So that is this years London to Paris cycle ride completed for Macmillan Cancer Support. But it very nearly did not happen at all! As we headed into London for our start, news filtered through that Calais was once again closed and was likely to be for a few days. Our first overnight stop was meant to be in Calais ..
But thanks to the sterling efforts from the staff at Discover Adventure, we were re-routed down to Newhaven where we would take the late ferry across to Dieppe. A logistical nightmare for them to get this organised but that they did and off we set on the 1st July. After congregating on Blackheath we headed south ..
The ride down to Newhaven was quite brutal, several stiff climbs and the hottest day of the year combined to make it tough going but all made it to the ferry and a late crossing. No complaints from anyone, just relieved to be on our way as many of the groups following were cancelled. Although the Macmillan reps did try to take things easy as much as possible …
Having arrived in Dieppe we all knew that we were around 100 miles off course. An early start and coach transfer got us back on track but this meant the 2nd stage was shortened due to the loss of time. This stage really was a case of four seasons in one day, bright sunshine, to thunderous rain, lightning and hailstorms, before the heat returned for the afternoon run into Arras and a well deserved dinner and some liquid refreshments … One moment did stop our group in our tracks. There were 2 tractors coming down a country lane, both hedge cutting but in a moment of synchronised driving, they both lifted their blades and reversed simultaneously to allow us to pass.
Day 3 took us down from Arras to Compiegne. An early morning stop at Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, a war memorial to 72,195 missing British and South African men, who died in the Battles of the Somme of the First World War between 1915 and 1918, with no known grave. A sombre moment for all and a time to reflect on the horrors of war. I came through this region last year but it was still as moving to see the memorial under refurbishment in readiness for the centenary.
Onwards to the Somme Valley, land deeply scarred by World War 1. We all stop at the viewing point overlooking the battleground below, the water beneath meandering along the floor of the valley, rich pickings now for the local fisherman.
We head down across the plateau pushing hard across the plateau where countless wind farms now stand. The air temperature pushing well over 40 degrees and the wind picking up after lunch for what was a fast but tough afternoon on the bike, hitting an average pace of 20mph down to Compiegne.
Compiègne Forest was the site of the signing of two armistices; the 1918 Armistice with Germany and the 1940 Armistice with France. Hitler specifically chose the location, and had the original signing carriage moved from Paris to Compiègne, as an irony for the defeated French. The site still houses several memorials to the 1918 armistice, including a copy of the original railway carriage. The original, after use in the 1940 armistice was moved to Berlin as a trophy of Nazi triumph.
Compiègne is also the traditional start city for the Paris–Roubaix bicycle race. It felt like we had completed the Hell of the North during this day.
Day 4 and onwards to Paris. Tired legs made this hard going in the morning but after lunch we could all see the outskirts of Paris and all pushed on. Cycling through the suburbs some locals would shout and cheer us on as we passed, collecting high 5’s from some local youths, not something I would ever expect to get in the UK. Onwards to the Eiffel Tower, but first the little spin along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées and around the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile, cheered on by locals and tourists to our finish.
Cycling in France is such a different experience to cycling in the UK. Granted the roads are far quieter but cyclists are given so much more room and respect on the roads, motorists are just that little bit more patient and it makes for a much more enjoyable experience.
All of us made it to Paris, though sadly not all in one piece. But none can be faulted for effort and a special “hat off” must go to my fellow cyclist who took on the event whilst still undergoing chemotherapy treatment. The cyclists all around all took part for their own personal reasons, even the couple of young TOWIE celebrities who cycled all the way. I only found out who they were once I got home, whilst in the group they were just cyclists trying to do something good to help those affected by cancer.
The question now is this, do I go back and do it gain next year? Maybe I will, but next up is Ride London 100, the Tour o’ the Borders and then the Tour de Broads to finish my 5 to Ride for Macmillan.