After cycling from the hotel in Challans to the start of Stage 1, I made my first mistake. I forgot to re-start the Garmin, after stopping to take a couple of photographs. By the time I had realised my mistake, I was 50kms into the stage. The stage started off really well. I joined a local rider and after chatting to him for a while, I sat on his weel for about 10kms. Shortly after we split up, the heavens opened. It was one of those showers with huge drops of rain. I was soaked in no time, but it did clear up shortly after.
After Les Sables d’Olonnes, the route goes inland, with a nice tailwind. For quite a while, this single carriageway was really busy, with very fast flowing traffic. I must admit, compared to yesterday, when Garmin chose the route, today was a different matter all together. I suppose the Peloton have the advantage of closed roads.
At Avrille, where the intermediate sprint took place, I stopped for lunch. This is where I witnessed the first of two extremes of French hospitality. This was at a small restaurant, with outside tables. I stayed outside as I was quite smelly and ate a Ham Baguette and a drink. On paying, I asked if she could fill up my bidons with tap water. She refuse and said to go to the public toilet on the other side of the road. Thanks for that!
Shortly after that, the heavens opened again. Going north, along the route, it became hillier and with the weight I was carrying, I was having to revert to the small ring, bit cog. It didn’t look good for the proper climbs in the later stages. I did manage a reasonable average speed though; 25.7kph.
After Sainte-Ermine, I got lost. I’d obviously mapped the route incorrectly as the SatNav route said that I should turn right, through someone garden. I went on a bit, doubled back and checked again when I saw a woman going towards her house Second of two extremes of French hospitality coming. I asked her where the route went from here and she pointed me in the right direction. I thanked her and asked if I could fill my bidons with tap water. She obliged and asked me to come in. She even asked if I wanted a coffee. I declined the coffee, filled the bottles up and spoke about the Tour with her and her husband for about 15 minutes. Why can’t everyone be like that?
On the quieter roads, and in particular, the hilly bits, there were words of encouragement painted across the roads. Thomas Voekler was obviously a favourite. I saw a couple of “Allez Cav”. I even saw a “Long live Louison Bobet”. For the uninitiated, Louison Bobet won the Tour 3 times in the ’50s. He died in ’83.
With about 40kms to go, I was really getting tired. My speed was dropping on the climbs. I was concerned that I would get to the hotel, which was about 25kms from the finish, quite late. When it came to it, at Les Herbier, I turned off and cycled straight to the hotel rather than go to the Stage finish 6kms away. During the last few kilometres, I had been thinking about the fact that I had committed myself to doing this sort of mileage, day in, day out. The fact that I was carrying all this extra weight on my bike and having to get from one stage to the next, on my own was really playing on my mind.
To top it all, when I got to the hotel, they had messed up my reservation and didn’t have a room for me. It was now getting quite late. Searches on the internet and phone calls later, we found that all hotels in the area were fully booked. They did manage to find me a mobile home in a local camp site though. That was the final straw. I decided that I had bitten off more than I could chew and would forget about riding the rest of the Tour. Whether through stupidity or naivety, there was no way that I could do this every day for 3 weeks. In any case, I was missing my wife and kids.
What I can say though is that I have a new personal best for distance covered in one day; 232kms.
For those of you who have followed my planning and preparation, I thank you. I also thanks you for your words of encouragement and also, to those who have sponsored me; I hope you don’t want your money back.