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Day 1: Let the "fun" begin

1: Tonnerre - Montagny-les-Beaune

Distance - 54m (85km) [Total dist 145km*]
Max speed – 39.4mph (63kmh)

  • both start and end points were changed after route had been mapped out, so actually distance was slightly different. And mine is obviously shorter because I didn't cycle all of it.


Thirteen cyclists on thirteen bikes had planned to set out on day 1, until a slight technical issue was realised. With the driver in China, somebody would have to drop out and drive the van. Selflessly, I volunteered. Now, you might think that it's a bit of a cheat to drive the whole way, and, in fairness, you would be right. In mitigation, it had been agreed that driving would be shared between 11 of us (excluding the two had had drive down and would then drive back to Sweden). Five days – plus the Mountain loop stage which was an out and back and didn't require the van – mean't that everybody would then drive. I had no desperate desire to cycle from the start, and figured that if i got out of the way, it would be better.

Packing up in preparation for the start of the trip South

Day 1 was a nice 91mile (145km) jaunt south, over reasonably friendly terrain and in reasonable weather, and thus I headed off in the van through the back roads of France, with the aim of trying to get to the predetermined meeting point before everybody else and then riding back to meet them. But first I had to go for a big satisfying dump. I just know you wanted to know that.

I tried to follow the same route as the cyclists, more or less, but things (obviously) happen much faster in a vehicle and on more than one occasion coming through villages, I knew I had gone wrong, and then spent a good while trying to get back on route. As it was, by the time I'd stopped to take a couple of “action” (in the loosest sense of the word) shots of the guys going past, got sidetracked (and well and properly traffic jammed) in a village fete, got to and parked up in Fontigny, the lunch pause, got changed and fixed my bike, I had barely managed to 5miles back down the road before I was passed by the first group coming in the opposite direction at a fair old whack.

A 45minute lunch pause later, and leaving the newly arrived Mats S with the keys and to await the trio of back-markers still out on the road, and I was a proper cyclist again. Such a thing has not happened to me in over 10years, and it felt both great and weird to be back in a group of cyclists. The feeling of great and weird swiftly changed to one of realisation, both about what I was doing and that this wouldn't be an easy paced roll in the country. It was actually good fun. On the first climb of any note (though it was barely 2km), i was pleased to discover that instead of being waaaaay last as I'd expected, I was up with the front duo for a long way and came up third. Perhaps I had a chance of surviving this week after all?

It was on the way down the other side that the fun really started. We went down a narrow country lane, and the surface really wasn't very good. I've always been a decent descender and I was fast discovering that my bike was also pretty good. The problem was, the surface really wasn't. Then we came around a corner with a lovely view of a reservior ahead and the road suddenly got increasingly steep. But I bounced down with the brakes on more or less full, and all was going fine until a sharpish left hander near the bottom, which i turned into to discover a pot hole and lots of loose gravel weren't going to let me, and thus in a kind of comical slow motion bounce i slid half way around the corner and then over a large divot before taking a refreshing if unplanned detour into a hedge before finally getting back onto the road, amazingly still upright, and astonishingly given the amount of holes and crap on the roads, not a single puncture.

With some tired legs nearing the end of the first day barely 20km to go, we made the unpleasant discovery that whilst Beaune may only have been 20km or so away, it was also over the other side of a big ridge. We were on the main road, and it was the kind of hill I hate. One that goes uphill. Actually, what I really hated was that after the first long straight drag (ok), were a series of false flats separated by shorter sharp uphill sections, all of which mentally made you think that you were constantly going up and down, whilst your legs are telling you that you very definitely aren't going downhill at all. Barely 100m after we had started the climb, and we were all strung out, and then rapidly split into mostly suffering small groups and individuals. I somehow reached the summit second only to the speedster Hasse, astonishingly even beating Göran, our former Swedish champion by a few hundred metres. Sure, it was only a few km long and a climb of only 250metres or so, and, admittedly, I'd only cycled half a day compared to everybody else, but I was still well chuffed, as I'd expected to be really struggling and coming in well down, both on any kind of uphill stretch, and the end of every day.

We regrouped at the summit (and turning off the main road), but then on the run down the other side towards Beaune, split right up. I was amongst the front group and feeling OK. Then, following on from Tonnerre's BMW club, as we rolled into Pommard with the end in sight, we came right into the centre of a gathering of (mostly) classic Porsche 911s, taking up much of the centre of the town. I had to stop for a couple of minutes whilst a Porsche driver finished doing donuts in the road. When I could finally pass, I headed out of town, and tried to catch the group again. The road turned into the kind of hedge lined winding road that is common in the UK, but not in most of the rest of Europe. And it was heading back uphill. Reasonably steeply.

After a few kilometres of this winding uphill and my going at a fair lick to try and catch up, it suddenly opened out into a long straight section and I still couldn't see anybody ahead, and I the gnawing feeling that maybe this wasn't the correct way suddenly became more serious. On as serious uphill section as that, and being only a minute or two behind the group, I really should have been able to at least see somebody ahead, even if i hadn't caught them. I then waited for about 5minutes to see if anybody came up from behind, and then when nobody did, started retracing mysteps. It was almost at the bottom of the hill that I punctured. B*gger.

So, as I sat there trying to help lost German tourists (they had to ask, didn't they?) and awaiting the glue to dry on my inner tube patch, I sheepishly made a phone call. “Erm. Emil... Where the heck are you? Montagny-les-Beaune” came the reply. “Uh?” thought I, and a few seconds then ellapsed as I perused my route card, confirming indeed that there was no Montagny-les-Beaune listed. “Where the bl**dy hell is that??”. It transpired that, for reasons that remain hazy, the days finish point had been changed to Montagny-les-Beaune (obvious really. Why else would they be there??), but the route cards hadn't. A fixed rear wheel and handful of bemused but helpful French people later, and I was back on track. I rolled into Montagny, then started wondering if it would have been helpful to know the name of the hotel as well. But it was solved easily enough.

A van load of beer and whiskey, plus shower, happily awaited.

2 hrs 15 later, Christer and Mats S finally rolled in, in the rain, and having also got lost (but gone a different way to me) in the run in. With two having come in the van, we had then all just about negotiated the day's events, and were looking forward to a well deserved meal. So turning up at the local restaurant to be told that, sadly, they were fully booked and couldn't help us didn't exactly go down very well. This news would possibly have been better received if there been even a single customer in said restaurant. There wasn't. So it was that we squeezed onto the floor of the van into Beaunne and in France, on a French holiday weekend, were forced to eat American Steak.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day. And, sadly, another cycling day.

The group lined up across the road early in the day, and still looking remarkably happy. From L-R: Emil (or Stefan. All this was his dratted idea), Frederik (looking damned cheery as always. It must be the EPO...), Torbjörn, Mats P, Göran (who was Swedish national champion in 1980, and thus somewhat quick), Jomar, Hans, Christer, Mats S, Hasse (who is just damned fast), B-G and Hans Ola (the Kaizer)

Posted by Gelli 03:38 Archived in France Tagged bicycle

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