After Paris-Brest-Paris, Theo and I rode out to Chanteloup in the hills west of Paris. After every PBP, we organize a small reunion of the Pilotes de René Herse (the riders on René Herse’s team) at the restaurant where the team used to eat after the Poly de Chanteloup hillclimb race. During recent reunions, some of the pilotes brought their bikes, and we rode around the course of the Poly.
Due to a relatively short notice, only six people participated, but it was a fun event nonetheless. Left to right: Theo, Lyli Herse, Jan, Jean-Marie Comte, Max Audouin (current-day randonneur and friend) and Robert Demilly.
Readers of the René Herse book will know Comte as one of the four riders who were a formidable presence in the randonneuring competitions that were popular at the time, including the Poly hillclimb races. However, they also were capitaines de route who guided the group rides of the Audax brevets… Being able to ride fast was an asset when trying to keep these groups together.
Robert Demilly, the other pilote at the reunion, came first in the 1966 Paris-Brest-Paris, together with Maurice Macaudière. They set a record of 44:21 hours in the process. The photo above shows Demilly leading Macaudière on the approach to Paris during the final stages of this amazing ride. (Their story was published in Bicycle Quarterly 21.)
We all enjoyed an excellent dinner, then Robert Demilly changed into his cycling clothes and led us during a lap around the course of the Poly de Chanteloup. On our way to the restaurant, we already had climbed the famous 14% hill that the randonneurs ascended 11 times during their 100+ km event.
We started our ride on the forested plateau of Hautil, then launched into the descent toward Maurecourt. The road is very steep and bumpy, but Monsieur Demilly handled his Look racing bike with aplomb. Max and Lyli followed in the car – Lyli wanted to relive her many tandem exploits in the Poly, but we couldn’t find a tandem to fit her. Two years ago, to celebrate her 85th birthday, I had the honor to pilot her around the course on an Herse “Chanteloup” tandem (with curved seat tube for better performance up- and downhill)!
In Maurecourt, we had to detour due to construction, but soon we found ourselves on the original course again.
After a short ride along the Seine, we turned up the hill of Andrésy. It’s not the main hill, but it’s steep and long. I had admired Monsieur Demilly’s pedal stroke on the flats, but now I could see that he also had plenty of power. Especially impressive for a 75 year-old!
We rolled along a false flat, then we turned a corner and found ourselves right in front of the beautiful church of Chanteloup. I couldn’t take a photo, since I was too busy shifting to the small chainring. Now the famous climb began in earnest. I sprinted ahead to take the photo above, and then had a hard time catching up to Theo and Monsieur Demilly. Part of it was the 1200 km of PBP that still were in my legs, but those two really climbed well (see also photo at the top of the post).
The hill was long, and it was hot. When we finally reached the top, we stopped at the monument for a professional racer who died in his 20s. Monsieur Demilly, who used to work as a mechanic for the French national team, filled us in on the details of this racer and his untimely death.
Then we went to Lyli Herse’s house for refreshments and more reminiscences. We talked until late in the evening, and the sun was setting when Theo and I set out to return to Paris.
We rode along the Seine, then crossed the Pont d’Asnières, passed near the Alex Singer shop in Levallois-Perret, before launching into Paris traffic on the way back to our hotel. As we jostled with taxicabs for position on the cobblestone roundabout of the Place de la Bastille, we shouted at each other: “What a fun day!”
Correction 8/24: The original post listed the square with the cobblestones as Place de la Nation. We traversed both, but only the Place de la Bastille has cobblestones.
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