The road to Fougeres is dotted with reminders that Stage 7 of the 2015 Tour de France finished here in July.
Muswell Hill Peloton’s representatives, The Wattmeister, Pistol Pete and SavilleRowAlex had been on the road long enough for a bit of stubble to adorn their rugged chins. After a revitalising stop at the control, the trio exited the comparitively traffic-choked town via a series of roundabouts and hills.
A pattern was emerging out of the mayhem. Pistol and Alex would drop The Wattmeister in the first 5 kms of every stage while the ageing sprinter sulked at the rear, messing around with his cleats, digesting his food and generally behaving in a Garboesque manner.
As the trio spread out, the Seattle Randonneur/Italian Grupetto/Stages Powermeter express steamed by. It seemed worth the considerable effort to hitch a ride. Now, we were more than in a state of involvement in this PBP, we were in a state of commitment.
“NO!!” shouted Pistol.
“YES!! We must!” insisted The Wattmeister…..and we did. It was worth every burnt match in the effort to jump on. The big rouleur, Mark from Seattle, carved out a rapid 35 kms aided and abetted by the Stages crew before a ‘rest’ stop brought the train to a sudden halt near Sens de Bretagne.
Confidence high and suitably revved up, the MHP boys dragged the remaining group through Feins and Dingé with the assistance of a gnarled French rider who looked like a participant, but did not appear to have a frame number. A game of cat and mouse ensued as we took turns on the front, eventually shelling out all other followers.
Presently we were apprehended by a large group of what appeared to be youngsters, well, compared to Pistol and The Wattmeister. Mostly Ukrainians, they were stamping out a rapid rhythm. This only served to galvanise the maverick French rider into a bold breakaway bid about 2 kms from the Tinteniac sign.
Alex quickly responded, and The Wattmeister. realising that in fact this was a race to the sign and NOT an audax, set off in hot pursuit. The Frenchman made the mistake of continually looking over his shoulder and forfeited his advantage to a rampant SavillRowAlex with The Wattmeister close up in second. Pistol started his sprint after the finish line and carried on oblivious into the centre of town.
A quick bounce in and out of the Tinteniac followed by lunch in Becherel, 9 kms away at the top of a large hill. With the Tinteniac Sprint Episode firmly behind us, we loitered for an hour or so in the company of a French couple whose son was forced to withdraw with a broken rear derailleur hanger. Very sad.
It had become a hot and sultry afternoon, our tyres stuck to the road through Loscouet-sur-Meu and Illifault. Presently we were joined by four cyclotouristes from the Bubry area of Brittany. This was their patch. To whichever group of templates we use in the UK to judge the typical ‘strong’ cyclist, we must add these men of the Bubry club.
They assumed an identical posture on the bike. Solid brown legs punching away on the pedals. Very strong on the relentless climbs before Loudeac, always verbally checking that their group was intact. We exchanged a few friendly words and did a bit on the front, but they really didn’t need our help as we rode further away from Paris and into Brittany.
We lost contact with them when The Wattmeister suffered a sudden puncture/split tyre about 300m from the Loudeac control at 445 kms.
Loudeac is the personification of PBP. A raucous welcome is ensured on entry to this boiling cauldron of humanity. People mill about in the control as the airwaves are peppered with cheers and shouts of encouragement for both arriving and departing riders. We hastened on our way, eager to reach Carhaix-Plougeur before midnight.
Now in the very thick of the ride, we were confronted with the hilliest section so far. It was a fine evening with far reaching views over the Breton countryside. After 27 kms into the stage we stopped at St. Martin-des-Prés for moules frites. A band played traditional Breton music non stop while the villagers simultaneously looked after us and enjoyed the spectacle.
After letting the food digest, we rolled through the suitably rolling terrain whilst the sun set low on the horizon. At this moment, it was easy to feel good.
We chanced upon new and exhilarating episode after Plouvenez-Quintin at the 500 kms mark. It was another of those spur of the moment decisions. As darkness consumed the light, we were passed by half a dozen hard riding souls. Tacking on, the airwaves crackled once again with human powered electricity.
Faster and faster we rode until a solid group of six were overhauled by an Italian pocket rocket female rider. Unbelievable! Our speed went up from 36 km per to 40 km per hour as she smashed her way through the darkness. We upped our game and shared the workload, frantically making the calculations as to whether it could be sustained or even if it was really happening. Frame number P207, you were incredible and for the MHP trio, this episode was one of the highlights of PBP.
We arrived in Carhaix at 23:15 for a well earned sleep.