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Combien de kilometres?

June 29, 2012

What would bikevcar do on holiday? Drive a long distance with the bike in the boot of the car, and then spend the holiday trying to surpass this distance by bike. This wasn’t actually the plan but by Day 2 the seed had been sown.

A few days before I set off to the Loire Valley in France, Ms BikeVCar had flown to American to visit her family for a week. She would then be flying back to Paris giving us a week together in France. This gave me 4 days alone to “cycle myself silly” before the more balanced member of our marriage would arrive and ensure we adopted a more sensible approach to holidaying.

En route to France – these kilometres were freebies

After finishing work on Tuesday I came home, packed up the car and then set off to catch an overnight ferry from Portsmouth. From Le Havre the next morning I headed South remembering to drive on the wrong side of the road, the only difficultly coming at the peages where I had to get out and walk around the car to feed my Euros into the machines.

Arriving into the campsite at 1pm I was conscious of the fact that I may have been slightly early for check in. The important thing to remember in provincial France is to never underestimate the locals’ reluctance to do anything in the afternoons. Thus when I was informed that my cabin wouldn’t be ready until 6pm I simply gave my most unsurprised and nonchalant shrug and asked in my best bad french if I could bring the car into the campsite and put my bike together. I then spent the next few hours exploring the roads along the banks of the Loire enjoying the sunshine and the especially generous drivers who would not overtake unless they could fully move across onto the opposite side of the road. A local farmer even slowed down to wave at me through his window and shout some encouragement.

Dead bug bonanza – if our car was french this part of the number plate would say “Allez”!

Dead bug bonanza pt 2 – if these legs were french they would be brown and not “rosbif”

The french think of everything for cyclists – a roadside display to allow you to check the calibration of your speedometer

The stunning Chateau de Saumur on the Loire

One of the 1960s nuclear power plants built along the banks of the Loire due to the ready source of water for cooling

After checking in and consuming a feast of barbecue and beer, I cracked open a bottle of local wine and starting plotting a big ride. What initially started as a sightseeing route along the Loire somehow turned into a quest to achieve 200km in a single day. Plus some sightseeing too. This would be further than I had ever ridden before, although I had ridden between 160 – 180km several times so I thought it was time I conquered the landmark.

An evening of cycle-scheming

The next morning I set off East along the Loire river from Montsoreau. I cycled along quiet D roads in the blazing sunshine passing farmers, cyclo-tourists and a staggering number of lawnmowers. At one point I was overtaken by another cyclist without a “bonjour” or even a friendly smile. He was wearing a helmet so almost certainly wasn’t a local. A few kilometres later I passed him in a small village as he was struggling against the wind to gain control of his fully opened map. I quickly withdrew my photocopied section of map from my jersey pocket and cockily sat up reading it with both hands as I called out the most pleasant “bonjour” I could muster.

My cycle nemesis

The open road

I crossed the river at Langeais and headed into the town centre to have a quick snack in front of the Chateau de Langeais, a stunning 15th Century chateau along the tight streets of the old town. From here I headed away from the river in search of the remains of a Roman aquaduct dating back to the first or second century. The amazing thing with France is that such a beautiful and special piece of history can be tucked away so anonymously. I stopped for twenty minutes to take photos and rest in its shadows and didn’t see another soul the whole time I was there.

The bridge across the Loire at Langeais

Chateau de Langeais

Gallo-Roman aqueduct

From here I continued East towards Tours where I intended to stop for lunch. However, upon arriving at Tours I was put off by all the roadworks, traffic and traffic lights so continued along the river towards Amboise. I had also only completed 80km by this point and wanted to take lunch at the halfway point. This was a bit of a mistake as I had forgotten my ‘rule’ about non-working afternoons. By the time I arrived into Amboise it was 1.50pm so I quickly found a restaurant. After waiting ten minutes while the waiter pretended not to notice me he came over and was proud to inform me that they stopped serving food at 2pm. Being a foreigner with limited local language I again resisted to urge to fight a losing battle and simply stuck out my bottom lip and pretended like I didn’t really care about eating. Clearly this worked as he then asked if I wanted something to drink which gave me the opportunity to reply that I didn’t drink after 2pm.

I got back on the bike and found a nearby crepe cafe and indulged myself in a ham and egg crepe for lunch, with a chocolate crepe for pudding. The waiter was very keen to talk about my bike and suitably impressed by the distance I intended to cycle. “Combien de kilometres?” was asked twice and he only really believed me when I pulled out my map to show the route I had taken so far.

Chateau Royal d’Amboise

Lunch – everything goes well with a crepe

From Amboise I headed South to Blere and worked my way towards the Indre river. There was a small amount of climbing in comparison to the pancake-flat route along the Loire, and also the terrifying proposition of a strong headwind. The flat parts were like climbing a gentle hill and I noticed my average speed slowly tumbling down as the suncream and sweat began to drip into my eyes.

Tree-lined roads offered welcome shade from the blazing sun

Snacking at 58km – homemade roquefort baguette extra matured in my jersey pocket

Snacking at 154km – pain au chocolate 

Fortunately the strong headwind only lasted for about 20 kilometres until I descended to the Indre river and rode the flat and sheltered roads along its banks. I stopped at a boulangerie to refill my bidons and grab a couple of pastries before continuing. In the end I made it back to the campsite in 195 km and so continued 2.5km West before doing a U-turn and heading back. It was at this point that I realised the extent of the headwind I had been fighting for the last 4 hours as I flew home in the biggest gear with the seemingly smallest level of effort. After a long shower to scrub off the sweat and dead flies I lit the barbecue for a well-deserved feast and contemplated an unlikely attempt of total rest the next day.

A trouble-free performance by the bike

A great day on perfect cycling roads

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2012 12:07 pm

    Magnifique et si beaucoup de kilometres. Bon chance mon fils.

    • June 29, 2012 6:43 pm

      Merci beaucoup! A couple of shop-owners wished me luck by saying “bon chance” but unfortunately haven’t heard the true cycling term of acknowledgement yet: “chapeau”, i.e. hats off. Guess I need to do a longer ride to earn that one ;)

  2. June 29, 2012 2:54 pm

    ha you showed him. Excellent write-up!

    • June 29, 2012 6:44 pm

      Thanks. I tried my best but deep down I think I was just saving face!

  3. June 29, 2012 5:26 pm

    Wonderful! Am still in awe that you found THE bikevcar jersey. Great pictures of structures by the Loire. ;-)

    • June 29, 2012 6:46 pm

      Thank you. Am also loving the jersey. I think it’s actually only the second or third time I’ve worn it as it’s too special to wear for any normal ride. However, a 200km epic through France seemed very suitable for an appearance. Every time I saw a Citroen 2CV I waved but they probably just thought I was mad.

  4. June 29, 2012 11:15 pm

    All that pedalling and pictures too. What a hero.

    • June 30, 2012 7:28 am

      Thanks – it’s certainly easier when the sun’s shining and the roads are flat

  5. June 30, 2012 9:59 pm

    You bring sandwiches & croissants in your jersey? HAHA!! Wow, I love the whole bikeVsCar idea. I have yet to go overseas with a bike!!

    • July 1, 2012 8:00 am

      Who needs energy gels when France has such great high-energy snacks in every boulangerie!

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