I’m lucky enough to have some great people around to support me in the racing that I love and the way I live, so for once it was nice to give something back, as well as getting some practice at fixing bikes on the road…
A friend of mine who I know through work had asked if I’d be interested in helping get some bikes ready for his London-to-Paris ride – before I knew it, I was packing up my tools and snacks ready to look after six mates for five days on the road. One of the lads had trusted me with his VW van, which I’d packed to the rafters with as many different forms of sugar as I could find – each morning and night the van was loaded and unloaded with all of the guys kit bags and whilst they were on the road they had access whenever they’d like to they’re day bag and food. I also had all the tools and spares I could think of ready to hand in case the bikes needed attention.
A night in The Farmers Club in London was the perfect start to a Gentleman’s weekend away and seeing the guys off into the sunlit London chill of Thursday morning was the perfect hangover cure! But before I could get too stuck in, I had an emergency job to do; it turned out that one of the riders had precisely all of the documents he’d need to get as far as Dover, so my first job was to meet up with his apprentice at Clacket Lane Services and pick-up a small maroon book with his picture inside it! That done I headed on to meet the guys at the 85km mark for some elevenses. After a late breakfast at The Barrow House it was good to finally get on the road with the guys.
Through the wilds of Kent the sun really shone and the hop gardens and oast houses were a beautiful backdrop for some photos, before the steep climb out of Folkston and the smooth roll into Dover, just on time for our ferry. A glass of champagne on board toasted the end of the first section and the start of the French part of the adventure. The chalky downland of East Kent was replaced by the chalky downland of Northern France and the hills were no less severe. By this point of the afternoon and with nearly 100 miles in the legs the guys came up against a strong hot headwind – the final miles into Wimereux tested everybody and I think the guys were pleased to hand over bike-washing duties to me in return for a beer or two!
Sore legs at breakfast were usurped by strong heads and hearts and after an amazing 8 course feast the night before at Hotel Atlantic everyone was fresh and ready for action. The bikes had a few tweaks to get them into shape for day 2 and the van was now the height of luxury for any weary rider, stocked up to the gunwales with water, coke, bars, gels, fruit, sweets and everything else the individual riders had asked for – no BC jiffy bags though! Off we set into a slightly colder France. As we headed slightly inland we rolled through typical beautiful French towns and plenty of wide open agriculture, again proving for some great backdrops for my lens. The guys were now working much better together and were riding impressively tightly after getting a little strung out the day before.
As we headed for a lunch stop the road began to get a little more lumpy and I raced ahead to find somewhere suitable – I judge French lunch stops based on three things; does the owner speak exclusively French and nothing else, is the bar full of French workermen at 5-to-noon and is the restaurant also inhabited by stuffed wild animals,… if the answer to these three things is yes, then it’s safe to eat there. Having found such a place I ordered some wine, reserved a table and headed back to the road to wave the riders down. 3 courses later we were ready for action again!
France had now become decidedly hilly and the guys made their way over 13 climbs throughout the day – the noise of the six riders flying down the descents in tight formation was great and I was able to leapfrog them all afternoon with snacks and clothing whenever they needed. The sun came out, but one rider was now feeling a little under the weather – everyone has a low patch on a ride like this and the amazing thing on these trips is seeing how the other guys look after whoever it is that’s having a hard time – one thing’s for sure, everyone takes a turn and it always comes around when you least expect it. Watching the individual riders become a team in front of me, I really yearned to be there on my bike in the action – watching it from the van reminded me how lucky I am to be a part of such a great sport. The achievement of pushing through and finishing the day off was such a reward for everyone.
Before the final day I gave each of the bikes a proper wash down and service – everything nice and shiny for the run in to Paris and all in good working order. It’s amazing how much tweaking a bike needs after a couple of long days and everyone seemed a bit more relaxed without having to worry about their machines. All the water bottles had a clean and a final restock of all the goodies in the van made sure there were no excuses before another fine French dinner.
Day 3 was sunnier and flatter than day 2, which had to be a blessing! The guys were working well together and keeping each other motivated. The narrow French roads were playing havoc with my Garmin but I still managed to find a decent few coffee stops and photo opportunities, before quite possible the finest impromptu lunch stop ever – I was getting a reputation for sniffing out fine French cuisine – Vignes Rouges was a bit like and English tearoom in a tiny French village, that served the most amazing local dishes you could ever taste. France must be packed with these kind of hidden gems and it’ well worth stopping somewhere real rather than the big out-of-town commercial places that serve the same as everyone else. The Charolais steak certainly set me up for the drive into Paris and in true French style my “medium” steak came out nice and bloody – perfect!
What wasn’t perfect was the Saturday afternoon Parisian traffic, but we battled our now separate ways into the capital. I headed straight to the hotel to deposit bags and bike boxes before grabbing the champagne (French champagne that we’d brought from England) and heading up to meet the guys at the Arc de Triomph. I got there just in time and amazingly found them in the crowded chaos – my only strict instruction of the trip was to make sure that the champers was cold so I’d had to barter at the hotel for some ice, ice bucket and glasses! That done I could relax – just the simple task of boxing up six bikes, finding space for them and six bags in the van and then driving the whole lot home, but before that it was time for more food and drink in Paris’ beautiful Tran Bleu, followed by a night out to celebrate.
Photos by Glen Whittington.
Glen rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. He races mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross at local and national level. He receives personal support from Helly Hansen, Scott Sports, The Velo House, and the.æight.bicycle.cømpany. Glen runs The Velo House with Olly, a coffee shop, workshop and bike shop welcoming all cyclists and non-cyclists, based at 5 St.Johns Road, Tunbridge Wells, TN4 9TN – 01892 554 505 – firstname.lastname@example.org. He also contributes to Simpson Mag @eightbikeco #aeightracer