The House That Eddy Built

Well, not exactly ‘built’, but definitely ‘made’, as you you’ll see soon enough.

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I have a race coming up in less than a week and I really should be training. Instead, Shoko and I have been eating our way through Paris, with a few breaks here and there to feed a cat; yes, our annual chat-sitting trip to The City of Unavoidable Weight Gain has come and gone and I am glad I now have a good excuse for any poor results that may occur this weekend!

But I did get on the bike. We used the better and better Vélib system nearly every day and logged up well over 50 km in the process. Give it a try next time you are in Paris; you won’t be disappointed. Here I am with the bum-end of Notre Dame in the background, Sunday morning.

Paris has an impressive amount of dedicated bike paths and lanes already and it gets even better on Sundays, when the double-lane road along the right bank of the Seine is blocked off to motor traffic and opened up to the rest of us.

Today I had my only ‘mission’ (Shoko had the rest, including 10 museums and galleries) for the trip; a little pilgrimage to the Jacques Anquetil Vélodrome (formerly the Vélodrome de Vincennes). This forgotten (and seemingly unchanged) corner of the Bois de Vincennes is one of only 3 places that the Tour de France has ever finished (the other two being the now-extinct vélodrome of the Parc des Princes and of course, the Champs Elysées).

For reasons unknown to me, this piste was only used from 1968 till 1974, an insignificant amount of time in TdF years. However, what makes this place special is not how long it served as an Arrivée, but who arrived in those years. Do your math, I’m sure you’ll get it. Yes, the great Eddy Merckx won all 5 of his Tours de France on this hallowed track.

But there was a life to this place avant Eddy. The stadium was built in 1894 and was used as the main stadium for the 1900 Olympics, then again in 1924 as the cycling venue for The Games.

When we visited it was completely deserted except for a guy marking the infield for soccer or rugby matches.

A total ghost piste. Still, it’s being used it seems, because there was a sign marking out the regulations for would-be Eddys:

  • A proper track bike is obligatory.
  • You must wear a helmet.
  • You must have a racing licence.
  • You need to ask the gardien before jumping on the track.

It all sounded reasonable and I failed badly at all of them that day, I’m afraid.

It’s often said that we cyclists have a special relationship with the greats of our sport since we are able to ride the very same roads that the greats do (thereby sharing in a small way, their suffering and glory), but in the end, a road is just a road. A stadium, custom built for cycling, pretty much in the same state as when Eddy crossed the line those 5 times, concentrates the feeling that you are walking (sadly, not riding..) on history. I don’t have any proof to back this up, but I imagine from the location, one of the lines (that you can’t really see, sorry) in the next photo is it.

Finally, proof that I didn’t just lift these photos from the internet (not all of them anyway). I’m hoping some Eddy mojo rubbed off on me there and that it will counter those 5 days without training come race day.

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17 thoughts on “The House That Eddy Built

  1. The velodrome is now on the list for visiting next time I hit Paris. Our daughter is determined to go to Paris, even more so since parental misgiving has been expressed, so I should get to see this before too long!

  2. How fun to be able to see a place like that!

    Every day on the commute to work, I ride the road and cross the line that was used for Stage Two by the Tour of Missouri in 2007 & 2008. George Hincappie and Mark Cavendish were the respective winners of those stages on these two years. The ‘special relationship’ is there.

    • I have a good friend here in France who talks about the Tour of Missouri from time to time (he’s from St Louis). I’ll have to try and see if I can view it this year. I’m far too Euro-centric right now.

      • Alas, the ToM is no more. Killed by money-hungry state politics. I did my part by writing to my state representative [Stage Two went through her district even] and offering to vote for her if she would try to keep the funds going. No dice. And no vote either!

  3. Very interesting. I didn’t know Paris had a bike-share system. As for riding the velodrome, I wonder just how fast a gardien is relative to the maximum speed of a Velib bike. Surely, you could have managed a lap. Then again, I’m probably not in the best position to advocate law breaking. 😉

    • By the looks of him I think I could have taken him on foot even, so you have a good point. Still, I don’t have my permanent residence in France yet, so I should try and follow the rules as much as possible. And yes, the Velib system (and the infrastructure built for it) is astounding, really.

  4. Best of luck in your race! You must have been training insome way, because we heard not a word about the food in Paris. Fast pedals to you this weekend!

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