Friday, 16 September 2011

Day 3 - Abbeville to Chambly

Time to fess up. This was the morning I got frustrated with a lack of progress, and it really was my problem and not that of the team. I was ready to start riding at 8.30, kitted up and raring to go. By the time two of the party had returned from a mission to find fuel for the day (fearing a dearth of restocking opportunities in rural France on a Sunday - not wholly unreasonable), it was 8.55. Then Andy had a puncture and we paused to let him re-join the group. Then he had another puncture, and there was no way I was going to let him go further without a spare tube, so I waited again. By 11.20 I had been available for cycling activity for nearly 3 hours, and done precisely 65 minutes of pedal-turning.

The day felt materially different to Day 2 in many other ways too. We were riding through the south of the Somme area, obviously most renowned for its bloody battles of the First World War. That knowledge obviously brings some sobriety to the riding, but the nature of the landscape reinforced that feeling - it was sparce, open, much harder countryside than the previous day. It was also cloudy, though still quite warm, again helping to create an entirely different feel.

We searched in vain for somewhere to have lunch, and ended up spending the early afternoon battling a headwind on a 7 km slight uphill drag in some very exposed countryside. Clouds were gathering ominously too, and as they began to disgorge their contents I arrived with judicious timing in a village called Le Crocq. Now it just so happened that was the day of Le Crocq's annual fete, which meant - this being France - there was a local 'character' on the main street with a microphone giving a running commentary on the event's animations, which included a strong man competition, lots of brocante, and vast quantities of food and drink. By the time Dylan and Neil arrived I'd decided that some of the local cider would make an ideal stiffener for the rest of the day's ride, and they were happy to join me. A few cartons of chips went down well too, eaten whilst we sheltered from the downpour.

After half an hour there was still no sign of Andy, so I sent the other two on their way. It turned out that Andy had been on the same nightmarish piece of road as we had, and had decided when the heavens opened that this was what constituted cycling hell. In his own words, it was at that moment that God said, "Nah, this is cycling hell son", followed by the unmistakeable sound of a tyre deflating. Yes, it was his third p***ture of the day, and he had to change it on a remote French road in the pouring rain. Man up I say, it could have been at night.

The rest of the cycling day was fairly forgettable, apart from the moment when I suddenly realised only 10 km from our destination that our chosen route was about to take us on to a motorway - the 110 km/h speed limit signs gave it away. A hurriedly replanned route was chosen and communicated to Andy. It was eventually 7.15 by the time we'd located the hotel, worked out how to open the front gate, checked into smoking rooms as those were the only ones they'd let us keep our bikes in, and begun to dry out our wet clothes. Spirits weren't high, particularly when it became clear that if we wanted our food tonight we had no choice but to get back on our bikes.

Initial investigations of Chambly, a dormitory town of Paris, didn't do much to raise spirits either - it was perfectly pleasant, but something of a restaurant desert. Our only option was ordering pizzas from a predominantly takeaway place, so we were reduced to pushing together a couple of metal tables and waiting. We made up for it however with sheer weight of pizza - we got through two mega pizzas, which we measured at just under a metre in diameter (each), plus one large one at a disappointing 40 cm. A couple of beers at a nearby bar preceded a hideously dangerous ride back to the hotel - we misjudged the route, and ended up doing a km on the same stretch of motorway avoided earlier.  Oops.

So, a mixed day, but we were now only 40 km from the centre of Paris...

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