Returning to Paris after a trip to the Alps, there was an e-mail from Olivier Csuka of Cycles Alex Singer: “We will meet tomorrow at 7 at the boutique. About 150 km.”
I set my alarm, and in the first light of day, I rode up the Champs Elysées as everything was being set up for the last stage of the Tour de France. The Singer shop isn’t far from there. Soon after I arrived at the shop, the group had assembled, and we rolled through the quiet suburbs of Paris.
Due to the late notice and early departure, I had not been able to eat breakfast. Fortunately, in France, there are bakeries almost everywhere. The first few we passed were closed this early on Sunday morning, but on one street corner, there was the unmistakeable scent of fresh bread. I popped inside as the others continued. One rider waited outside, ready to bring me back to the peloton.
Inside, one of the clerks looked at me and the departing peloton, and without asking the other customers, waved me to the front of the line and sold me three petits pains au chocolat. Less than a minute after I stopped, I was on the wheel of the other rider as we sprinted back to the group. That mission accomplished, I started eating my deliciously warm croissant, the chocolate still half-molten inside.
Paris can be intimidating to me. I don’t mind riding in the city, but getting out into the country seems impossible, as the suburbs stretch on forever. However, Olivier knows the best routes, and in no time, we were cycling on quiet roads through picturesque villages.
The riding was spirited without being competitive, and everybody was having a good time. Above is Olivier with his wife Catherine.
During Ernest Csuka’s last years, there were two groups, one with the young riders and one with Ernest’s friends who were in their sixties and seventies. Now there is only one, and the age of our group ranged from the 20s to the late 60s. As so often, looks can be deceiving, as shown by this rider who pedaled smoothly and without showing any effort, yet tended to be among the first on top of the hills. He has been a friend of the family for a long time – 45 years ago, he baby-sat Olivier Csuka…
There was one mock sprint, and I soon realized why. We were approaching our lunch stop, a small brasserie (pub). Olivier and a few others rode into the town center to buy charcuterie (cold cuts) and bread. Everybody ordered their drinks – beer, Coca Cola or Orangina were popular. A well-organized operation sprang into action as one rider cut the bread, two others put the meat on them, and soon everybody was eating, drinking and chatting merrily. At the end, everybody pitched in five Euros, and the tab was settled.
The bikes waited outside. Here was the first time that I saw a 23 mm Grand Bois “Extra Léger” tire in action – many of the bikes were equipped that way. Not all were Alex Singers, as some riders prefer modern carbon. The bike with the handlebar bag is mine – I found it useful to store the chocolate croissants!
For the benefit of the two guests – there also was a Japanese journalist on the ride – we went to the local château for a group photo.
As we returned to Paris, we saw spectators lining the road, waiting for the Tour stage that night. There was still time for a shower, dinner, and then I joined the crowds welcoming the professionals at the end of their big race.