Riding with old heroes - A country hidden by a large dog - CycleBlaze

August 22, 2019

Riding with old heroes

Luxembourg to Koetschutte

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I WAS riding up a hill one day, feeling sorry for myself, when I was passed by a cyclist with one leg. Leaving aside the question of how you get on a bike if you've got only one leg, I was taken aback that he was going so well and I was going so badly - even though he, in the words of Peter Cook, was a unidexter.

I had that same admiration and inadequacy when, riding a bike path, we caught a deeply tanned woman in just shorts, sports bra and running shoes and not a gram of fat.

We advanced together up a sticky slope at the same speed - 12kmh -she chatting as though it was effortless, me trying to hide that I was going up a mountain.

In the years I fancied myself a marathon runner, I never got to12kmh and anyone who spoke was answered with a grunt.

"I'm out for 20km," she said. "It's just a training run."

Twenty kilometres is coming on for half a marathon.

"The problem is that I haven't run for five days and next week I have a marathon in Switzerland with 2,000m of climbing."

Again, to put that in perspective, the Tourmalet is the highest climb in the Pyrenees and you rise only 1,600m to get over it.

It was then, but only because I asked, that I found her best marathon time was around two and a half hours. That's international level and trotting up a bike path and talking came easy. Chatting to two cyclists was unlikely to make her running diary.

We left Luxembourg city this morning with no trouble, crossing parks, taking side streets and bike lanes. When we overlooked a bike path, a driver leaned from his bus cab to call "Bicycles must be over there." It sounds aggressive in writing but he said it with a smile and he watched to see we'd crossed the junction before returning my wave and driving away.

Riding with Nicolas
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Within a few kilometres of the centre we were on the Nicolas Frantz bike path, named after a Tour de France hero of these parts.Our way rose and fell gently between fields of maize and herds of brown and black and white cows.

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Nicolas Frantz won the Tour in 1927 and 1928, each time taking an electric fire in his luggage because he feared hotels in the mountains would be too chilly.

In 1928 he wore the yellow jersey from start to end, riding part of the way on a heavy borrowed bike that was too small because his  own broke on a level crossing.

He wore the yellow jersey again in 1929, on a day when the Tour had the novelty of three maillots jaunes on the same day. He, André Leducq and Victor Fontan had the same time and there was no way to split ties.

Frantz wasn't a delight. He was gloomy and didn't talk much. He died in 1985 in Mamer, the village where - the story is coming -we chatted to a Brazilian in a bar.

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Short stretches of the railway are still there, but reduced to museums
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These paths are a delight, setting off not along river banks but the traces of old railways, village to village as the trains once ambled, barriers at junctions hold back anything larger than a bicycle.

We talked to a Brazilian woman in a bar, to an Armenian woman in the street, and to a young Swiss girl who had ridden 80km in the time it had taken us to complete 20, though she had the early start that we didn't. It's been an international morning.

Oh, and we also spoke to a Belgian who broke off preparing for a night's fishing to give us water to spend the night in a field beside our path.

His wife, he said, was Macedonian and we said we'd ridden through her country and loved it. We're still in touch with a family at the first campground after Albania who invited us to spend the evening eating sausages and drinking beer.

He wanted to know more and we said we had been on the hilly route to Istanbul.

"Maybe I would do what you do," he said. He patted a generous stomach. "I've got the weight to lose. But I don't think I'd like the effect on my derrière."

Derrière is a quaintly genteel word in French. I doubt it's what he says in front of angling friends.

Not far from the edge of the field that holds our tent is Belgium. A little to the north is Bastogne, which nobody in Belgium would have heard of were it not that a race sets off from Liège each spring and gets that far and turns round again. Bastogne was as far as the judges could get by train, to see that nobody cheated, and then back to Liège before the winner.

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Comment on this entry Comment 3
Suzanne GibsonFor some reason I can't see any of the pictures on this day. All the other pages are fine. I wonder if anyone else had a problem.
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2 years ago
Leo WoodlandI don't know where the fault was but I've redone the page and, here at least, I can see the photos
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2 years ago
Suzanne GibsonIt worked, I can see them now, too. Thanks!
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2 years ago