French revolution – a great idea!
Back in September last year (2016) Captain Christelli approached me about cycling in France. One of his dreams, apparently (he doesn’t get out much!!) He’d heard about a UK Cycling Events sportive sponsored by Wiggle, called French Revolution. Catch a Ferry from Dover to Calais and, as soon as you get off the ship, you start cycling. Sounds like fun, right? Having duly stumped up the 70-quid entry fee, I booked a B&B in Dover (a twin room but none of that sort of thing!).
We left dear old Devon at 3pm on Saturday 10th for the four and a bit hours journey to the nearest UK point to mainland Europe. All was going swimmingly until we got near our junction for the M25. It was shut! It was unclear where the diversion signs were pointing us. So, me being clever and having a smattering of knowledge of the local geography, I took a route roughly in the direction we needed to go. It was also away from all the traffic! Clever, ne c’est pas? As it turns out, non! Not clever. We drove for 35 minutes and ended up re-joining the M3 about 6 miles back from where we’d got off it!! Then, we had to do it all again – this time we followed the diversions to Heathrow before joining the M25 car park.
In the clover in Dover.
Safely arrived in Dover at 8.45 in the evening. That was despite the main A20 road into town ALSO being closed. Pitching up at our B&B, which looked pretty grotty from outside, we found the landlady was pleasant and the room was ideal. The landlady allowed us to store our bikes in the hallway, as we informed her we’d be departing at 4.30 in the morning. She said she’d still be in bed, so Captain Christelli asked her if she could maybe leave some cereal or fruit out for us. Pretending she hadn’t heard, she chuckled to herself and walked off shaking her head! That’ll be a no then!! We repaired to the local Wetherspoons for an evening meal and a quick drink before bed.
Impressions – wrong ones!
Man, is Dover a rough place??!!! More homeless people than I have ever seen, and the locals would be widely regarded as very, very ugly. (Apologies at this point to any Doverians(?). I would add it’s a generalisation and a snapshot of what we saw! This feeling was reinforced in the morning. Just after loading our bikes on the car as the sun came up, we were forced to stop in the middle of the main road. Unbelievably, this was due to a young “gentleman” relieved himself – seemingly unaware of the lack of privacy and our oncoming vehicle!!
We got to the car park above Dover Castle for a speedy descent back down to the port after registering and receiving race numbers. After cycling through a maze of checkpoints and showing our passports to 14 different arbiters of the law we reached a small queue of cyclists waiting to board the Spirit of Britain (I thought that was Gin?!). As we stood there – for 90 minutes by the way – the queue swelled until we reckon there were 2,000 cyclists present. A very impressive sight, and lots of bike envy and sneering going on! There was also a small bearded man zealously wet-wiping his hands constantly. He got through a whole pack in 20 wet wipes in minutes!! God forbid his chain should come off on his ride – he’d never get going again!!
On-board the ferry we were allocated timing chips and a very welcome coffee and croissant, supplemented by the most expensive BLT on earth! Captain Christelli had to answer a call of nature, so went to the only available toilet – one with baby changing facilities, and an electronic entry switch. Pressing said switch the door opened with a whoosh, to reveal a gentleman cyclist with bib shorts at half-mast and all his…. er… groupset on show. An embarrassed cry of “sh#t I thought I’d locked it!!” and much shuffling of clothing followed – much to the Captain’s great amusement!
The invasion of France.
Upon arrival in Calais, there was a rush of cyclists to bikes. Around 600 of these (the Pros) were keen to be first to cycle off the ship onto French soil. Cue many people falling off and being unable to clip-in whilst the ferry disgorged all of us at the princely pace of 0.2mph!! JUST WALK IT’S EASIER! Captain Christelli and I were in the second group to start the ride. A pleasant bimble of 75 miles around Northern France, avoiding refugee camps and baton-wielding police officers. Don’t worry I did check my saddle pack and empty bottles for refugees on the way back. The first few miles were nice and flat although we did detect a stiff headwind as we proceeded through Sangatte. This was to cause LOTS of problems through the day. The first climb took us up to a monument high above the sea, for some very picturesque views. Captain Christelli was suffering with a bit of cramp on the way up which didn’t bode well for his day.
We’ve got wind!
We generally battled the wind down country lanes and through some soulless French villages until we neared the first food stop. A cheeky little climb preceded the stop and we were struggling upwards when a man and a young lady rode past us. At the point where she passed me she decided to stand up in her pedals and man alive she had the most perfect bottom! Call me a sexist old man if you like (you won’t be the first) but I had a renewed energy to push up the hill behind that peachy bum! Food stop number one was interesting. All the goods supplied by Powerbar, who, it seemed to me, handed over all the stuff they can’t sell! Foul tasting Apple Gels, weird antiseptic tasting wafers and a chewy bar which was like eating a banana flavour insole (there was a big bin full of these all with one bite taken out of them!).
Doing the splits.
At the 22-mile point, the French Revolution route split. Epic riders (us), to the left, Standard riders to the right. Captain Christelli was suffering – I could tell he was suffering because he had stopped moaning about how much he was suffering and had gone quiet. There was also an ongoing problem with “Neil”, his favourite bike. He had decided to do the shorter route which left me with a dilemma. Should I stay with my buddy and coax him round? I would give up the opportunity to do the long route around roads I’d probably never see again. Or should I say “see ya” and head off on my own? He was very gracious and said if I wanted to do the longer route he wouldn’t hold it against me. So, I made the decision to continue the Epic route. There were a couple of horrific climbs in near 30-degree heat, and the headwind stayed in my face most of the way round. I swear if I rode around in circles it would still have been head on!
Rear end of the ride.
Going up one of these climbs I first noticed the polar opposite of cherry-tomato-bum girl. This lady was sporting a splendid beard, thighs like telegraph poles and an arse the size of a family hatchback. Appropriately she had ‘SKY’ writ wide across her backside. Appropriately, because when I was behind her I couldn’t see any sky! Fair play to her though, she was getting up the hills and keeping going. As it turned out, I ended up passing her about 12 times when I kept stopping to take photos, comfort breaks etc. Bet she beat my time! I spent a lot of time dodging various members of Penge CC as well, who kept randomly stopping/swerving/blocking the road all the way round!! Funny how some people cycle in a club yet still have no clue about cycling etiquette!
Returning to port, I meandered pleasantly along on my own and passed through some very oddly named villages! Licques was the first to grab my attention, especially as it was next door to La Slack! Had the route had then gone through Fannay I think I may have abandoned the ride! There was a lovely sweeping descent during which I reached 48mph at one point. Scaring myself, I backed off! Lastly, a swift 6 miles back to the Port of Calais for the finish, a medal, a T-shirt and some more Powerbar seagull food.
During the ferry crossing on the way back, Captain Christelli and I discussed the day. The roads were very like the UK – iffy road surfaces, potholes, strategically placed drains, loose chippings etc. Much of the scenery was very similar to the UK – rolling fields, hills, sea. One other oddity, when I managed to lift my eyes above my handlebars I noticed there were loads of depictions of Christ on the cross? I counted 14, but I reckon I missed a few more. On second thoughts, they may not have been the Son of Our Lord, but errant cyclists – food for thought!! Car drivers were very different though! overall they were patient, and gave you a wide berth when passing – which made a pleasant change.
Ultimately, we decided we wouldn’t do the French Revolution again. Mainly due to the logistics of living 255 miles away from Dover. Certainly, I wouldn’t dissuade anyone else from taking part. I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge, despite the strong winds. I would say, however, that it was just like riding round Devon – except on the wrong side of the road. Something I do over here anyway because I feel it lends me a dangerous, devil-may-care edge! (just kidding). If I were to ride in France again I’d maybe take a local ferry, stay the night in Brittany or Normandy and then come back the next night. That way you could partake of some splendid French cuisine and maybe one bouteille de vin also!!
Bonnez de douche Rodney, Bonnez de douche.