The 1200 kms ride held every four years could be viewed as a series of intertwined Episodes and Phases.
Witness the debauched release of energy as wave after wave of randonneurs forge their way through the first ten kilometres of lacklustre suburb in search of “La France Profonde”. Solemn promises made to oneself not to overexert are soon forgotten in the excitement of the bunch. It’s a stampede, pure and simple.
The countryside announces itself with an archetypal parallel line of poplars near the village of Ergal at 15 kms. The evening sun bathes the pedalling hordes in a soft golden glow, like a balm for the senses.
Wanton, lusty quest for speed has been somewhat replaced by shrewd judgement. Choose the right group to follow and you will speed along without effort…..free miles.
The guy with the green rucksack…he’s the one. Mustn’t lose his wheel. Shit, Pistol’s chain has come off…he’ll just have to chase back to the group. Man, I feel strong, an abundance of watts, I’m going to do a turn on the front….give Green Rucksack a break….earn my place in the group.
The troop swarm through Gambais, Faverolles and Tremblay-les-Villages before SavilleRowAlex and I stop briefly at Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais to refill our water bottles at 81 kms. Unbeknownst to us, Pistol has crept through…unseen and unheard.
Now it’s time to find more allies. A new phase has begun, a hillier one. A crazy-fast group storm by. Yes! Let’s do it. We latch on to the madness. The night sky is heavy with endorphins. The compulsory reflective vests give a ghostly feel to proceedings. Nobody has ever ridden this fast? Surely? Around Longny-au-Perche, after 120 kms, the hills break us up into a kaleidoscope of smashed ambitions. SavilleRow presses on to the first official refuelling stop at Mortagne, km 140, while Pistol and I suffer in dignified silence. A black hole of toil in the dark surroundings.
Phase 2 begins at 1 a.m with an 80 km ride to the first official control at Villaines-la-Juhel at km 221. It’s less frenetic than Phase 1 but the pace is still strong even if the libidinous energy of the first 50 klicks has been diluted by tiredness and hunger. A quick coffee stop at a little café in Saint-Paul le Gaultier perks us up and we attach ourselves to a fast moving group who drag us into Villaines where we happily squander time in pursuit of sustenance….agreeably provided in the form of a hot dog with mustard
To be continued….