Monday, September 24, 2007

Rebecca Cycling in Paris

As many PAC Tour riders may know, our daughter Rebecca went to Paris, France for her Junior year in college. She has been attending the University of Minnesota the past two years. She was able to be accepted into an honors program that has classes in France. The following update is from Rebecca and details some of her recent cycling adventures in Paris.


Biking with Phillipe
by Rebecca Haldeman

Today after class at IES I met Phillipe in the Bois de Vincennes at the same place I had gone riding on Sunday. As I was waiting and looking around for him, I noticed how different the crowd was from Sunday. On Sunday, there had been many people on cruiser bikes, leisurely making a tour around the park. Today, after a pack of 30 cyclists passed me at 25 miles per hour, I knew the spirit would be much different. Phillipe was riding in another group and came by shortly after the big pack passed me and stopped to explain the rules of the route. He warned me many times to always be very aware of what's ahead, behind, and to either side of me, because you can never tell what to expect when riding fast in big groups. He said most of the people riding were good cyclists and wouldn't do anything too spontaneous, but every now and then there's an obstruction in the road or something unexpected happens and people crash. His speech scared me out of my wit's end and I wasn't sure that I wanted to ride any more that day, but shortly after we departed and started accelerating.

We joined a group of 20 or more cyclists and for the first 15 minutes, I was terrified. Every time I went around a corner I thought I was going to crash. Every time I had to pass someone I thought I was going to run into someone else. The speed of the group wasn't too fast, and while we were riding Phillipe tried to explain to me the concepts of drafting, of "warming up", of signaling turns, of cornering, etc. After perhaps 4 or 5 laps with the group, Phillipe said it was time to test my heart. Or something like that. He moved to the left of the group and started accelerating more and signaled for me to follow. We passed the group we were with and kept going. I think I remember seeing 37 or 38 kmh on my speedometer, which I was able to hold for about three laps. After that, I felt my legs started to object and didn't want to pedal any more, and no matter how hard I tried to keep up with Phillipe, he pulled away from me. I gave him a shout and he slowed down and we rode slower for a while. It makes sense that I maxed out at that speed, because I can remember riding with Jeannette on the Hub Women's rides and after a mile or two of 22 or 23 mph, I couldn't stay with her. Hopefully my speeds will improve, because in comparison to race standards, I don't think 23 mph is all that fast...

Phillipe and I rode at a more moderate pace for a while and he explained more things to me, recovery, diet, cross training, proper clothing, all things that I am sure I have heard a lot about in the past but I could only understand about 60% of what he was talking about. I kept saying yes to make him keep talking, but I think that maybe he took that for me actually understanding him because then he would move onto another subject. My head was swimming after a while from all of the French and all of the cycling-specific rules and training tips and on and on and on... I don't have a very good idea of how long we rode and how long he talked but in all, we did about three more cardiac exercises, all ending with me shouting "Phillipe!" as he started to get away from me.

I don't have a good idea of who Phillipe is, but he must be a rather well-known cyclist in the Paris area. He told me that he has been involved with cycling, triathlons, running, and athletics in general for quite some time. He knew many people who were riding today and many people knew him as well, which makes me think that maybe the Paris cycling community isn't as big as I thought, or feared. I was the only woman I saw riding today and one time as a group of faster riders overtook us, I heard a half-dozen voices speaking at once to Phillipe with laughing tones, and when I asked Phillipe what they had said, he just said, "What do you think? They're guys." He talked to me about how in France cycling is definitely a male-dominated sport (what isn't?) but welcomed me wholeheartedly. I asked him if he enjoyed helping debutante cyclists improve and he didn't give me a direct yes or no, but said that he found it good to give back to the sport as he has learned a lot over the years from his mistakes and likes sharing his experience with those who haven't acquired it yet.

After we finished at the Bois de Vincennes, he told me that something special was happening at La Cipale, so we rode down there, perhaps only 4 or 5 kilometers from the loop we had been riding. When we arrived, I saw some super-muscular men with super-fancy track bikes and Phillipe told me, in a rather hushed tone, that the man sitting behind him was the World Champion of track. He couldn't remember his name but it turns out there were several world champions at La Cipale that day. I think Phillipe said that there was a television program being recorded on track racing? I don't really know. While we watched the track racers, Phillipe continue to tell me more about proper training and nutrition and what to take on rides and when to ride and when to rest, but by that time I couldn't absorb any more. I wanted to ask him to write me a list of 5 things I need to do right now and when I've finished those, give me another list of 5 things, but I think he was just excited to talk about all of the things he has learned. It was definitely a great exercise for my French skills! More listening than speaking, but still a good work out.

We rode home from La Cipale together and after arriving at my apartment, we arranged another rendezvous on Saturday morning. A short ride, at what speed I couldn't tell. Tomorrow is rest day, then the short ride of questionable intensity on Saturday, then a longer group ride on Sunday when we'll go out through the suburbs of Paris to the country. Phillipe said it would be about a 60 or 70 kilometer ride, and considering I did 50 today, I think I can handle it, as long as it isn't too fast. Upon saying our goodbyes, Phillipe said that I can use the "tu" - familiar form - of addressing him now, because the "vous" form is for... he made a gesture of a person with a big beard. I think I have made a friend! And also, possibly a physical trainer! He told me to go eat a banana and raisins because raisins have some special nutritious feature that I couldn't make out in French. And yogurt too, because it's also special. Hopefully the words will come to me someday...

I'm exhausted now, and look forward to sleep tonight.

PS: As I was leaving the Bois de Vincennes, I saw an older man who I had seen and briefly talked to at Service Velo a week ago. Again, when I was leaving La Cipale, he rode by me! I'm not sure that he recognized me in uniform, but it makes me very happy to already be able to recognize people in Paris.