PEDAL TO PARIS 2013 IN AID OF THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGIONAugust 18, 2013
As you may or may not know i have now finished the ride to paris and what a ride it was. Enjoyed by not only myself but by 5 other west kent members and 2 new recruits that will be joining us soon.
So lets start at the obvious place
Greenwich to Calais approximately 120.43Km to Dover plus 9.65Km from ferry to overnight stop.
Got to Greenwich finally at 7:10, 40 mins late due to the traffic and fog with the feeling of was this the way the ride was going to pan out with problems from the start.
Made my way to get my rider number and find the rest of the team, quick loo break and then speeches, mount up and dead on 8am we were off into the rush hour traffic round blackheath. The first hours up to our lunch break at 2pm in sellindge were traditionally British you know horns blasting and being swore at twice a min, but the weather had warmed up a touch now at 31 degrees.
Lunch went on a bit too long and 30mins later than planned partially due to it being so hot and people needing fluids, up to this point i had drunk nearly 4 litres of a combination of water and energy drink thanks to a re fuelling break in ashford.
We were finally off to Dover and the hill that is Capel Le Ferne which i had been worrying about since we left, approaching capel i took on drink and energy gels in a hope it would get me up there.
I can tell you it was hard but i made it without getting off and walking, it was a slog but i just ground the pedals and made it. At the top is a pub which the faster guys had taken over a quick stop for liquid refreshment and we were once again off a a well earned 5miles all downhill to the waiting ferry which we arrived at a bit late. Quick dash onto the ferry and into our lounge for dinner with the ferry leaving just 10mins late.
All that was left was a quick trip from the ferry to the overnight bike park and off to our hotel, to relax and get ready for day 2.
Calais to Abberville 120.9Km
Day 2 started again with a slight blip, there was only one coach so 50 of us were left waiting at the hotel for another to arrive. Pulling into calais we found the ceremony almost finished as it had to be rushed due to problems at the crossing.
The first thing that struck me after collecting our bikes was the outriders UK=4 France=14 with 4 cars and extra vans, also finding out the French outriders have powers to stop traffic it was looking up.
The ride was nice and smooth with the outriders keeping us flowing with no stopping for lights or junctions it was bliss, the only down side was it started to rain mid morning and lasted to lunch. Most surprising was the French drivers reaction to us which was just pull over bib horns clap and wave a total different reaction to the UK.
Lunch came and went once again thanks to both the support teams and the local and we were quickly on our way to Abberville across open roads through fields with little or no traffic the biggest problem was the head winds which at times clocked 50kmh.
Made it safely to our overnight with little or no problems just a large amount of punctures due to the rain, Abberville is a larger town and the hotel was in the centre which allowed for a Grande Beer in a local bar. This went down well, and capped of a good day bed now and what was said to be a bit of a slog day tomorrow.
Abbeville to Beauvais 106.9km
Day 3 started with the biggest ceremony so far, a wreath was laid and speeches said, for those who dont know Abberville is on the Somme river, the somme is probably the most famous battle in the 1st World war so the ceremony was the most poignant so far.
It was on the next leg up to Lunch where some of the people we were with stop off at a war grave site, this is not a scheduled stop but something they have been doing for a few years now to lay a cross on an adopted grave. The actual grave site is on the spot where a dressing station once stood treating casualties from the main front. Stooping caused a few words with the escort party but i think everybody else was happy for the rest as it was at the top of a nasty little hill. I for one if i do it again will follow the rest of the team in taking a small cross to lay on an adopted grave as a mark of respect.
Back to the riding, it was as it had been sold to me a slog of a day passing across open fields which undulate up and down with as we found a straight flat with a slight incline about 10miles in length. It was at this point the brain was ticking and along with a fellow team member came up with the idea of a perfect 10mile time trial route, this needs to be discussed with the club as i can see a racing road trip.
Lunch soon came round in what had turned into a fantastic day in the mid 20′s for a stop at a place called Poix de Picardie, it was here i was handed a glass of what i thought was black current juice, only to find it was a rather nice merlot but as it was impolite to turn it down i had to drink it thank god it was a small glass. It was in this town that the legion had another ceremony which as it turns out was the first time it had been done here.
Well lunch over and back on the road to another stop in a town called Auchy la Montagne, with about 10k before the town signs started to appear welcoming our English friends, saying it was good to have us back which gives you a lift. It was upon rolling into town it became apparent why, the whole town was out to welcome us with more food and wine(this time a cheeky rose). Settling down to talk to people and looking at a photo board i noticed the reason why a photo showing a british tank rolling down the same stretch of road we had just travelled coming to liberate the town in 1944. It surprises me that they have never forgot even though there is not many people left from that time, but the stories have been passed down all these years.
With a great fan fair all 3 groups joined back up for the last ride over some bad country rounds onto our evening stopping point Beauvais which is about 20k away from Auchy all down hill to the biggest war memorial so far this trip and the longest speech given in both French and English by the Mayor(20 mins). From here it was off to the fire station by way of a steep little hill to park up for the night and yet more drink this time a local tipple with a sweet pastry.
And so to evening meal and bed before the last push, laying in bed it became apparent at just how much i had achieved and how much i was enjoying it so far, my cycling had improved no end no problems with my breathing and finally able to ride along with a normal heart rate not one that was near my maximum. I felt good perhaps a little too good.
Beauvais to Paris 100.8Km
This was it the final push, the last act in a 4 day drama, the adrenaline was pumping the confidence up and was was ready to go. Oh how i was about to get a shock cycling was going to bite back.
The day started well the hill from the fire station was ok no alarm bells and generally it was plan sailing unto the tea stop even after that i was on a high. Having left the tea stop right behind the lead car with Tracy one of our team along side the road just flowed with a steady pace for near on 10miles of fairly flat landscape.
It was about the 25k to go mark when i hit the wall, having dropped back into the peleton after the stint up top, we were happily cruising along taking the smaller inclines in the large front sprocket with no problems and not a care even after we stopped for a fire and to let the engines through it was no worries.
Then i happened cockiness took over we got into this town and rounded a bend to be faced with a steep hill one of the worst so far in France, thinking it was short and carrying on chatting i did a bad thing and forgot to change down, not wishing to loose face a pushed on in completely the wrong gear. Upon reaching the top i was spent had nothing left in the tank what an idiot i had been. I was quickly swallowed up by the pack and was being spat out the back on a flat section. I tried 2 energy gels but they were short lived and with the thought of the broom wagon approaching and not wanting to get in i dug deep for another 10k until a site i longed to see lunch.
Quickly getting of the bike i drank what was left in my bottles before refilling only to drink that whilst waiting for the broom wagon which i was convinced was just behind me but as it turned out was nearly a2k back with others that had befallen the same fate as me.
Its amazing what a stop a cup of tea and a baguette with several fruit slices can do to a person, re fuelled by this and a pep talk from the others restored me to my forgotten by now former self ready for the final charge to Paris.
One more hill then what can only be described as a fantastic downhill which being a little way back i could enjoy and let go as we had previously been slowed on all the down hills to let everybody bunch back up,yay speedo saying 32mph what a feeling i could now enjoy the almost flat whisk along at 18mph in a 200 strong peleton to Paris. Before long way had reached Longchamp race course where about a k further on we re grouped again before the last part.
We were given whistles to blow and with only 7 or 8k left the teams started forming back together into trains just like on Tele, we had dropped to the back with along with Sidcup Cycles team and were making the most of it. I got to the front just coming into a roundabout with a shout of Stevie go for it my son. I dually obliged and put a spurt on to round the corner onto the famous cobbles another shout of look up which i did to be confronted with just under a k away the Arc de Triomphe looking resplendent in the Paris sun, forgetting i was leading the other i got out the saddle for a bit of a sprint finish( my Cav moment).
The traffic stopped we rounded the Arc to cheers, horns blaring and a figure with Union Jack glasses waving a flag shouting me on.
I had made it after all the doubting i was there 460km in the legs and feeling good, some blips but thats to be expected really.After a kiss and hug with the wife it was off for the photos, a medal and of course a beer with the team and everybody else before the final Ceremony under the Arc at the tomb of the unknown soldier then a sprint back on the bike to the final location where the bikes were backed away ready to be shipped home and us off to the hotel where we could now take a rest from the saddle and enjoy the champagne reception and gala dinner.
One thing left to do is find out where i can sign up for next year.
How can i explain it my trip really, i know its easy to say i learnt some things about myself but i really did.
All these years i have blamed my Asthma for holding me back and not doing anything when in reality that was just the excuse for my laziness no longer can i say that i cannot do it my breathing wont allow, gone are these negative thoughts with the thought of you know what i can do it really.
What else have i learnt?
I dont look good in lycra (no real surprise)
I really need to loose more weight, al cycling has done is toned the muscle up for no weight loss (Yet)
A new helmet is needed as i look like a mushroom with the one i have perched on top my head.
Dont be afraid to change gear if you need too, or learn the hard way like i did.
Im not as bad as i think at cycling there are people who struggle more but for them as it is for me now its not a race to be the best its a series of challenges whilst enjoying your self along the way with other like minded people.
If leaves me just one thing to do and that is thank a whole load of people.
All the staff and crew from The British legion
Nigel, Terry and the other mechanics who worked non stop
The French outriders and other team members
With out the above none of this could have happened, and been a great success. I take my hat off to them (accidently throwing it away- see above)
One special mention the chef’s on the P&O ferry, what a cracking buffet they put on And of course my sponsors.
Cheers to all of you.
Steve C (Gadget)
The other West Kent Members were – Alan Brown, Dave Newby, Greg and Tracy and Andy the milkman. New recruits are Leigh Newby and Richard Andy’s mate