We left the campground around 10:30 to find a place to watch tomorrow’s race from – it poured rain almost the whole way. The first half of the race is pretty ordinary – going from Liege down to Bastogne with only one climb. The return trip to Liege is much more interesting – there are 10 categorized climbs and we headed to an area that has 3 of them within about 20 miles.
As soon as we reached to town of Vielsalm we started to see the race arrows so we just followed them. The second climb seemed promising as there was a small town just past the crest and there was even a paved parking area within easy walking distance. Since we were so close to the third climb we kept going so we could have a look at the stele to Eddy Merckx that is at the top – he won this race a record 5 times.
We had started to pass sportif riders now and then along the way, and the road was getting thick with them by the time we reached the town of Stavelot, which is the start of the climb. We started up the hill but turned back after only a short way – the road is extremely narrow and the sportif riders were in the way.
We drove back down and through the town, stopped for gas, then pulled over in front of another memorial. This one is to the miners, by which they mean the brave men who went and found and defused the land mines that the Germans planted everywhere as they retreated.
We pondered continuing to follow the race route to the next climb, but decided instead to go up to the Merckx stele on the road the race will come on. Still dodging sportif riders that were coming down we made it up after only one wrong turn. The view from the top is spectacular – you can see the town of Stavelot down below.
The stele is really neat and I’m very glad we made the effort to get to it. We actually parked on the side of the road and thought we might stay there for the race.
As we ate lunch we saw that more and more sportif riders were arriving – and we spent the next couple of hours marvelling at how stupid some of them were.
Many of them were stopping, of course, to see the stele, and they were just standing in the middle of the road even as cars were trying to pass by – the roads aren’t closed during sportifs, and there was no course marshall there or anything. Other riders that didn’t stop turned the sharp corner to the road down without even looking for oncoming traffic – I was sure one of them was going to get run over. And one stupid guy actually leaned his bike against Eddy’s on the stele, thinking maybe it would make an interesting selfie or something – Colin told him have some respect and move it.
Then there were the stupid drivers that were waiting for someone that was riding up – they could all use some parking lessons. One ignorant asshole actually parked right in the middle of the road – when I opened the campervan door and shouted at him to move he argued with me ‘cars can still get by’ and refused to move. Colin eventually had to go over to his window and explain that it was an open public road and he must move. I thought for a minute that Colin might get hit in the face but the jerk just wound up his window – he did end up moving, but was still half on the road.
The local people must just hate events like this, although we were surprised by their restraint in not honking and cursing as much as I would have. The stupidness of so many riders made me embarrassed and I decided I might have to email the organizers of the event to express my overall displeasure. I’ve seen many sportifs now and have several times been annoyed by the clogged roads, but never this disgusted.
I also wasn’t impressed with the garbage – many riders tried to hit the garbage can that was right there, but others didn’t bother. I went out with a large black bag and picked up a bunch of discarded gel wrappers, etc and put the bag next to the can.
And finally, what impressed me the least, was all the pissing that was going on. Riders stopping on the side of the road – at least they weren’t in the middle, small blessing I guess – pulling out their ‘equipment’ and letting loose a stream. It’s not just dogs that do that!
We decided we didn’t want to stay in that spot after all so once the throngs of sportif riders had thinned out a bit we went back down to Stavelot and re-traced the route back to the town of Wanne that is just past the one climb.
We tried out a couple of different places on the side of the road but weren’t satisfied. During this time we kept seeing vintage sports cars whizzing by – a nearby photographer confirmed that there was a rally happening. It seemed to mostly be beautiful old Porches, but there were also other makes.
We ended up back at the parking area at the end of the village. The rain had come and gone a few times, even hailing for a bit. Then, of course, the rainbow came.
We walked over to a lovely restaurant thinking to have a nice meal to celebrate Colin’s birthday which is tomorrow, but they were fully booked.
Across the road was a nice park area that has a small memorial to the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team USA, and there’s also a museum that’s open twice a week.
We’re right across the road from a lovely field full of sheep and a couple of horses – not a bad spot at all.