Muswell Hill Peloton’s squad of five for the 19th Paris-Brest-Paris:
Long Tom (steel Condor Fratello), Old Grey Socks (alu Giant 0), SavilleRowAlex (steel Casati), Bubbles (titanium Kinesis Gran Fondo ) and The Wattmeister (titanium Omega Axis).
Stage 1. 21.00 p.m start on Sunday night….ride 521 kms to Carhaix by midnight on Monday.
Stage 2. 06.00 a.m start from Carhaix on Tuesday morning….ride 348 kms to Tinteniac by midnight on Tuesday.
Stage 3. 07.00 start from Tinteniac on Wednesday morning….ride 305 kms to Dreux by 23.30 p.m on Wednesday
Stage 4. Depart Dreux after long sleep ….ride 45 kms to finish by 15.00 p.m.
At the very least, it always helps to have a Plan B.
Our ride began at 21.00 on Sunday 18th August. We were in the very last wave of 90 hour riders. The weather had improved massively over the course of the day, resulting in balmy, windless conditions for the start of our odyssey.
As we shuffled up to the official timing mat, everyone availed themselves of the opportunity to use one of the abundant portaloos except for The Wattmeister, who refused to break his golden rule…no pisses on rides of under 1400kms.
We set off….a micro plan was to avoid going on the front too soon, take a tow, save energy, recover whilst riding….and so on.
Within 100 metres, Tom and Alex were the fireball at the head of the comet of red tail lights…..chatting away at 38kms per hour, fifty riders in tow, expending energy like it was an infinite resource.
The comet sped down the D983, through Faverolles, Nogent-le-Roi, Chateauneuf-en-Thymerais before going off orbit and missing the left turn to Senonches….thank you five Garmins and one routesheet.
The Wattmeister’s bladder was at bursting point.
The hills of the Perche arrived, split the field into prisms of light and threw a cloak of muted endeavour over its participants on the approach to Mortgane’s refuelling stop at 120 kms.
Team MHP used their 20 minutes efficiently, and, at about 02.00 a.m we set off for the first proper control at Villaines la Juhel 100 kms distant, (221 kms). My word, the descent from Mortagne was quick….and very cold. Skirting Mamers, we set off into an overwhelming darkness through Courgains and Dangeul before the bracket of Bubbles’s super duper Edelux dynamo front light decided to snap in Beaumont sur Sarthe.
Unable to be fixed, it was strapped up and the reserve light put into operation.
Beyond Fresnay, the road climbs a ridge up into the ‘Alpes Mancelles’, on this night affording magnificent views of a multitude of red lights streaming towards Villaines, a town which takes the riders of PBP into its very heart.
We arrived at 07.00 a.m, parked our bikes, fulfilled our needs and pressed on to Fougeres 85 kms to the West. A nagging little headwind began to develop. Bubbles was sleepy tired and our progress was slowed as we trundled along the lumpy D113 to Loupfougeres and Hardanges with a long climb up and over to the crossroads at Le Ribay.
We stopped for a quick caffeine fix in Lassay-les-Chateaux and searched for a peloton in which to hide from the nasty wind. Alas, one was not to be found, but we managed to team up with a Swedish trio through Ambrieres, Gorron and Lavare which helped to give us all a bit of much needed cover.
Suddenly, with about 15kms to ride to Fougeres, Bubbles kicked into life with a strong attack….LongTom’s reply was immediate, and OldGreySocks, SavilleRowAlex and The Wattmeister were forced to chase (too) hard to get back into the group….this pattern continued all the way into the outskirts of Fougeres where a happily revitalised Bubbles careered down the D706 from Le Croix aux Morts for all the world like she was in The Tour de France with a stage win at her mercy.
At this point, Plan A was within reach, albeit that we had endured a slower than expected stage from Villaines to Fougeres due to tiredness and the headwind.
The Wattmeister’s bladder ached.
The stage from Fougeres to Tinteniac is ‘only’ 54 kms. The first passage along the Boulevarde de Bliche is quite lumpy, and the riders’ resolve is tested by having to pass a Macdonalds after about 6 kms. Had there been a KFC, it is quite likely that The Wattmeister would have cracked and dived into a bucket of assorted legs and wings, never to be seen again.
At Romagné we hitched a lift with a couple of strong young French riders who made a good fist of carving a way through the strengthening headwind. It was tough going for an hour and a half as we dealt with this and mounting fatigue.
In the village of Feins, we were swamped by a rampaging peloton from Club Loudeac who provided the perfect cover for the remaining 17 kms into Tinteniac. They marauded down the D20, picking up stray riders until the group numbered around one hundred. The road was chock full of cyclists as we passed through the crossroads at La Basse-Foret and negotiated the last few kilometres to our next mandatory stop.
Tinteniac control at 3 p.m on Monday was rammed with randonneurs. The temperature had soared too. It was a fair walk from where the bikes were parked to the brevet card control room. We did our best, but it is all too easy to give up precious minutes without even picking up food and drink.
Our plan was to get supplies from the Carrefour supermarket at the top of the hill in Becherel. We teamed up with a couple of Italian riders along the straight flat road to La Baussaine and then made good progress to the hilltop village before peeling off near the summit.
The supermarket was cool and quiet, We shopped efficiently, but it was soon apparent that when we stopped, LongTom was quickly afflicted by sleepy tiredness….so we pushed on along the rollercoaster D220 to Medreac, Quedillac and bustling St. Meen le Grand. To this point, progress had been fairly good, but both Bubbles and Tom badly needed some shuteye so they crashed out in the Town square for twenty minutes or so while OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister played a competitive game of I Spy.
As the duo slept, many solid looking groups passed through, but when we departed, the sparsity of other riders was suddenly all too apparent. As the sun dipped towards the horizon, we pressed on through Illifaut, Meneac and La Trinité-Porhoet while the first riders at the head of the field were making their way back from Brest.
Despite our best efforts, by the time we arrived at Loudeac at 9 p.m, this 95 kms stage had taken six hours, about 90 minutes longer than planned. The fine art of saving time had temporarily eluded us. Our well drilled team hit back with a brief turnaround in chaotic Loudeac, and decided to seek sustenance at Saint Martin-des-Prés, some 29 very hilly kms up the road to Carhaix.
None of us could have imagined how cold this stage would be. As we climbed and descended to Merleac, the mercury plummeted…The Wattmeister’s Garmin registered 3 degrees on the D53 at Uzel.
Sustenance and a blazing brazier were available in the shape of coffee, hot dog and soup at the wonderful impromptu marquee in Saint Martin-des-Pré. We were sufficiently fortified to brace ourselves for the 50 kms ride to Carhaix.
A series of narrow, dark lanes took us to the ‘secret’ control at St. Nicholas du Pelem, a checkpoint implemented to deter riders from opting to use the main road. We were now deep into the ride, deep into our reserves and looking forward to our sleep stop in Carhaix-Plougeur at 521 kms. It was bitterly cold and although we made steady progress along the smoothly tarmacked D720 to Plouvenez, we need a fillip, something to energise us for the last 25 kms.
This appeared in the form of a swift stream of riders who passed us on the D49 to Saint Lubin. Unspoken, but thinking alike, we found the extra turn of speed to latch on to the tail of this particular shimmying bunch of red lights and fluorescent jackets . Adjusting well to the increased speed, Bubbles, Tom and Alex moved through the peloton to take better positions while The Wattmeister dreamt of stopping for a pee, and OldGreySocks slipped into the alpha wolf station at the back of the pack.
We hurtled through the blackness, illuminated by a mixture of powerful battery and dynamo lights. After Mael Carhaix, it was plain that we were in a race. Various riders attacked off the front and ‘on fire’ Bubbles bridged across every time….dragging the rest of her team along.
With about 2 kms to go a lone rider put in a super kick on a nasty little incline which dispatched everyone except The Wattmeister and OldGreySocks….old men will suffer anything not to miss a moment’s sleep….and the trio rode into the control just ahead of the bunch.
We controlled efficiently at 02.30 a.m, about 2 hours later than expected, but still had to find our accommodation at the campsite in Carhaix, which is situated at the bottom of a dark, cold and spooky lane. Finally, after food and a debrief we slept at around 04.00 a.m.
A significant time buffer had been accrued. The cost would be a much truncated first night’s sleep. Plan A was still on for Alex and Tom, but Plan B was about to be activated for Bubbles, OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister.
Despite an all too brief sleep at the campsite in Carhaix, 5 hours off the bike and the chance to have a shower and change into clean kit breathed new life into the crack(ed) MHP squad. Powered by Helen Budd’s magical chicken and barley stew, we set off a couple of hours later than planned at 08.15 a.m on Tuesday morning.
At this point we had what sounds like a very slender 30 minutes time buffer, but this would quickly grow as we kept moving.
Plan A was to ride 348 kms out to Brest and back to Tinteniac (869kms) by 01.00 a.m .
Plan B would be to ride 272 kms back to Loudeac (783kms) by 11 p.m for a longer sleep.
As boxer Mike Tyson once said, “everyone has a plan until they are punched on the nose.”
There followed a gentle 34 kms climb up to Roc Trevezel, a Breton moorland with 360 degree views over the surrounding countryside. It was cold and misty, but the sun promised to warm the endless procession of tired randonneurs now making their way to Brest.
We assumed a nice tempo for about thirty minutes before the combined engines of LongTom and SavilleRowAlex proceeded to catch and pass most riders, creating a fast group with The Wattmeister hanging on stubbornly in their slipstream
The increased tempo was too much for Bubbles at this early hour, and OldGreySocks accompanied her up the gorgeous wooded road to Huelgoat. Our tyres strummed a background beat on the smooth surface whilst the click, click, click of changing gears confirmed that we were climbing to the highest point of the whole ride.
At La Feuillée, we turned right onto the D974, a wide fast road. The climb continued with Tom and Alex setting a furious pace. The group was becoming smaller and by the time we reached the top and started the descent, there were just two and a half riders….Tom, Alex and half a Wattmeister.
The boys sped off to Sizun in a frenzy. They obviously had plenty of surplus energy after the previous day’s plod. Sizun is a great place to take a break …a fine stopping point both on the way to Brest, and on the way back from Brest. Full of cafés, bakeries, supermarkets, shady marquees….a place to linger and assess.
It was at this point that the decision was made to cut Alex and Tom free from the group. They still had plenty of time and the speed in their legs to fulfill the goals set by Plan A. And so off they galloped to Brest.
About twenty minutes later, Bubbles and OldGreySocks arrived in Sizun. Eating croissants and drinking coffee in the sun, we were now a sub-team of three. And so we hooked onto a decent group who towed us ever westward towards Brest at a nice clip. We crossed the bridge in a light shower….the only one of the whole ride, but Bubbles’s elation was muted when she realised we still had 7 kms to ride to the control including a nasty climb up to the centre.
On arriving at the halfway control there was a feeling of relief mixed with trepidation knowing what was yet to come. We saw Tom and Alex departing for the second 600 kms. Having 90 minutes in hand, we effected a swift turnaround to capitalise on the morning’s time gains.
The organisers wisely create a different route back to Carhaix via Sizun in order that outgoing and returning riders do not get confused or, indeed, blinded by each other’s front lights. This return route contains long draggy hills which coupled with a niggling cross wind conspire suck the energy out of tired legs.
Thus, we plodded on to Landerneau and up over the climb of Le Queff before Bubbles slipped into overdrive on the descent to Sizun. However, after another splendid few minutes of respite in this lovely town, we slipped back into first gear on the climb up to Roc Trevezel. Strava shows that we took 25 extra minutes to complete this stretch compare to the 2015 edition.
The D974 to Carhaix from the top is a cracking bit of road, could only be improved if you took away the hills, but we had our moments before Bubbles could take the pain no more.
“Put sudocream on it” suggested The Wattmeister (Level 3 in Sudocream Application Technique)
“Use crushed kiwi fruit” added OldGreySocks.
“It’s not my bum” whispered Bubbles.
“Well, what is it then?” asked the two sextogenerians in unison.
“It’s my …….” mouthed Bubbles.
“What’s a …….? ” asked OldGreySocks.
“I’ll google it” said The Wattmeister helpfully.
The ensuing silence was deafening.
We rushed off to the nearest pharmacy. The two elderly baroudeurs clearly in shock and in need of smelling salts. Bubbles was left by the roadside.
After an interminable stop at the pharmacy we continued to the control at Carhaix, determined to be in and out as quickly as possible. In and Out
Having achieved this, we sought a café in Mael Carhaix which is traditionally open 24 hours a day during the event. Situated on a quiet square next to the church, it provided us with the chance to neck some coffee and coke and to swallow a couple of pizzas…whole.
Things were going OK…from Mael, we should reach Loudeac around 11 p.m and manage to get about 6 hours off the bike including 4 hours sleep.
It was at this point that our situation took a turn for the worse. It was a truly lovely evening whilst the sun stayed above the horizon. We pedalled over higher ground adjacent to fields of wheat guarded by thick hedgerows…..sometimes the views offered a glimpse of distant hilltop villages marked by a church steeple here and there.
When the sun went down we were hit by cold air. It seemed to slow us down disproportionately, and Bubbles felt extremely sleepy. The precious minutes that we had built up began to disappear. The route took us up and down some very steep pitches in the darkness, with the descents being particularly chilling in more than one sense.
We arrived in Trevé, just 7 kms from Loudeac in the midst of a mini-crisis. Bubbles was desperate for sleep and would have booked a hotel room in the café where we had established a temporary base, but there were no vacancies. She talked about quitting, but the words tumbled out due to tiredness. After a confidence boosting chat and soothing word from OldGreySocks, a catnap and coffee, we continued steadily to Loudeac….arriving at 01.22 a.m…..this leg had taken 7 and a half hours…fully 3 and a half hours more than in 2015.
Finding chairs and floorspace in the well lit canteen was not too much of a problem, and the three of us fell into a deep slumber before hitting the road again at 05.00 a.m…..at this point we would be one hour out of time.
At some stage during the qualifying series, but before the actual event, Team MHP met regularly to discuss important details like ride tactics, sleep stops, hydration and nutrition….but really the purpose of these meetings was to allow The Wattmeister to drone on about past PBPs he had ridden and to accept free drinks when offered.
One evening, thoughtful LongTom cut to the chase and asked, “who is in charge of the Pearl Handled Revolver?”
A moment’s silence. This was a euphemism for….what happens if one of us slow the others down so they miss the 90 hour time cut-off?
“That will never happen!”, decreed The Wattmeister, “you are all so strong!”
“But, what if….?” persisted Tom….”what if The Wattmeister slows us down?
Well, at the village of Trevé at approximately half past midnight on Tuesday 20th August, Team MHP passed their first Pearl Handled Revolver test. Bubbles had looked down the barrel and said “NO”.
After a remarkably comfortable two hour sleep along the length of four chairs, and in OldGreySocks’ case, the linoleum floor, the trio departed Loudeac at precisely 05.00 a.m, faced with a 314 kms ride to the control at Mortagne-au-Perche. The first few kilometres would be crucial as it was still bitterly cold, and we were faced with a rolling course.
There was no need to worry ourselves….Bubbles set off with renewed energy through La Cheze making easy work of the steady climb out of the village. We did not see too many riders all the way to Menéac, but as dawn broke, a couple of lads came flying by on the long downhill stretch on the D305 and D66 to Illifaut. It seemed rude not to join in as somehow we had juice in our legs.
At the crossroads in Illifaut, the townspeople had erected a couple of marquees, and the local bakery was supplying croissants, pain aux chocolats and hot coffee. We took a break to enjoy this incredible heartwarming hospitality. Our progress for these first 30 kms had been impressive and now, we found the perfect group to tag along with for the second 30 kms of this leg. They were quick on the flat, but nice and steady on the hills…..we knocked out this section in about an hour.
As we entered Médréac another catnap was necessary, but being in the group had bought us the time to indulge another break. After 20 minutes, we were back on the road. The sun began to warm the air, and we only had to ride 22 kms to the control and a change of kit at Tinteniac…..where Tom and Alex had spent a rather more comfortable night than us.
A super fast group of Austrians sped past us….Yes! No! Yes!…we kicked hard and jumped on the back of them…it had looked impossible, but the power nap gave us back some punch. They smashed on down the D220 with even the hint of a tailwind…and then tackled the long climb up to Becherel…..the pace was quite fierce, but we hung on and joined them down the other side and all the way back to Tinteniac. Even with a couple of breaks, this leg had only taken a respectable 4 and a half hours to cover, a wonderful riposte to the troubles of the previous night.
We now had 60 minutes in hand.
A scrub down, kit change and some more fine stew from Helen and Sinclair put us back on the road to Fougeres, 54 kms away. The vibe was good….so good that The Wattmeister did his first turn on the front for 300 kms. We caught a couple of Spanish riders and shared the load with them through Dingé, Feins, Sens de Bretagne and all the way to Fougeres. It wasn’t quick, but rather a good ride at steady recovery pace which delivered us to the control with 75 minutes in hand.
Fougeres was hot. We needed food and plenty of drink….this required a brief nap to allow a semblance of digestion before hitting the road again. Now, in previous editions, this has been a happy hunting ground for The Wattmeister…this year was to be different. Bubbles had been fatigued by her fantastic morning effort, so we made sedate progress back towards Gorron, stopping at Paul’s famous creperie in La Tanniere for free coffee and pancakes.
Seated in the shade, it was agreed that we would ride our own pace for a bit, as the route was pretty much a straight road for the next 40 kms. OldGreySocks found a fast group and headed off into the distance. The Wattmeister found another slightly disorganised group and set off in pursuit and Bubbles continued at her own pace.
In the picturesque riverside village of Ambrieres les Vallées, about 30 kms out from the next control at Villaines La Juhel, everyone has their house or garage open for tired riders to take a nap, grab some food or drink or just to stop and chat. The Wattmeister took off his shoes on the village green and a thousand blades of grass died.
Soon enough, the resolute figure of Bubbles appeared, she needed a quick nap and we had built up enough time to allow 10 or 15 minutes. While she slept, The Wattmeister went to use the public loo…..as he entered a young lady was leaving.
“It’s unisex”, she said, “are you The Wattmeister? You’re a legend!”
“Yes, I think so….but I’m not a legend….Are you Jane Dennyson? You’re a legend”
“No, I’m not a legend, but Rory says you are….and that’s good enough for me!” she insisted.
“Come and meet Bubbles”…..and the rest is history.
Jane and Bubbles hit it off. They rode together almost all the way back to Villaines at touring pace, chatting away, oblivious to the passing kilometres. Meanwhile, The Wattmeister stopped at every roadside stall, availing himself of fresh produce, coffee, crisps, cold drinks, sweets, and so on ….by the time we reached Villaines, he could only manage one main course in the canteen….plus a dessert.
At Villaines, the riders receive an absolutely tremendous welcome….crowds of spectators cheering, a master of ceremonies announcing riders’ frame numbers over a public address system….a very humbling bu exhilarating experience.
We were reunited with OldGreySocks who had been forced to remedy a mechanical issue in the service tent and we now had two hours in hand.
Departing lovely Villaines bathed in the golden glow of the evening light, we had 85 kms to ride before our next sleep stop….and could have expected to arrive there by 01.00 a.m but our expectations had already been shattered on this ride, and the spectre of tiredness still dictated our schedule.
After 20 kms there was a roadside party going on at Saint Paul-le-Gaultier. The villagers were seated around long trestle tables, and the owner of the café were handing out coffee and cake to randonneurs…we HAD to stop.
Darkness fell quickly, Bubbles pulled an Englishman from Texas with A VERY LOUD VOICE……OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister dropped off the back…eardrums battered by his questions….”where do you come from?”……”UK”……”oh, whereabouts in UK?”…”London”….”oh, great….which part of London”….”Muswell Hill”…..”never heard of it,what’s your postcode?” Sorry dude, we were a bit grumpy tired.
OldGreySocks needed a streetlight. We found one miraculously at La Hotterie. He unloaded his saddlebag….dumped the contents on the floor and said,
“right, let’s go”.
You need a sleep mate. We found a nice bit of gravel away from the miraculous streetlight and The Wattmeister promised to wake his compadre up in twenty minutes.
About half an hour later, OldGreySocks shook The Wattmeister from his coma. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. We set off in pursuit of the long gone Bubbles….The Wattmeister turned back for his rainjacket which he thought was laying on the gravel but which in fact adorned his body. It would be an hour or so before he saw OGS again.
Resigned to being last man on the road. The Wattmeister stalked a french couple who whispered sweet nothings to each other in the night air before St-Remy-du-Val,
….”trop vite cherie…..trop loin cherie…regarde, la lune cherie”…it was beautiful to eavesdrop on their affectionate chirping as they led us towards Mamers.
In Mamers, Velo club Saosnois were dishing out hot soup, coffee and cake to fortify riders for the last 24 kms push to Mamers. Unbeknownst to us, Bubbles was just around the corner praying to meet up again with Jane, and Jane was around another corner hoping to pal up with Bubbles….well, this is the magic of PBP….their paths crossed at a time when they both needed it.
Meanwhile, although The Wattmeister got a lively lead out from a couple of English guys, OldGreySocks hit a rich vein of form and ripped up the newly resurfaced road to Mortagne clocking in a couple of minutes behind Bubbles who had misplaced her bike, and a couple of minutes in front of TW who had misplaced his brain.
Despite dawdling a bit, we were now 2 and a half hours to the good….time that was about to be forfeited to sleep.
Thursday 22nd August. The final stretch.
The distance from Mortagne to the finish in Rambouillet, via the penultimate control at Dreux, is 122 kms. The decision was made to sleep for a mere 90 minutes in order to leave at 05.00 a.m, which would allow us 10 hours to complete the course.
Our group had to finish by 15.00 p.m.
LongTom and SavilleRowAlex had arrived in Mortagne at about 20.30 p.m, fully six hours in front of Bubbles, OldGreySocks and The Wattmeister. Consequently they both had a very good rest before setting off an half an hour before the slowcoaches at 04.30 a.m. Their plan was to wait for us in Dreux and we would all ride together to Rambouillet.
Helen woke us up at the agreed time, fixed coffee and made sure we ate something before setting off into the bitter cold blackness to tackle the Perche whose stiff hills are the source of many tributaries of the River Seine.
At this point, the ride looked in the bag, a stone cold (very apt) certainty, assured, guaranteed, all the synonyms you can muster.
After about one kilometre, on a dark, ripping descent, OldGreySocks suddenly became alarmed as his bike started to shimmy uncontrollably. A frightening phenomenon. Under another miraculously placed streetlight, we checked the bike over as the minutes ticked by. A diagnosis could not be found, so OGS continued gingerly down the hill, thankfully with no further occurrence.
The undulating 19 kms to Longny-au-Perche proved a tough test at this stage of the game, but we left the steepest hills behind at La Barbiniere, turned towards Senonches, and meandered along a plateau framed by golden cornfields. The sky turned a pastel shade of pink in advance of a majestic sunrise, and somehow, this display of natural beauty made every little hardship seem worth the effort.
Approaching Neuilly-sur-Eure at 30 kms into the stage, Bubbles was overcome with sleepiness. Our saviour appeared in the form of SAS Boulangerie Touffet, whose proprietor had a kerbside trestle table heavily laden with freshly baked pizzas and pain aux chocolats.
Here is what happened. There was one solitary chair inside the bakery. Bubbles collapsed into it. The proprietor’s wife quickly and kindly covered her with a blanket as it was still very chilly. Bubbles slept for about fifteen minutes, mouth open and snoring like a combine harvester.
While she slept, to the amazement of the baker, OGS and TW demolished half a dozen pizzas and enjoyed a couple of cups of coffee from the adjacent Bar Tabac.
When Bubbles awoke, still slightly dazed, but not as dazed as those who witnessed her snoring, she was served coffee and cake by her two elderly carers, and once again we set off towards Dreux. Thank you so much SAS Boulangerie Touffet for your amazing food and the kindness and respect you showed to us.
There were still 50 kms to cycle to the control, but we plodded along dreamily for an hour or so before joining up and sharing the workload with a nice group of riders until the village of Blévy where everyone decided to shed layers of clothing as the temperature climbed. For some riders this can be a tricky process after so little sleep.
What would normally take two minutes can last up to ten. The Wattmeister was befuddled by the concepts of ‘left’ and ‘right’, and ‘front’ and ‘back’, and the workings of a zip seemed the domain of an astrophysicist….but eventually he managed to strip off the unnecessary garments and don replacement lightweight kit so that it wasn’t inside out and upside down.
As this feat took so long, there was some distance on the road between him and the remnants of Team MHP. Salvation came in the shape of a mature looking Belgian rider towing a group of younger riders at a conservative 40 kms ph. The Wattmeister did what he does best…wheelsucked for his life. The Belgian was a powerhouse and flew along the narrow flat D20 to Crécy, where Bubbles and OldGreySocks joined the party.
For the next 10kms, the Belgian Rocket rattled along merrily with a whole host of riders high on adrenaline turning the pedals in his wake until we rolled into the control at Dreux…..thank you Belgian Boss.
Our time advantage now stood at 80 minutes. This presented an opportunity to supplement the four pizzas consumed at Neuilly with Omelette, Boeuf Bourguignon and Pommes de Terres Dauphinoises…all on the same plate.
It didn’t touch the sides.
Tom and Alex were sunbathing around the corner outside Dreux’s impressive station. The boys could have finished hours ago but chose to escort us back to La Bergerie in Rambouillet. We had about 4 hours to complete the remaining 45 kms. Alex sat himself on the front of the group tapping out a lovely tempo for the final run-in.
The mood in camp was light, happy, chatty…. liberated as we were from the burden of doubt. The trials and tribulations of Trevé on Tuesday night were a distant memory. The weather was nigh on perfect as we weaved our way through the endless fields of corn before crossing the outward route at Faverolles and dropping down to the Forest of Rambouillet.
Soon enough the cheers of hundreds of smiling spectators signalled the end of the ride as we passed under the Arrivé banner and crossed the timing mat in La Bergerie…..we had two hours to spare.
This had been a wonderful team effort. Managing a group of five individuals with different rhythms would always be a challenge on an adventure like this. However, we never had a cross word, and both Plan A and Plan B, which had been discussed in depth before the ride, were successfully deployed.
It was a privilege to have undertaken the ride with such resolute, reliable, capable and fun friends. On the ride, during the qualifiers, and whilst organising the mundane minutiae of travel and accommodation logistics, we all supported one another without question, and no doubt we will get more sleep on our return in 2023.
Thanks go to Helen and Sinclair who drove the Wattmobile out to Carhaix and back to Tinteniac and Mortagne to pitch tents, cook for us and listen to our travails in the depth of might.
The bikes were in great shape. Bubbles’ dynamo light bracket snapped after 150 kms. We did not have one single puncture. There were no other significant problems apart from OGS’s temporary bike shimmy after Mortagne.
After a celebratory meal in the huge marquee washed down by a couple of well earned beers, we adjourned to our headquarters in the glamorous surroundings of the long term campervan parking area and ordered more pizzas. Food never tasted so good.