Combining pelotons from all over the city and its suburbs
The groups are arriving from the Bastille, the République, from all corners of Paris and beyond… even all the way from Marseille – proof that this event is making noise. New faces mix with ones we have come to recognize as regulars. Three hundred cyclists according to the number of registered riders. The wide diversity of profiles catches the eye: men and women, all ages, all styles, with their own temperaments, some discreet, others extroverted. There is also diversity in the attention to one’s kit and the level of investment in gear… but this really is not a priority.
For this first Challenge of the year, we departed in front of one of the biggest historical monuments of Parisian cycling and one too often forgotten: the Jacques Anquetil velodrome, hidden in the trees of the Bois de Vincennes. It was on this track of cement that Merckx sealed his five Tour de France victories. A sacred monument indeed…
The organizers and partners arrived first: Time bicycles and Louison Bobet cycling apparel. It is not quite 8 a.m. and the sun hesitates a little to rise. The woods are sunk deep in the fog. The backdrop is fantastic. The weather is crisp but it is not quite raining. It could easily be described as a not very beautiful day, but weather is relative and wanting to ride in the middle of January comes with some risks.
Addiction: the law of a series
The Classics Challenge Paris launched its second season with sights set on the east, toward Provins and its medieval ramparts. Each CC route revisits an ancient road/trail emanating from Paris – “Classics”, we call them. Cycling is a sport with memory, and it would be a shame to let them fade. As has become the norm, the rides leave Paris from bike café KM0, and heads toward an outlying city. Most participants return to Paris by train, but some riders pedal back to extend the pleasure and to push their vice.
Overall, the feedback from the first season was more than encouraging, and you might even call that an understatement. In a matter of months, we went from the idea of a new kind of club to a craze with more than 2000 members who have become nearly “addicted” as if to a gripping TV series. Adding to the excitement are all the positive comments posted on our Strava club where the participants share their favorite moments thanks to the exceptional beauty of the roads and the absence of cars. CC riders know how to mix performance with conviviality, meeting people throughout the ride and often sharing stories and a beer together at the end. And then suddenly, it all stops until the next month like in a suspenseful primetime drama before the days of binge watching and you just had to wait. But that does not keep us from wanting to know next month’s destination as soon as one Challenge comes to an end. The anticipation is such that this season there will be 11 Challenges when last year there were only seven. All with the understanding that cycling is not reserved for sunny days, but it is a yearlong pleasure.
In front, they shine. In back, they enjoy it differently
It must be said that the Classics Challenge is not a race, and this is without a doubt a major difference from traditional cycling events. Also, to slip in another detail, it is entirely free and depends on the support of its partners who make this atypical experience possible. The participants do not come for the competition which does not mean that performance is not an objective. Already the distances are substantial: over 100 kilometers in winter and 200 or more in summer. The long routes are not suited for brand new riders, but those who sign up choose the pace group they wish to ride with just as in a running race. The fastest groups (averaging more than 35 kph) take off first, with the slower pace groups departing every 15 minutes thereafter. It is up to everyone to figure out his or her own pace group. There are no monitors, no checkpoints and no arrow markings. The participants upload the route from Strava onto their GPS devices. Watching the start, the CC is without a doubt the only cycling event in France where every type of bike is represented and welcome: the couriers, the road racers, the long-distance riders, those proudly wearing their local club jersey and the all black alleycats and urban hipsters. Regardless of the gear and look, everyone comes together for this moment, for this ride. And while the first pace group is burning rubber in front, the groups in the back chat, laugh, snap photos, take their time, allow their thoughts to wonder and ponder. They pause for a breaks. They stop for coffee, clean out bakeries, and make new friends. And to officially register your participation, you simply upload your activity to your Strava account and voilá!
Video by Guillaume Farges
And see you next month…
However you want to ride, there is a place for you, making the CC motto – Liberté, Gratuité, Fraternité – more than just a slogan. Even though Classics are not races and there are no prizes to be won, riders are rewarded with beautiful and lasting memories. There are landscapes that we thought we knew and that we rediscover, from plateaus to valleys, from open fields to forests, from wheat fields to vineyards, into the fog and through the clearings. There are small roads which can be enjoyed at every speed, and there are climbs where you will stop at the top to wait for your group unless you are the one they are waiting for. There are the acts of human kindness: the tire someone helped to change, the sandwich shared, and the smile offered by a shopkeeper. They will be remembered and returned, maybe in another city, or another country. After all, why not? We can dream that one day the CC might spread beyond the boundaries of France. Cycling is like life. It forever draws us to our next adventure.