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.
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.”- MFSThere 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.