Dispatch: Pétange

World Champion Fingernails and Passing LuLus from Guest Contributor Jeremy Dunn

At first we couldn’t find the race and were left wandering the streets until coming upon some Czech riders. We asked in French, English, and finally Polish, but they didn’t know where the course was either (or didn’t know what we were asking). Bikes on the car, lots of pointing, and a wave to c’mon and we were off in right direction.

This is actually the second time I have been to this race which is always held on that first day of the year. The previous evening’s festivities made it a rougher start last time. Not so with this year’s race, but a weak feeling still came to my stomach when we finally turned the corner to look up the road at the starting straightaway. It is lightly cobbled street running directly up into the forest surrounding the small village. It is also a telling indicator of what is to come: climbing, wet turns, greasy turns, and more climbing.

Marriane is here. Her cousin/official race photographer Anton told us this is the 7th or 8th time that she has been to the race in Petange. When I ask why Marriane keeps coming back he says it is because she has been here so many times. “So many times they keep bringing her back? Or so many times she feels an affiliation to it?” “Yes, something like that I am sure,” he responds.

Marriane looks a bit more frail when you are standing right up next to her. I find this happens often with professional cyclists. This time it is even more so. It could be the daintily painted red nails. I want them to be painted in World Championships colors but do not tell her. Would you tell her? She takes time before the start of the race to pose for a couple photographers. They politely step in front of her and she obliges with a radiant smile.
She knows she is a bit of an outcast here, at least to the other lady riders. She has bested the best of them and will do so again today, but standing at the start line “skinny legs and all” she is just another semi-adolescent teenage girl nervously eying up her peers. The interesting thing is that she is no longer one of them. She has surpassed them all and in turn they have ousted her from the usual jokes and banter that come along with being on the start line of just another small, grassroots race. It saddens me a bit but the feeling quickly disappears when she shatters the race from the gun. She cares not for these things, our Marianne.

Julie is here too. She rallies in second to make a good showing at the race. The fierce competition with the U23 boys is where her race becomes humorous. As she passes these “LuLus” (as the French call the young Luxembourg cyclists) the look on their faces is somewhat hard to describe…desperation is probably the closest thing. They wildly look from side to side and wonder how it is they are being beaten by, gasp, a “girl.” Their minds grope for answers and in turn they try to force their bodies to do things that they are unable to do.
One boy goes shooting off into the woods as Julie calmly slides past him over a steep section of the course. Another struggles with shouldering his bike as she runs around him though the mud’s deepest part. For a moment he looks as if he is going to give up this sport altogether. He doesn’t, and fits the bike over visibly sagging shoulders and soldiers on.

After the race there is the podium and on the podium there are smiles, flashes, World Champion stripes, pink candy stripes and blue stripes of old Belgian and Lux men hanging around to get a photo of Marianne and Julie. They shove and elbow their way to the front of the stage using their umbrellas to block anyone from getting near and snap and snap and snap.

As darkness descends on this small Luxembourg town, it is all over once again.

Side Note: As I thought more and more about the old man Belgian style I saw more and more of it. Thick sweaters. Knit watch caps. Pipes! My god there was a pipe. Belgian beers sticking out of coat pockets. Gluwine. Checkered linings to waxed cotton jackets and boots that would make your Grandfathers Red Wings jealous. Keep it up guys.

Side Note 2: The snacks here are delicious and make Doritos look like a gross and creepy older American cousin that no one wants to hang out with. Nuts with a coating of crunchy salty deliciousness.

Text and Images by Jeremy Dunn.