get lost en route to the race. At a bit over 35mph on this narrow two-lane road, I got burned off. So the second team station wagon slowed a moment, and motioned for me to jump on. So I did. When he slowed down for a fast left turn, I jumped back to the first car. And suddenly we were in Middelkerke. And I saw te Katusha team bus at the next light. I rolled up to follow them. Then they were heading into an empty parking lot! Must be wrong.

It wasn't. De Panne starts along an ocean-front promenade.

When the race headed south at exactly 11:55am, I waited until the team cars passed, and then headed north. There's a promenade all the way from Middelkerke through Oostend, and it doubles as a bike path. Parallels trolley tracks even.

When I got to the station, after getting directions there from an elderly woman on a bike—mangled Flemish so badly, she assumed I was speaking German—bought my ticket to Gent. An amazing thing, despite all the bike parking at train stations around Belgium, they charge you five Euro to take your bike on the train. And they don't have bike racks on trains like they do for most regional rail in France. Guess they're afraid of the thousands who leave their bikes at stations taking them on.

It was similarly difficult leaving Ghent as it was Brugge. No map showing roads leading out of the city, the Michelin map not detailed enough. Figured south based on the train station. Suddenly, once again, it was easy. Saw a sign for a town that was on my preferred route, and got off the main road. N-44 had a distinct bike path, but it wasn't as direct, as what I saw on the map.

Had to consult the map a few times as I came to unmarked traffic circles and tiny villages. Even rode over a few hills. Crested one hill, and a small city was atop the next rise a kilometer away or so. Zottegem. Must be, as there were two helicopters overhead. Kept on my road, and got to a crowd watching team buses set up. Again.

The race passes through Zottegem, then goes out for a lap of the hills, and returns for the finish. Was I ahead of the race, or behind? It was 2:30, over 30 minutes before the race was supposed to pass through, according to the time estimates provided by the promoters.

When I saw the finish line, and was able to get to within two meters of it, I was pretty sure I was ahead of the race. Time to sit back on the top tube and work on translating the announcer's Flemish patter.

Special thanks to BKW friend JP for the post and images.

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