Tour de Farce: cycling from La Manche to Le Med | Martin Love

Riding the duration of France devotes Martin Love and three friends the have opportunities to enjoy endless rain, empty superhighways and performance-enhancing croissants

Its a misty morning in March. Ive got a stinking hangover and am being dragged round the block by the dog. Suddenly my friend Frank jumps out of the murk, fraction human, component Tigger. Hey, Martin, he says. Ive had a great idea. Fancy cycling to my mums live? Even by his zany standards this is strange. His mum merely lives in Sydenham, about a mile from where were holding. I entail, my mums house in Aix-en-Provence, he includes. Hes half French, but is he half crazy, extremely? Aix is hundreds of miles away. But I know Frank and there is always a fearsome inevitability to his plans

Three months later its another murky morning and Frank and I are about to repetition to his mums mansion. A ambiguous think of incredulity controls me. Frank has persuaded two other misguided beings, Mark and Joan, to join us. The route Frank has planned, from south London to the south of France, is a meandering 900 -mile wiggle which will take us in a lazy swerve across Kent and for the purposes of the Channel before stopping the length of France. Well be cycling from La Manche to Le Med. To impede thoughts interesting, Franks included un petit dtour up and over Mont Ventoux a windblasted 6,273 ft mountain known as the Beast of Provence.

Lets
Lets disappear from here to here: Joan and Frank do some road propose in the Eurotunnel terminal

Over the months, our lovely five-day jaunt has expanded into a full-blown nine-day escapade. There ought to have meetings( in the tavern ), education goes( 1) and weve been assigned fields of expertise. Frank: direction intention, accommodation, gear, logistics, nutrition. Label: additional direction organize, communication. Joan: nothing. Me: nothing.

We lastly set off at 7:30 am working on a Saturday in June for stage 1: London to Dover. Travelling as the working group takes some going used to. Joan, a handsome Catalan adding some much-needed elegance to our micro peloton, doesnt seem to realise its not an actual hasten. He instantly fades over the first mountain. When we catch him he examines amazed at our lack of speed and stamina. Where have you been? he questions. I begin to worry our single civilize move may have been ambitious

Hours afterwards we roll into Dover. Kent in high summer has been as quite as ever, but this time it was pockmarked with Vote Leave banners. We committee the Eurotunnel train and decline beneath the Channel, experiencing relieved to be back in Europe, at the least for a week. Frankfurters sister lives in the minuscule hamlet of Nortbcourt( pop 449 ), about 20 miles from Calais. She sacrifices us a berth for the darknes and buttress us with pizza and neighbourhood cider which we later discover comes from Hereford. We watch England scrape a toothless attract against Russia, marvelling at the antics of the rowdies in Marseille. Just other sons on tour, we joke.

Aces
Aces high-priced: the final resting place of Arthur James Fisher, shot down by the Red Baron

Day two and our first proper preference of going in France and also of journeying in heavy rain. Thank you, weather deities! We snake our way in all the regions of the open pastures scattered with white-hot cows, past age-old dairies and disused excavations. Where is everyone? Mark asks. Its a question we recur over and over in the coming eras. Desolate streets skirt enormous fields. We swoop through silent and shuttered hamlets as if we are the last beings alive escaping a zombie holocaust. The only clues of life are series bird-dogs. Fencings are strung with dead crows literal scarecrows. They run. Were scared.

Then its on in all the regions of the flat fields of Flanders. Poppies flutter everywhere. Arras is on the horizon, the Somme beyond that. We stop at the conflict mausoleum near Bancourt. Its the final resting place of Franks great uncle, Arthur James Fisher, sixth victim of Manfred von Richthofen the notorious Red Baron. Arthur was killed at 21. Manfred went on to claim another 74 thumps before being shot down himself and expiring from his curves at the age of 25. Arthurs grave lies on its own at the leading edge of the cemetery. We stand around it in the rain, forgotten for statements at their spirit, at the stupefying brevity of their lives.

Another
Another croissant ?: Mark and Frank get the carbs in at the campsite at Bdoin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux

We pedal on across Picardy and eventually arrive in Laon. It boasts an incredible five-spired, 12 th-century cathedral which sits on a giant stone. Looming out of the mist, it hardly seems real more like a princesss palace. We check into an Ibis before heading back into the towns beautiful square. It, very, is totally deserted. We are the only diners in the only open eatery. We toast one another with pastis, and marvel at the cathedral. Its contained within carved animals puppies, horses, moo-cows, ass and chickens. Mark detects France has yet to open its limbs to vegetarians when his asparagus arrives wrapped in bacon.

The following day we leave the battlefields and head for Champagne-Ardennes. The endless, immaculate vineyards are mesmerising, as if all the green descents have been neatly combed. Past Reims and on the way for Troyes the soothing hills peter out. The range is interrupted merely by a phalanx of gale turbines. Their long forearms divert elegantly like synchronised swimmers. Its hedgeless, treeless, limitless How can France be so big? How can it be so empty? It feels like were in the Prairies. We crank out a steady lilt along rapier- straight superhighways that are 5km long without a kink. Whod have though youd miss a deflect, Mark says, before trailing off, mesmerised by scale of the vastness.

We eat, we joke, we follow the rotate in front. Its amazing how the hours coiling by, our knowledge set free to unspool. We grow obsessed with spotting birds of target. And goats. And ornamental wheelbarrows.

Peak
Peak act: the winding road to the summit of Mont Ventoux. Photo: Alamy

Day four draws proper sideways rainwater and jazz so strong it fells a tree. We have to carry our bicycles across it, Tarzan-style. It gives me a chance to practise my French. I flag down a motorist to advise her that: Il y a un splendid arbre la route ! Mark tops this later by telling a pharmacist he requires decongestants: Mon nez est ferm ! Frank, wholly fluent, thinks its funnier not to help out at all.

Another day, another inn, motel, campsite they start to blur. We try to remember what weve looked on which daytime. We start to get into a steady routine. Each morning we load up on croissants and coffee. Then theres delineate converse. Then the creaming starts Ride a bike for more than a epoch and everyone asks you about the nation of your arse. Its wellbeing becomes a matter of intense investigation. Weve raised bumper bathtub of chamois cream and shovel handfuls of it down our shorts. Its cool and soothing. We soon work out its best to do that after weve snacked the croissants

How
How much further ?: Joan takes a quick siesta by the road

By we are two-thirds of the path down the two countries, weve inched past Bourg-en-Bresse, skirted Lyons and spanned the Drme. At last-place La Belle France is beginning to live up to her billing. Provence brings us oak-covered mounds, farmhouses, cherry orchards and fields of lavender.

But up ahead we know we still have our biggest challenge an rising of Mont Ventoux a massive, hatching existence that reigns the locality. Its too a cycling mecca and this year the Tour de France headed to its summit on Bastille Day.( Well, it tried to strong winds resulted in the summit finish being moved down the mountain and the race resulted in the strange sight of Chris Froome, the race captain, extending up the road .) On the working day we arrive the lower ascents are busy with cyclists rather than love and everywhere we gaze Lycra-clad devotees are beetling their acces up its vertiginous flanks.

Its a 22 km slog up an 8% inclination. Near the top the trees give out and you arrive in a waterless, lunar barren. The camaraderie among the riders is astonishing hollers of Allez and Courage keep us straining ever upwards. Its an agonising, lung-popping, thigh-burning two hours. At the top theres laughter and backslapping and a glorious belief of awe. We take in the view for a moment before passing and rushing to the bottom like stones dropped down a well 6,000 ft in 20 instants. I find it terrifying and arrive at the end a jibbering ruin. Joan looks at his speedo and is disappointed to see hes only made 83 kmh.

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