Last weekend I took Shoko up to Tourcoing, an old industrial town planted right on the Belgian border and, more importantly, a short spin to the Roubaix vélodrome. I didn’t have my bike, so after dropping Shoko off at her first day of school (Le Fresnoy), I hired a Lille city bike, stuck it in 3rd, and pedaled over.
I even rode a bit of pavé on the way. There’s a sort of ceremonial stretch right before you turn into the stadium grounds that is pretty tame, especially for the huge, indestructible 38 mm Schwalbes I was riding.
I’d been here before, way back in 2011 on a ‘press trip’, but this time I was alone and had the freedom to do what I liked. And I liked to have a coffee.
This is the Roubaix-Lille-Metropole Vélo Club clubhouse, filled with Paris-Roubaix posters and paraphernalia…and not a soul in sight. Oh, they also have those famous showers ‘out back’, but I was told that I’d need to go to the tourism office to get the key. I was on a mission this day, however, and wanted to get my money’s worth out of the Lille bike, so I took off in search of the Carrefour de l’Arbre.
Oh, but not before walking around the stadium once (the Hajj of the cycling religion, I would say…and nobody got hurt even) to see how much ‘epic’ would wear off on me.
After this little pilgrimage I straddled my rental and followed my Android out into the countryside.
Ever wonder why the people of Le Nord eat so many frites (I even saw them on a pizza)? Now you know – I saw 3 or 4 of these overflowing monsters in the span of a few minutes.
My phone took care of me well till a couple of kilometers from the Carrefour, but I had those giant Schwalbes, so a little gravel didn’t worry me.
But that road quickly turned into something different – a combination of mud, cobbles, and mud-covered cobbles. And then I got that flat you knew was coming all along.
I walked the last 15 minutes, trying not to think about where I was and how far a bike station might be, being consoled by the thought that the restaurant at the Carrefour would cheer me up.
And the restaurant was closed, but you knew that already, too.
I began to understand that city bike rental schemes are meant for people who are always going to be near a bike station, i.e. in the city. Well I wasn’t, but it was sunny and I really needed to burn off some of those burger, fries and beer calories from the night before, so I set off walking my big red rental bike through the potato fields till, 3 hours later, I reached the first bike station, near the football stadium, on the outskirts of Lille.
Then I had a burger, fries and a beer.