At 6:30 in the morning on a Sunday, driving to Liège from Gent takes less than two hours. We’ve done this drive, basically, six times in the last ten days: all the Ardennes starts, team hotels, USA Cycling House, Maastricht, not-Charleroi, Genk, etc., they’re all in this direction. There is only one variable really—do you perform a gravitational slingshot off of Antwerp or Brussels? They both suck. Also, it’s called Antwerpen not Antwerp and there is no “h” in G_ent. It’s just Gent. We almost have this section of freeway wired, but we don’t, and so we stop at a bad freeway gas station village, one with limited coffee machine options (the better gas stations have multiple brands/models/types of coffee machines) and no yogurt. These places remind me of the Service Plazas on the Ohio Turnpike minus the Perkins and Amish Apple Butter. In France they’re called Aires but I don’t know what they’re called in Belgium except wait this is the French-speaking part of Belgium so maybe they’re called Aires here too.“Europe is VERY custom. Languages, traditions, legal systems, public urination etiquette, queuing mores, all custom.”MFS
When purchasing an Argonaut custom is exactly what you want, but when you’re trying to find Liège but you can’t because it’s called Luik in the part of Belgium where they speak Dutch but call it Flemish, custom is a dick. Which reminds me, Benelux, shit, maybe all of Europe but definitely Benelux, is a change-based economy. They love change here, in particular the two euro coin, you can do just about anything here with those fuckers, entire dinners, rent, whatever, it’s all just a handful of coins away. They’re always coming and going and before you know it you could have €569.35 in change in your pocket, €436.00 of which is in two euro coins.“In fact, the only European Entities that do not take, accept, recognize, exchange, or do anything with—except violently regurgitate—the two euro coin are gas station coffee machines. Which is a textbook riddle if you ask me.”MFS
There are no other cars on the road, we listen to the radio and play Maybe That Thing Over There is a Photo Radar Camera Box! for at least an hour. We don’t have our credentials yet. Fabrice’s email states: “Good evening. For all the people who plan to come to pick up their accreditation (and/or photo bib) tomorrow morning at the start, please note that the meeting point for the guests and the medias (little grey caravan) is located just after the « Pont des Arches ». You will have the possibility to withdraw your accreditation from 08:15 am to 09:30 am.”
Google Maps indicates that yeah, Pont des Arches is a thing, and it directs us to the middle of a bridge halfway over the Meuse. We disregard that because why would credential pick-up be on a bridge?, that’s stupid. So we drive directly to Place du Commissaire Maigret, a big diplomatically official-looking building in front of which the race has started every year since the French Revolution. Halfway to the Maigret we’re stopped by a black dude in a green ASO jacket, who, in response to my question about credentials and the rumor going around about a grey van and an arches pont, says, “Speak only French or Africa.” In English I tell him that ‘Africa’ isn’t a language, it’s like, a continent. He laughs but doesn’t—I can tell, don’t ask me how—concede the point. Anyway, about halfway over the Meuse we stop at the grey caravan, as promised, and pick-up our credentials.
The team buses arrive. It starts to rain. Raoul and Martin and Raoul’s friend Mark arrive; including Ian and I that’s five. Martin wants to drive his car and we only have one sticker, which normally we wouldn’t need to see the race even as many as five or six times. This year, because the course has been changed, we will. Things will be tight, Sticker Privilege may be necessary. Complicating things, Ian and I have ALL of our luggage in our car because tonight, after the race, we are driving straight to the Citizen M in Schiphol. Leaving our car on the street, in Liège, is not an option. Raoul and Ian determine to find an underground parking garage where our car and its contents will be safe. Meanwhile I purchase and eat a MAXI pain au chocolate. A MAXI is exactly what it sounds like, an enormous, almost grotesquely enlarged chocolate croissant. It rains some more, Kristof Ramon takes a photograph of me, Matthew Beaudin helps me get on the Cannondale Bus, Alex Howes brushes his teeth. Alex, Nate Brown and Lawson Craddock talk about dental hygiene for a minute but it’s clear their hearts aren’t in it. Someone starts to howl, like really howl, Alex is howling the loudest. Lawson says something like “That’s right, howl like an eagle, howl like you mean it.” I’ve thought about and imagined and generally pondered these kind of pre-game particulars often over the years, so the spontaneous howling (#animalizing) felt more comfortable and reassuring than startling. It was like yeah, this is it, this is exactly as it should be. My lens is fogged, bad, real bad, but I think to myself you can’t photograph howling anyway. I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate. We may never know. I want to howl too but don’t, because I don’t want to kill the vibe. Alex walks over to where I’m standing to grab a pair of scissors, says, “I think I may need to amp down,” and lets out one more howl (only this one is more of a whoop), I say goodbye and walk off the bus towards the start, behind which I get stuck. While photographing Vincenzo Nibali make the sign of the cross a dude with a video camera walks directly in front of me and comes to a stop, blocking my entire field of vision. Over the years, in various manners and for a couple of different reasons, I’ve learned that these video dudes are effectively impervious and oblivious to any form of physical and/or verbal contact: shoving, pushing, name calling, ridiculing, cat calling, whatever you got, they can take. So I did what I do in situations like this, I dragged the end of my camera lens across the top of his head and ears, playfully, gingerly, teasingly, then I slammed it down hard on the crown of his head, paused for effect and then slammed it down again, this time even harder. Then I got bored and left, also the race started.SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENTThis is the last race of MFS’ 2016 Spring Classics campaign. Won’t you buy a poster to remember us by?
A number of things happened over the course of the race and the next five hours. But I only slept for three hours the night before and so it’s all a bit blurry. Here are some highlights:
- The first stop was a new stop. We’ve photographed Liège-Bastogne-Liège two other times previously, and this was our first time at this spot. It was stupid, mostly. I never need to return to this spot again. I remember a forest, the road was steaming and it snowed on my Flyknits.
- Can we talk about that, can we talk about how it really, actually, totally snowed? And several times throughout the day at that. Ian said it was going to but I didn’t believe him. I’m sorry Ian.
- My phone died. My phone never dies. I have a Mophie battery case, WTF, was it not plugged in last night? This is unacceptable. I need to tweet. I’m a tweeter now. I had SO MANY GOOD tweets that will never see the light of day.
- I fell asleep in the backseat and drooled on Raoul’s shoulder. I think he took a selfie of us sharing the moment, #pals.
- The Roche Côte is so good. It’s always good. I love Roche Côte. Those flag ladies and their plastic champagne glasses are always there, it’s classic. Old people in doorways on a steep street, classic. The nearly pathetic but still kind of cute Schleck support, classic. Also, the town of Houffalize has a genuine Nazi Panzer Tank next to the play structures in the park in the center of town.
- Which reminds me, the Ardennes, this part of Belgium, has a lot of World War II History: graveyards, battlefields, Battle of the Bulge, etc.
- A blizzard on the freeway. At this point it’s not just snowing, it’s like… dumping, bro.
- No frites. That’s cool, I def DON’T NEED any more frites.
- A woman on this one road up this one climb stuck her tongue out at me as I photographed her.
- La Redoute is maybe the single greatest section of any bicycle race ever. It’s magical. Did I ever tell you about the time three years ago when we covered this race, when it was so crowded and rowdy and mobtastic that the team cars driving the road ahead of the race were barely able to make it through, and at one point a car got stopped for a couple of minutes, during which time drunk college-aged kids stood on the front and back bumpers and bounced it, while other drunk college-aged kids pulled race wheels off the rack on top and tossed them into the cheering crowd where they crowd surfed into oblivion never, presumably, to be seen again. ROWDY! Anyway, (maybe) more importantly it’s an incredible place to watch the race. Also, once the race goes past, the imminent-at-that-point (30 km) finish can be watched on a Jumbotron located near the bottom of the hill next to the beer tents. La Redoute really is a package deal.
- This year I accidentally stood in front of a fellow photographer about halfway through the peleton’s passing. He shoved me. So I shoved him back. He started to re-shove me back but before he could, I re-shoved him back again. Then, when he put his camera to his face to resume taking bad photographs, I grabbed the end of his lens with the palm of my hand and shoved his camera into his face. Everyone in our immediate vicinity started laughing at me/us/him. Things got tense for a second, but apparently I presented a sufficient barrier to further entry. Meanwhile it stopped snowing and the road started to steam. So steamy this year!
- On the last climb, a cobble number, and new for this year, I hung-out with Jered Gruber. We talked about a lot of things, for example I know he’s at Red Hook Critical Mass this weekend because we talked about it and he told me he was going.
- Alex went by in the top 20. One day he’s going to win a big race and we’re going to be there. I know it.
- Nate Brown hang-loosed Jered and I when he went past.
- Ben King smiled.
Manual for Speed is inside you, but how do you get inside us? Shouldn’t this, the world’s preeminent study of Contemporary Spectacle (Road Cycling), be a two-way street, maybe even a three- or four-way street? Why yes, we should. And now with The MFS Answering Machine, it is. I know what you’re thinking, it sounds great but how does it work? Here’s how it works:
- Soon we will have an answering machine (from the ’80s!!!!!) hooked-up to a phone line.
- It will be as easy as calling and leaving us a message!
- But we don’t yet, so for now you will have to give @manualforspeed on Skype a call, let it ring for a bit, until you’re prompted to leave a message. Then leave your message.
I know what you’re thinking, wow, what a great system but who is it for?!
It’s for you. And you. And you. And you and you and you and you. Not you. And you you you you. It’s for everybody!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Except that one guy.
Okay, I can almost see the gears turning in there! You’re thinking, okay, I know how it works and who it’s for BUT WHAT IS IT FOR!?!?!?!?! It’s for:
- Leaving comments.
- Asking questions.
- Making requests.
- Sharing opinions.
It’s for whatever’s on your mind!!!!!!!! It’s a way to interact with Manual for Speed using your mouth words. It’s for making a candid, intimate and wholesome connection with everyone here at Manual for Speed. And the rest of the world too, if we publish it!
Today we have two calls! The first from Joshua, the second from Alvin:
Guys, we’ll get back to you on this stuff. Thanks for calling in!
For the next three weeks Manual For Speed is your Spring Classics Virtual Reality. Creating a three-week-long virtual reality requires a lot of support both emotionally, psychologically and financially. Our underwriters provide us with all of three and more. We cherish them because of it; won’t you cherish them too?