Stage 20: Time trial from Bergerac to Perigeux (54 km).
Most years the Tour includes 3 time trial stages, the first of which, (the Prologue), is usually only about 15 km long, (that would have been nice!). This year, to reduce the dominance of time trial specialists, the organisers decided to have only one.
We had to make use of clever map-reading to find the start as most of Bergerac was closed off in preparation for the official stage the next day. Finally we located it but less than a minute after parking the van a gendarme came over and said ‘you can’t stop there’. Mark used his powers of persuasion, and achieved a grudging ‘deux minuits seulement’ so good job we’ve now had a fair bit of practice at assembling the bikes and getting ready for the off.
Shocked by a total lack of yellow arrows – just some blue ones, which fizzled out well before the end of the route, (the blue arrow men obviously don’t have the committment of the yellow arrow men). Although short, the stage was not easy, as there were plenty of sharp climbs. We had lots of cyclists for company today – where were they all on the mountain stages?? Many of them got lost with us towards the finish and a group of us rode one 20 minute circuit only to finish back where we started, (that’s a few extra km on the sheet).
Found Mark, parked opposite the Monoprix, (time for a quick shopping trip to buy some wine), and then we put the bikes in the van and set off to drive the 554 miles to Paris, leaving Mark by the side of the road to hitch 250 miles to Perpignan, (his idea, not ours!). We found out later that it took him 23 hours, and he spent most of the night walking. Definite nomination for greatest sacrifice shown by a memberof the back-up team..
With the help of Alastair’s sat-nav we arrived at the flat in Paris bang on time, actually 10 minutes before Ali, Jane and Ellen, who came over on the Eurostar. They were as much impressed by that as with any of our other achievements. Happy reunion of cyclists and family.
We were very fortunate to be able to stay with Katharine and Daniel Singleton-Smith in their central Paris flat – great hospitality and support which was much appreciated. Thanks very much!
Stage 21: Evry to Paris, (137.5 km)
Having driven into Paris yesterday, it was today’s task to travel back out again with our bikes and to ride into the city to complete the final stage of the Tour. Ali had previously given a point blank refusal re. any idea of her driving the van through Paris, so she researched getting to the stage start by train. Luckily Evry is on the RER D-line, about 35 minutes from central Paris and you can take your bikes on the train without any need to book, (so much better than the ‘you can take your bike if there’s room’ policy on UK trains which is less than useless if you need to plan a trip with your bike). Katharine kindly drove ahead of us to the Stadt de France – a good place to park the van free for the weekend, and handy for the train station. It was equally handy when we came to pick up the van later on – the stadium is hard to miss!
Travelled en famille out to the start. Ellen liked the ‘double decker’ train. It was a gloriously hot and sunny day for the last day’s riding and it didn’t take us long to find the route, (hooray for the return of the yellow arrows). Most of the stage was pretty quiet, passing through wheatfields and along small roads, until we got closer to the Seine when it got steadily busier and busier. By the time we reached the Champs Elysees it was total traffic chaos – multiple lanes of traffic, (between 4 and 12 lanes in different sections), and an apparent free-for-all in terms of rights of way – cars, buses, taxis, police… Ali wouldn’t have been able to take a photo of us without being run over. The massive roundabout around the Arc du Triomphe has a ‘give way to people coming on to the roundabout’ rule – at least that’s what seemed to be happening.
We decided to take a break in the Tuilerie gardens for an ice-cream and to think about what to do next. Martin sensibly decided that he didn’t want to risk being knocked off his bike on the last day of the trip so voted not to ride the 8 laps around the Arc du Triomphe/Louvre/Needles/Champs Elysees circuit. I couldn’t bring myself not to do it, so set off to do one lap to see how long it would take me. The answer was 35 minutes, which gave me an eta of 9pm for finishing my final Tour stage. Not especially late compared to many of the other stage finishes! The Tour spectators, (Ali, Jane and Ellen), weren’t so keen that they wanted to see me on each circuit round, (and Ali was not very happy to have additional stress re. my health and safety right at the end of the ride). So – we didn’t get to have the grand finish we had envisioned – no photo of us crossing the finishing line – but the good news was that I didn’t get run over, and I did get quicker with each circuit as I learnt how best to negotiate the traffic lanes. Achieved a personal best of 21 minutes for the penultimate circuit.
Ellen presented us both with a cycling trophy engraved with ‘Tour de France Hero 2014’, and Jane produced a ‘Well Done Martin and Pete’ banner, (which she was still busy sewing while on the Eurostar and on the train back from Evry!).
It felt unreal to have finally reached our destination – no more stages to cycle. Huge sense of satisfaction and relief that we had both made it to the finish in one piece. It’s been one of the best experiences of my life and a life-time ambition realised.
Later on, relaxing back at the flat, Katharine was asking Martin about the trip and about how much we had cycled together. His response – that we are ‘basically completely incompatible as cycling partners’ – amused her! (‘You’ll have to put that in the blog!’).
Had a great rest of the weekend in Paris. Daniel was concerned that our leg muscles didn’t seize up, and sent us off to Monmartre to climb the 300 steps to the top of the Sacre Coeur, (fantastic view over the city but very shaky legs when we got to the bottom again).