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At Trafalgar Square to start -
There had been some discussion over departure time from London with 81 miles to cover from Trafalgar Square to Dover. 7am was the designated set off, which meant leaving the hotel in Cricklewood at 6:30am to cover the initial 5 miles to the start. (A little warm up!) This gave a taste of London cycling as well as the group facing the challenge of getting seven cyclists through each set of lights in one go. 7:15am all were in Trafalgar Square and pictures were taken to mark the start of the adventure.
It was agreed the group would aim to cycle as one group for the trip, Lucas leading the way, Gordy generally taking back marker. At 7:30am the seven snaked out of Trafalgar Square and onto the Embankment heading east. The first photo opportunity was going over Tower Bridge, before the route headed along much of the London Marathon route (Lucas giving a running commentary to Steve, who'd also run the route but didn't recognise it). Passed the Cutty Sark and over the Greenwich Meriden Line, traffic eased off as they headed up their first hill away from the Thames estuary and to Welling, Bexley and Dartford. Not accidents, but Simon had a near miss with a driver who failed to indicate left and Simon was forced to do the same. Gordy remarked on the good spirit of many other cyclists and drivers, tooting and wishing everyone good luck.
Dartford was the first stop, where the support crew had gone directly from the hotel. They had it all under control and quickly produced tea and cakes and took the lunchtime orders. We'd made it out of London and not lost anyone or had any major incidents. Next stop would be lunch!
From Dartford the route followed some cycle paths alongside the A2/M2 -
With the sun now out and the temperature rising, it was a welcome stop and a chance to enjoy the sun. Liz and Lesley did an excellent job at providing an excellent spread whilst we established where the next cycle shop was in order to get a valve for the road bike tyres (the pump in the support didn't have the adjustment) and Simon also decided to get some clip free pedals having had another near miss with cramp.
From lunch the route followed a cycle route which took in some off road sections
and the first wrong turn -
From Faversham another challenging hill took them up towards Canterbury, This was
the biggest hill of the day -
The final chunk of the day took the group through Canterbury, where they took a small detour to see the Cathedral. However, unbeknown to them you can't just get to it as it's surrounded by a wall! Having walked through the city centre's busy pedestrian zone, Lucas negotiated entry far enough to get a picture of the Cathedral with each cyclists and their bike, before they carried on their way, with 20 miles to Dover. Well, it should have been 20 miles, but it seemed what looked like an obvious route in planning wasn't the case in reality. Avoiding the A2 dual carriageway was a challenge and involved a bigger loop than hoped to reach the village of Lydden. Fatigue had hit and Paul finally conceded defeat on one hill, having a little push. To be fair to Paul, Pete, Si and Gordy, they'd all broken their previous distance records on a bike by now and we'd already passed the 81 mile point! (or even 86 miles if you included the hotel to start section).
We finally came into Dover at around 8pm and located the hotel, a short cycle from the port. Checked in, showered and time for food. The mileage for the day had ended up as 94 miles from Trafalgar Square, a massive 13 extra miles having been added, nearly all post lunch, but everyone had made it through the day.
We headed off at 7:30am to check onto the ferry, a one mile cycle from the hotel. Two of the bikes went in the support van to save costs, Paul and Ali. Aboard the ferry gave time for breakfast and to look at the route for the day and the prospect of cycling on the wrong side of the road and less sure about how busy the roads might be.
Having docked in Calais, we regrouped and agreed our first meeting point with the support whilst they then went in search of food supplies. Out of the dock and we pretty much u turned to head into a very strong headwind! Once we'd navigated our way out of Calais it was a fairly straight forward route for a while out into the French countryside. The weather was cool and threatening rain whilst the wind didn't really help, more often being against us. This made our first long hill climb that much tougher. The roads were noticeably quieter in France with villages more spread out too.
We met the support team at Colembert, missing one turn on the way. Liz and Lesley
had found a good location and much needed snacks were had with drinks. A nearby
cafe's toilet was utilised too, though this didn't seem to go down well with the
proprietor as we weren't paying customers and none of us had sufficient command of
the French language to explain what we were doing! Having upset the locals, we carried
on though more villages and Desvres, where another wrong turn resulted in the need
to back track rather than reroute -
Back on route and over another large hill, we carried on to make our lunch stop in
Zoteux, in a garage yard with a friendly French cat. The weather was still overcast
with the wind still being an issue but the rain was holding off. Lunch consumed,
the route took a south east turn and out of the headwind. However, the next challenge
it was discovered was the seven valleys route! This was discovered as we passed
a sign heading down the D108, which Lucas hoped no one would notice and Steve ambitiously
hoped would be the end of the valley or not the route we were to follow! Alas, it
was as they flew downhill into the first valley, swiftly followed by a climb out.
Given the likely continued hill climbs, the group carried on along the road at their
own paces, giving Gordy and Pete the chance to challenge for king of the hills, Steve
a chance to hurtle down the other side while Simon's cramp issues had eased off and
Paul and Ali maintained steady paces. Lucas moved amongst the field -
As the route neared the north side of Hesdin, the support van caught up with the
cyclists and a stop was had for toilets and supplies. This time Lucas managed enough
pigeon French to gain use of a toilet at the camp site while it turned out the gas
stove Liz had brought along for boiling water had melted and was no longer working!
The next challenge for them was to find place to buy a new stove! As they set
off for the final section of the day, the first puncture occurred -
We headed off north east of Hesdin and on towards Vaulx, where the support team had arrived first at our gites and were on busy cooking tea. The final few miles had been a struggle with a bit more headwind and tiredness settling in. Once we arrived, with around 80 miles on the clock, we were well fed by Liz and Lesley and recoiled the days adventures. Our gites was a brilliant find, allowing all nine of us to sleep in this delightful village house for £70! Lucas uploaded pictures and updates on social media and checked the next day's route details whilst everyone else relaxed and then to bed, with over half the journey complete.
The support team -
On the ferry from Dover to Calais
Arriving in Vaulx
Liz and Lesley had breakfast under control before most of us were up. Once we were
fed and bikes had been checked we headed off around 9am. First mistake -
The route finally rejoined the original plan at Rubempre and not too far out of the village the support crew arrived with supplies for the first break of the day. The sun was shining, the countryside was great and France was offering weather that had been expected. Now the only issue was flies as we ate in a field gateway!
Once the route continued, it was on into the biggest city of the trip since arriving
in France, Amiens. No plans to stop in the city, so the challenge was to navigate
seven bikes through the centre without losing anyone or getting lost. Gordy, as
backmarker, found himself caught at red lights a few times, whilst Lucas navigated
the route through, stopping once to check the map at a larger interchange. The sign
for Paris wasn't necessarily any help when you don't want the motorway! Remarkably,
the trip through the city went exactly as planned, and aside from getting split at
traffic lights a few times, the team headed south of the city and made it to Plachy
Buyon for lunch -
With lunch complete, the route followed a relatively quiet B road equivalent for
some time, which eventually turned up a gradual climb from Croissy sur Celle to Francastel
. The group spread out along the section, enjoying the sunshine and the open space
and view. Gordy and Pete powered up the hills, Lucas took opportunity to get pictures
of the team and Paul and Ali took a leisurely pace. Francastel was the final stopping
point for refreshments. Ali was in need a toilet and there was a lack of hot water
left, so Lucas headed into the nearby boulangerie and, using his pigeon French, managed
to explain what they were doing, that Ali needed a toilet and could they have some
boiling hot water. He happily let Ali use their toilet and supplied very hot water
The final section was a good flat run but took in a busy road once Luchy was passed
as the team headed to Beauvais. This the busiest road in France so far outside the
centre of Amiens, and the group split up for safety. Once on the outskirts of the
town they regrouped -
The French food above, complimented by Battenburgs!
Heading to Francastel
Breakfast was eaten from the van, before setting off down what were expected to be the busier roads from Beauvais. Despite following an N road for some way, it was reasonably light traffic wise as it ran parallel with a motorway. This enabled the group to switch about a bit as they had a long stretch on the same road, which included the biggest climb of the day early on. It was another warm day and the hill was a challenge. However, everyone cycled up it in full and later regrouped as agreed. Si's cramp issues had abated and Pete and Gordy continued to battle it out for king of the hills.
Once the route came off the N road it was more pleasant, as they headed towards Henonville, passing a lovely aristocratic house on the way. The route wound through some forest and was, in the main, fairly easy going, warm and clear. After Henonville the support team were parked up with some forest shade for the first break of the day. The next stop would be on the outskirts of Paris for lunch!
It didn't seem to take long to cover the final section of the route in the country before the long urban sprawl of Paris began. Pontoise was the last section that felt "country" as, from there, the route followed a long, very tedious section on a very straight road through what seemed like a massive industrial area. With endless traffic lights, it was stop/start, and by this stage it had got very warm, so every time they stopped they felt like they were cooking. It also became a challenge to stick together as everyone was getting caught by traffic lights. After what seemed a long period, the route finally entered a more housing and shop type affair, as expected, and the support team were located in Sannois. Lunch was had in a car park, trying to find shade due to the 32C+ temperature. The respite was welcomed but the heat was a little too warm!
Lunch complete, contact was made with the welcome committee at the finish to advise of our eta. We then headed off on the final section, right into the heart of Paris. The challenge remained keeping 7 cyclists together through traffic lights, turnings and the challenges of a busy city. Lucas couldn't always see if he definitely had 6 cyclists still behind him and couldn't always hear a shout to wait for whomever (usually Gordy) was stuck at a red light. Much to his own surprise, Lucas kept on the route much as planned actually whooped when he navigated round Place Porte Maillot correctly without any causalities. The Eiffel Tower had been spotted some way out of the city but the Seine had to be crossed thrice on route and then one of the last streets Lucas was going to cut down was a dead end. However, they quickly tuned left soon after and cycled up to the Eiffel Tower as close as they could to be greeted by a cheering welcome committee of 8, who'd travelled over to see respective loved ones arrive, including Lucas' niece, Lowenna, who was over from Australia.
Sadly, Liz and Lesley had got delayed getting in from where they'd left the van and missed out on the celebration under the Eiffel Tower, but did get to meet them on the Champs Elysees. Some tourists thought the group were someone famous and wanted pictures with everyone, so it was an eventful arrival! But the supported charities, Prostrate Cancer UK, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and St Luke's Hospice, had benefitted to an accumulated figure of over £5,000.
From the Eiffel Tower, the final challenge was to the Champs Elysees, to briefly meet Liz and Lesley, and then to get to Gare du Nord to drop the bikes off ready for them to head back to the UK on Eurostar. This part of the cycle was with rush hour traffic and proved as challenging as the combined previous four days. But no one seemed sad to say farewell to their bike for a few days!
A fantastic achievement was marked in the evening and over breakfast the next day,
when sore backsides were rested and everyone could enjoy what they'd achieved. Gordy
was awarded king of the hills; Simon seemed to have been accident prone, Steve had
been the done hill champion; Ali had retained consistent pace and survived as the
lone female -
Vive le France!!
Setting off on the final day
Having arrived under the Eiffel Tower
On the Champs Elysee with Lesley & Liz