Finishing off stage 2 of Le Tour 135km

George and I made it to just past the half way point of stage 2 last night, and camped in the same hidden gully next to a golf course that we found just over a week ago when we passed through going the other way.

With 95km to go and a slight tailwind behind us rather than yesterday’s headwind we had a chance of making it to the finish at Tournai before the gendarmes closed the course.

By about 1030 locals had started setting their picnic spots by the roadside and giving us the odd encouragement.

We made a stop at a supermarket for groceries and witnessed our first flag selling thugs. George had told me about these guys, who aggressively sell crapola flags to anyone they can force to take one. They were harassing some old ladies in the supermarket car park when we arrived, and by the time I’d finished my shopping the police had arrived. George had seen one of them run off, and commented that “if Skippy were here he’d be out there finding that guy”. Skippy apparently has particularly strong feelings about these guys and has attempted to stop them in the past.

The closer we got to the finish the bigger the groups of roadside fans became. Some very large parties were being set up. Everyone seemed to be in the mood for a Monday party.

We made to within 4km of the finish before being kicked off the course and had to make our way to the finish on the footpath. George managed to nab his first course marker of the trip.

While attending to some errands and watching the end of the race, we met Dave the German who George had cycled with in previous years. He is here with three other messengers. Only one of them is a non smoker but they are apparently riding at 30kmh.

After a crush of humanity trying to get out of Tournai with team cars, fans and buses all trying to get down one narrow street, exacerbated by a bunch of stupid Belgians blocking the road so that they could sing to the BMC bus, we headed toward Orchies where tomorrow’s stage to Boulogne departs from.

After a few km we were back in France. What a breath of fresh air! No more impatient Belgian fuckwits revving their engines as they impatiently try to pass us. No more shitty potholed third world roads. No more women that look like men. I love you France.

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Riding stage 2 – 91km

George and I have a head start on the peloton, having ridden the first 50km or so of tomorrow’s stage from Vise to Tournai. A stiff headwind isn’t making it easy, but we hope to be within striking distance of the finish tonight so that we can make Tournai before the peloton do tomorrow.

Last night’s camping spot was less than ideal, perched on the narrow strip of dirt on the edge of a field of snow peas just above a roadway. Being a Sunday, plenty of locals were out running and riding their bikes early in the morning only metres from our tents. But it was a stupid cooing bird that woke me up.

I can almost smell France over the horizon. I’ve seen quite enough of Belgium with its pushy drivers, thuggish inhabitants and disabled water taps.

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Water

Why is it so hard to find a bloody tap in Europe? In oz every park and service station has one, as does every front yard in the country.

At least France has lots of cemeteries which without fail have a tap that locals use to wash graves and water flowers.

But Belgium is just a big tease. You see one of these sticking out the front wall of a building now and then, but they are all disabled. This one was disabled AND had the handle removed. What is a touring cyclist to do?

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Liege – Prologue

After an evening sleeping behind the Carrefore supermarket (the local campground having a rather inflexible attitude to fluctuating demand for camping during popular sporting events such as the tour de France), George and I headed into Liege for the last time to watch some the prologue time trial. But not before the call of nature intervened and I was forced to snap one off in the garden adjacent to the loading area of the shopping centre. It was a fully biodegradable activity however as George and I have been conducting a toilet paper free tour de France. All one needs is nettle free patch of ground and the water bottle.

Once we arrived back in the centre of town George was itching to do another lap of the course before they locked things down but alas we were too late. All the barriers were in place and he was denied another circuit at cycle touring speed.

We staked out a vantage point at the 150m to go point. And were entertained by a mixture of caravan floats and riders out warming up on the course. Before long we had a bunch of dutchies on our left and young Belgian lads on our right trying to invade our shady little enclave between a tree and the barrier. It required considerable sticking out of elbows to keep them at bay while George went to check the main screen.

It was lucky that I had taken my supermarket dump earlier in the morning as 4 portaloos shared between thousands of spectators generated quite a queue later in the day.

After the first dozen or so riders we decided to get out of the city and get started down stage 2, giving us a head start on the tour. Seraing was just as charmless as I had remembered, with a huge coal burning monstrosity welcoming us as we entered the city. We are now sitting in a bar watching the last of the riders navigate the prologue course.

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Liege. Tdf preliminaries

Having spent several days in non threatening Holland and slightly less non threatening Germany, George and I returned to Liege where the Tour begins this year. Our last day in holland was navigated by Garmin on back roads that brought us back into Liege along the road that the campground was located. Pretty much on cue as soon we approached the Belgian border the hills started again and one reasonably long climb out of Valkenborg drained the last of my juices and did me in. The following day I was feeling totally flat with no power left as we did the last 30km into Liege. It’s a good thing we have a couple of quite days here before the frenzy of the tour starts so that I can eat like a pig and try to recover some energy.

George of course looks completely fine and rested. No doubt he could ride 100 mile days endlessly without slowing down.

Last night was the tdf rider presentation in the town square. Each of the teams came up on stage and were saluted with a snippet from either Stevie Wonder’s Sir Duke or the tag before the b section of I Feel Good. That got old after the first few teams.

The riders then did a lap of the square slowly, sometimes stopping to give autographs to kids. George called out to Christian van de Velde as he went past, who then stopped and turned around to greet his friend from Chicago. I was too slow to get a photo.

Today we rode the prologue course in the rain, and with piss stops, rain stops and Liege traffic it took almost an hour to cover the six km course.

The Tour starts tomorrow!

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Reasons not to cycle in Germany 96km

George and I wandered into Germany for a day yesterday and were not tempted to linger for the following reasons:

You’re expected to ride on bike paths as in holland, but the paths in Germany are far bumpier, stop and start annoyingly and often turn into a normal footpath.

Germans don’t clean up their dogshit.

Germans lack the warmth, friendliness and perfect English of the Dutch.

German drivers are less considerate than the Dutch.

McDonald’s in Germany requires a log in to use the wifi, preventing cycle tourers from uploading their blog without having to imbibe a revolting quarter pounder.

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Venlo to Nijmegen 68km

After yesterday’s persistent rain, today brought clear skies but a steady headwind. With some luck the wind will maintain this heading and blow us back to Liege for the start of le Tour.

Our destination was the National Bicycle Museum in Nijmegen. As well as cycling monuments, George likes to seek out bicycle museums as well.

It was less than 70 kms to Nijmegen, but the winds and the monotony of riding on bike lanes made the ride seem far longer than it really was. The Dutch have done a great job of organising their road system to accommodate bikes, and George and I agreed that this would be a good destination to bring a novice touring cyclist with its flatness, non intimidating traffic and ample camping facilities. But for a more experienced cyclist it gets a bit dull pretty quickly. We’ve done two days here and that’s pretty much enough. I asked George what more there is to see of the place and his reply was “dykes”.

The bike museum was good though. Some really nicely preserved specimens of early bicycle history from the bone shaking wooden rollers through to penny farthings (dozens of them) and the eventual progression to the safety bicycle.

Germany is up next and we plan to head back toward Liege just on the other side of the border. Let’s see if the Germans yell at us for riding on the wrong roads.

Looking forward to getting back to France so I don’t have eat quarter pounders in order to keep you all updated.

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Oost Maarland to Venlo 87km

A flat and rainy ride in holland. Often in areas bordering on Belgium where things are Dutch to all appearances but license plates are Belgian. Is this a tax dodge?

Bike paths can sometimes be a pain in the neck but what we have seen so far here is pretty well designed and efficient. They follow the main road and don’t diverge or end in silly dead ends.

George and I are working our way towards the national bicycle museum of the Netherlands. Then plan to return to Belgium via Germany.

Camp grounds are plentiful in Holland, and with a slight twisting of George’s arm we spent a second night in one near Venlo. Showers two days in a row!

I would like to thank my Internet sponsor McDonald’s for the opportunity to upload this post and pollute my innards with a quarter pounder.

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Seraing to Oost Maarland 50km

What a difference a border can make. One minute we were riding down a potholed Belgian street past Frite shops and the next we were rolling past beautifully architectured houses, neat front yards and people riding bicycles. We had entered the Netherlands.

The day started in a forest near the delightful Seraing where George fitted a new chain to his bike in preparation for the tdf. We then made our way up a decent climb to the Stan Ockers memorial where I most ran into the back of George as he slammed on his brakes in excitement at seeing the monument. I had a waterbottle in my right hand so couldn’t grab the brake but managed to push George out of the way and jump off the bike before it went down.

We took a few photos then headed back down the hill to Liege where the tour is commencing. We happened upon a critical mass ride there which we rode with until I found a McDonalds that I could use to steal Internet.

After visiting another relatively useless tourist office we were looking for the library when a local pounced on us and offered directions. But then he began telling us his bike touring tales and before long invited us to his house. He regaled us with more stories about his disappearance to Norway, his art projects and bike touring. Quite an interesting fellow if somewhat paranoid.

We passed through Vise, the start of stage two of the tour and just next to the Dutch border. We checked into a campground and I finally popped my cherry and had a shower.

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Namur to Seraing 102km

A statistical entry

Number of days since my last shower: 10
Number of nuclear reactors cycled past today: 1
Number of Belgian cities worth visiting: 0
Number of trail bikes that just rode past our campsite: 2
Number of clean articles of clothing in my possession: 1
Number of days in a row that I’ve eaten steak for dinner: 4
Number of times that I dropped my chain and put it back on with a stick today: 3
Number of litres of metho used for cooking so far: 2
Number of mcdonalds wifi drive bys that have been executed to enable blog upload in Belgium: 2
Number of functioning publicly accessible water taps that we’ve encountered in Belgium: 1
Number of kilometres cycled in the last ten days: 1009
Number of punctures: 1

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