Saturday, 29 September 2012

Detour De France (Pt 4 Look Dad it's the Gherkin)

Le Dudes
This was our last day in France and the last day of the ride. And as much as I wanted to get home, part of me just wanted to keep going....well for as long as the sun shone.
The previous night had been great, but sleep had been in short supply. Still this should be our shortest day of the trip, about 100 miles on the nose, so easy no matter what.
We assembled in a patch of sun in the square in Montreuil-Sur-Mer, well I say we because Joe was having issues with eggs and was delayed whilst he wiped them off his head. Then Joe appears all bare chest and flip lops, but straight away he bursts into a torrent of swearing as eggs fall out of his jersey, all you can hear is every version of the 'F' word and the splat splat of eggs splattering all around him.
Lets go!
It's been a great trip
no hurry to leave
Iain leads us out over the customary pavé and into the countryside. At this point some want to press on and some don't want to leave. I'm of the latter and sit back with Derrie who is joining us this morning. The big bonus is that my knee is acting like it was never in trouble the day before, so I cruise along taking in the architecture and the lovely stream following the road. The others will have to stop at the Channel anyway.
We are taking in some stunning countryside today including several Passage Dangerous. This section is taking longer than expected though, so a good job we got away early. And to make matters worse as we roll into a great village with classic white dust roads Joe punctures a tub and struggles with a replacement.
We're now riding on roads familiar to me. Around Guines we meet endless groups of riders in their Sunday best. I'm loving some of the classic bikes they're on.
We hit Calais with no time to spare, except for the customary cheese and ham sandwiches we've been living on. We board the shuttle and get driven onto the train, and grab a nap.
Half an hour later we're back in Old Blighty. And it's just 70 miles left to go. Prior to getting back to Folkstone I'd been worried about facing a headwind all the way home, but my fears were unfounded the wind was going to be no trouble at all.
We saddled up and set off at a cracking pace and in good order. I was very impressed at our progress, we had so much left we had to make sure we eased off at times.
Following the A20 home isn't great, but moving like this in this weather makes a big difference. Then we hit the South Downs, our route takes us up a monster three part climb, and although it spreads us out it's only seconds that split us. Once over the downs the countryside starts to give way to towns. I think it's Maidstone? or some town begining with M, a town in bloom so the signs say that greets us next, when we hear 'hwwwwr hwrrrrrrrrrr hweeerrrrrp coming from the back of our group? Joes guts are having an argument with his mouth and shortly after taking on water barfs all over the said town in bloom whilst still riding. We drop a gear and move on.
Just after our first sighting of 'that there London Town' in the far distance we regroup with Iain, Toby and Tom and decide how best to ride the final busy leg of the A20 into London. Against Iains wishes and common sense we ride the three laned A20 in Club 10 TT mode. It was hairy as well and Iain is relieved when we all regroup safely at our turn off. At this point riders and crew part company and Jason takes over using his Garmin. We are in London now and it's busy. The bus lanes offer sanctuary and we press on. The final few miles seem to take an age, but we know that all towns really slow down progress.
riding the colours
We are getting very near now so I push Jason to the front as this was his baby, I tell Rob to get in next for all the work he has done.
Then Iains support car sweeps in like something from a Presidential convoy. The hazzards go on and Toby hangs out of the window to get the final images.
**** the traffic Iains in control and he is leading us home.
A few more corners and we're back. I get off the bike and it feels odd straight away.....what now?
I look around and see Jason in tears hugging his kids, Iain gives me a man hug  and my eyes well up, Robs keeping his glasses on and Joe seems to have dust in his eyes. It also feels odd that I probably won't see Craig or Derrie again when so much was shared on the journey.
It's getting dark now and after some welcome Stellas and a big thank you from the charity we really have to make plans to get oursleves home.
I never like leaving mates, but we have to go, but we promise to meet another day to chew the fat.
Thanks guys it was emotional.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Rushmere Park

View from the visitors centre
One of the last fine days of 2012?
Smashing morning riding alone on the cross bike from home to Rushmere Park. Even at 8.30am the sun was beating down hard on the terrace of the visitors centre, a good coffee would have gone down well.

Detour De France (Pt 3 Epic day goes Pete Tong)

Team Green (in blue) go to Paris 
There's no we we're leaving Paris without a blat down the Champs-Élysées TdF style. So we do have a blat,  I can't help notice how high the kerb is that is sanctuary to the pros on their last day. Get that wrong at speed and ! After a 6-Up TT we arrive at the Eiffel Tower, I'm amazed that you can just roll right up to it. We stop here for a quick photo opportunity. Iain taps his fingers while Toby does his David Bailey and we do our best Austin Powers poses.
We say a quick goodbye and ride off out of town. Crossing the Seine is a treat, but it's nice to see the city slowly turn to countryside. Once out in rural France we realise how well Iain and Toby have done regards route finding, they get us out far quicker than the now ex guide got us in.
We are now rolling along and the day is shaping up to be a scorcher, it's all really great except I have a bad pain in the knee caused by the traffic lights of Paris. It means I have to watch every pedal stroke making it a double pain. Still the great weather is making this a joy. Even with knee pain we're chomping up the miles. Then we hit this stunning road, the sun is now really going to work and there's no wind at all it's just fantastic to be riding here. There's no point getting on a wheel, up here it's cycling pedal you go.
We ride for a good few hours like this, but realise we will need a stop to put back what the heat and roads have taken out. Iain has this covered, and we pull into a little town where we sit in the shade of some trees in the local churches grounds. We get treated to real food, loads of it. It's tempting to stay here, but we have to move on. We give Joe an hours notice, which gives him just enough time to get dressed and creamed up and then roll out.
33 degrees
The second half of this day is about to get much tougher.
It's now peaking at 33 degrees and the roads are going skywards. We are meant to stop for a briefing, but Vince and Jason have gone on and are now just dots on the horizon. Craig has the bit between his teeth, and myself and Rob are in pursuit with Joe storming up behind us. It's not long before we are all strung out, a long long drag has split us up and my knee is killing me. This bit isn't fun, I'm not used to being the weakest rider it hurts my pride as well as my knee. I've been here before so I dig in and ride my own ride. Just as I reach my lowest ebb the terrain settles down. At the next town I catch up with Vince, Rob and Joe. Robs pushed hard in this heat and needs water, so he and Joe stop for supplies. I carry on with Vince and I'm really glad of his wheel.
From here the riding hits the first proper hills of the whole ride. These are epic and I can't even get out of my saddle to enjoy them. I'm experiencing a strange mix of purgatory and joy! Vince zig-zags at the tops of the climbs to let me know he is waiting for me. I tap away like this for what seems miles and miles. Then out of the blue we hit one hell of a descent, it's as if we are going to lose all that ascent in one kilometre. Passage dangereux as they say. Actually it's not 'as if' we are, we're not descending off the hill we're falling off it.
After a few whoops and wave to Iain and Toby we hit a tough road, one of those roads that never seems to get you any nearer to where you're going? I really need Vinces wheel know. I have to save some for day four. It's a very long haul before I see Tom and Rick who wave us into the next town. Here we meet Jason and Craig and sit down at a café for coffees.
We're here for quite a while before Tom joins us to tell us somethings wrong. It seems that Rob and Joe have gone off piste since our last sighting. The support crew spend the next few hours searching for them and we sit tight. Our thoughts range from 'they'll be alright' to when do we call the hospitals?
Then the gurning duo appear. Just a simple case of mistaking a bend for a turning. We regroup and decide what to do. We calculate that in the time we've been waiting we could have reached our destination. but quite frankly sipping coffee and watching madmoiselles passing by has been better than the last few miles we rode. A decision is made to ferry some riders to the finish, whilst Vince, Joe and Craig ride as much as they can before leaving it too late to arrive.
The support car swishes us to our hotel in Montreuil-Sur-Mer a beautiful pavé ridden classic of a French town.
As we unload  and secure all the kit the trio turn up. Something has happened on the road, but what happens on the road stays on the road. All I can say is that Craig isn't wearing socks on his arrival?
I will say this only once
Showered and changed we neck a welcome  Leffé in the bar. Once again we are too late for the restaurant, but the hotel reserves a table for us at a local restaurant aptly named 'Froggys' and no I haven't come over all  Jim Davidson. We sit down to some great food, or as Toby calls it 'the tits' we are also celebrating Vinces birthday the drink and banter flows late into the night. The pains and frustrations of the day have been washed away and we can retire happy. Tres bien.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Detour De France (Pt 2 next stop Macdonalds Paris)

Ready to rock
Day two dawns, it's cold but the sun is starting to rise. We've just had a good night in St Omer and now we have to get to Paris. There's just the small issue of the 160 miles of French roads that stand in our way.
We don't fuss about this morning, I'm actually distracted by the lovely old Rolls Royce in the hotel car park. So as soon as the bottles are in the cages we set off. Today we have Toby joining us, if I'm correct Toby has only ever ridden 65 miles max? so this is a bit heroic.
We leave St Omer bouncing over the pavé and head out into the countryside. It's just fantastic. The roads are great and quiet giving Craig and Joe plenty of time to race for towns. We can even afford to split up into small groups, I ride with Derrie at the back then chat with Jason as with glide through the Somme. And even with miles to go I play chase with Craig and Joe. Things couldn't possibly be better on a cycling road trip.
Even our part time guide is with us.
Because this is a big day we are breaking it down into 45 mile legs, it's a distance everyone seems happy with. At 90 miles we take a 'proper' food stop knowing we've gone past the half way point, and we think we have what amounts to a Sunday 100km ride left....we thought.
En route and still together
We set off with that 'it's all downhill from here' attitude. Then we hit a small not very well known French town. Our guide stops us and points out that our next stop is Breteuil and we are to look out for it. I'm suddenly overcome with a sense of worry, erm we are in Breteuil. But hey the guide knows best, this is what his getting paid for right? We're not so sure. Vince rides along side of me and points out that we have the sun on the wrong shoulder. Not only that, but we are heading for some horrible looking climbs. This isn't right. Jason tells me we are on the wrong road, or more to the point not where we should be. We hit the hills and Derrie starts to suffer. Toby is also suffering, this wasn't on the route plan. The hills come alive with the Tourettes version of the 'Sound of music'. Some of the riders are rightly cheezed off and we get a puncture as well. Like true Brits we carry on. I don't know where our guide has gone, but with a little help from the locals we reach our support team, waiting for us in a very pleasant French square. The support crew get it right again and fresh coffee is on hand to supplement the road food.
One of the last things our guide told us was that Paris was a mere 40'ish miles away. And although Derrie was feeling it, this news was music to his ears. It sounded about right, we'd done 120 miles after all. Toby at this point gracefully bailed out for the day with a whopping 120 miles under his belt, more that double he'd ever done before.
Then came the bad news. Poor Iain had to deliver it. It wasn't 40 to Paris it was nearer 70. Derrie was not a happy bunny, although he was riding on he needed to know what was going on, our guide had taken us on a hilly detour it wasn't what he needed.
We fitted our lights and left the square. It was all a bit heads down and press on, not really the way we wanted to enter Paris. We did all pull together making sure every man was in. Then as dusk drew in we stopped. We stopped under the pretense to check if we needed anything. In reality we'd stopped because our guide was lost. And as it was getting dark he couldn't read his map - game over.
Now I'm a well known luddite, but this guy had nothing. No sat-nav, no GPS and so it seems not even a torch. I didn't hear the 'discussion' going on, but that was my last sighting of the guide that day.
You know how they say 'If you want a job doing properly' well say hello to the LBRCC support crew. After a quick cabinet reshuffle we set off for Paris. This was it, we're going to get there, even if we were following the ex guides route. We reached the outskirts in total darkness and suddenly hit a bitch of a hill, not only was it a climb it was also poorly covered pavé. And sadly at this point after riding so far Derrie climbed into the support car. I felt so sorry for him to come this far and have to bail because of our guides cock up.
The rest of us press on silently after losing Derrie. Though we catch up with him again as we regroup to follow the lead car into the town itself. What follows is pure purgatory, we are stopping every 20 metres for the lights. It takes us 90 minutes to travel the final 7 miles. And more worrying is that my knee is killing me from all the clipping in and out, the downside of choosing my race bike to do this on. Finally we pull off the main streets and roll up to our hotel. We meet our guide here who greets us with food, when in reality it's the cold leftovers from the next group he is guiding - good luck with that. Tom our back up man arrives to find that no arrangements have been made for vehicle parking, and lets rip with both barrels and rightly so.
We mooch about before getting everything secured then head off for a well deserved shower. It's gone midnight now and the restaurant is shut, so we head of out to Macdonalds. We are in blindingly good spirits, and sit down in the streets to a sumptuous meal of burgers and chips. Still hungry and with Macdonalds now shut we head over to the nearest 24 hour garage and stock up with Haribos and fizzy pop and chomp our way back to the hotel for a well earned sleep. Ahh Paris by night.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Detour De France (Pt 1 heading South)

To Paris - using the Polocini sat-Nav method
Or to call it by it's official title 'London2Paris2London' a cunningly named ride from our great city to Paris and back, and all in aid of the carers Trust.
I should mention all those that made this ride a goer and kept us going, but I'm not going to. I'll just say that those, and they know who they are were great.
Anyroadup to the ride. Day one was a 70 miler from Greenwich to Folkstone, followed by a 45 mile leg from Calais to St Omer for our overnight stop. Our day was looking like a cracker, the sun was out, the wind was in and spirits were high. But before we could get going we had a bit of PR to do. This meant a quick 5 mile dash across town to meet with representatives from the charity, a geezer from the press and a smiling politician, sadly we didn't have a baby for him to hug! I must add that we had shit loads of well wishes from the London cycling crowd on the was to the start. And they say Londoners are miserable?
With the shoot done and tyres squeezed one more time we were off. Jason set the pace, plus he was the only one with a Garmin so no choice really. He was going at a fair old crack, but I put that down to him exorcising the frustrations of the months and months of planning.
Just miles in we lost someone. No one important like, just the bloke who was meant to be guiding us, handing us drinks, carrying spares and wot nots. I won't mention his name or company, but he was on a fair old bung to do this job. There's a word in the English language 'omen' this was the absolute dictionary definition  of that word. So off we set all alone in a sort of point South and follow the sun type of way, a way that coincidentally followed that ancient well trodden path called the A20. Following the A20 wasn't that bad actually, until we hit the paralympics! and had to follow a hilly detour where a nice policeman on a motorcycle guided our way. Where our motorcycle guide was I don't know? But at the end of the detour we found Tom and Toby waiting for us with food and drink laid out, chairs at the ready. Even at this early stage it was nice to see the guys that were keeping this thing going. We sat and chatted, took on food and waited for the whole team to assemble including the AWOL guide before making a dash for Folkstone. We moved on quick sticks and in good order, and hit the town of Eurotunnel in no time. We had a five minute sarnie stop where Craigs rear tyre went pop. Rather than repair it we stuck him on the van and the rest of us rode to the shuttle. Even though the crossing is a quick one myself and Joe managed a good nap....age you see.
Follow me I'm right behind you!
Then before we knew it we were in France. We had a quick re group, a good chat and set off for the hotel.
Something felt wrong. I've ridden this coast line may times and the wind has always been in my face when heading south so why was it in my face now? Answer = because we were being guided the wrong way. After a quick turnabout we blasted it to St Omer. Sadly the poor guiding and detours meant we were riding to our overnight stop in darkness. Never mind though we were all in great spirits. Then I saw it, the hotel but no it couldn't have been our one because we sailed on right past it. On we went along a great road with the river beside us and up into our first town to give us a chance to ride on Pavé. If you haven't ridden pavé the novelty wears off in the first few feet. We are then brought to a halt by our hapless guide, seems we have missed the shit Sherlock, could it be the one we passed a while back? So back along the pavé down a one way street the wrong way and we see our support team waving us home. With the evening drawing in we shower quickly and head to the restaurant. Tom gets a round in which is more than welcome.
All done in we sit down to some great banter and wonderful food. We are all hoping that the next day is going to be as good as or better than today, it's the big one, the 160 miler to Paris and we need the weather Gods on our side. Food, drink and scenery all taken in we hit the sack.
Today France tomorrow the world
Until tomorrow gentlemen.