GREENWICH TO CALAIS – DISTANCE 126.9km, CLIMBING 1164m
Was it really a year ago that we rode from London to Paris for Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research? Now renamed Bloodwise, the charity has Gurning Grimpeur support again in 2015.
All five ‘gurneurs’ piled into Maureen’s car – bikes, cases, school ties and all – incredibly early in the morning to drive us (Iain and Jackie) to the start at Greenwich Park. Molly and Patrick had been determined to come along even although it was a school day.
The hubbub at Greenwich was infectiously exciting (and somewhat unsettling) as the gathered riders got on with jittery last minute preparations. We spotted familiar faces in the crowds. Bloodwise organiser Bekah sporting a multi-coloured wig got us all in the right frame of mind.
John Gavigan from Killybegs was there with his family seeing him off. We’d been on some training runs to Box Hill with John in the lead-up to the event proper. This was the real thing.
Leaving Maureen to negotiate the rush hour traffic to transport Molly and Patrick to school, we pedalled off towards Folkestone – recognising parts of the route as we sped along.
It wasn’t such a mad dash as last year. What was the same however, was the punishing climb up Lympne Hill near the end. Ouch! It hasn’t got any flatter in the last 12 months – strange that. We were soon on the coach though and hurtling under the Channel bound for Calais. Day One under our belts already.
CALAIS TO ABBEVILLE – DISTANCE 136.7km, CLIMBING 1179M
We left Calais with the roads all to ourselves – at least our side of the roads, thanks to the rolling closures provided by the amazing moto outriders.
It was time to get into the French groove, enjoy the countryside and cruise along in a relaxed fashion. Wrong!
First of all I (Iain) got a puncture in the first mile and had to get a replacement wheel from Nigel in the mechanic’s van. And before very long we found ourselves gurning laboriously up endless hills and sloshing our way through a truly Biblical downpour which didn’t let up for most of the day. But riding appropriately, two by two, the Bloodwise pedallers kept smiling despite the ‘hostile environment’.
We were billeted in the lovely and familiar Mercure Hotel in the centre of Beauvais again. If my feet had felt like fairground goldfish sloshing around inside my waterproof socks during the ride, it was appropriate that I was soon consoling myself with a goldfish-bowl-sized glass of Affligem Belgian beer in the bar.
Jackie and I met Scott Holt at our dinner table. The three of us inadvertently benefited from the unfortunate John Gavigan being shipped off to a different hotel (sorry John). We’d kept a place for him, bought him a drink and made sure his food was set down at his vacant seat. We waited – and waited.
John’s phone had died and when his message got to us, via word of mouth, that he was now at the other hotel, it meant his meal had to beaten by someone – that would be us. And his truly enormous glass of Belgian beer had to be downed by someone – that would be me (Iain)! A delicious – not to mention convivial – end to a soggy Day Two. All that was missing was John’s company.
ABBEVILLE TO BEAUVAIS – DISTANCE 115.3kM, CLIMBING 786m
Out third day on the road was less hilly. It stayed dry and we did manage to appreciate our surroundings. Lots of friendly and curious locals, barking dogs and diffident drivers. A man caught on the pavement in front of his house in his dressing gown did not appear to be phased by a Bloodwise peleton of riders rushing past. An elderly lady clutching fresh baguettes also gazed on appreciatively as we whooshed by.
On his invitation, I tagged onto the back of ride captain, Nic Backster, during the timed section only for him to ramp up the pace. I strained every sinew – and anything else that was strainable – to keep on his wheel. As we passed other riders he breezily exclaimed, “Grab the wheel and try and stay behind.” Some did for a while, only to drop off the back. I pushed myself to stay glued to that strip of tyre spinning in front of me. It was exhilarating. But my high five with Nic after we’d crossed the line was not going to be the last of it.
Beauvais, our Day Three destination was as quirky and charming as last year. Quirky, because the venue again was the Sapeur-Pompiers centre – our bikes were spending the night amongst the town’s fire engines. Charming, because again the deputy mayor made a formal presentation thanking Bloodwise for fighting blood cancer. This was accompanied by wine and drinks, proffered by waiters and waitresses, lined up beside the stark concrete hangar. The warm welcome extended to us here should have been no surprise, we’d just cycled up Avenue Winston Churchill to reach the main centre of the fire station.
BEAUVAIS TO PARIS – DISTANCE 102km, CLIMBING 948m
The morning of Day Four took us back to the fire engines. Ride Captain Nic Backster collared me with a giggle saying, “You’ve made some people in the fast group very unhappy.” They had been studying the results for the time trial on the DB Max website. The fact that I (an interloper from the social group) had placed higher than some fast group riders had caused a bit of a stir. Noses were out of joint and Nic Backster thought it hilarious.
We pedalled back out onto Avenue Winston Churchill, our destination Paris. It’s a gentler ride on Day Four and it’s the shortest, That’s not to say there aren’t a couple of hills at the start. After lunch there’s a treacherous descent which was the scene of one rider having a very bad fall last year.
This time the ride captains refrained from chivying us along on this section as they had done in 2014. Slow but sure this time. And seeing the potholes and degraded tarmac at the edge of the road, it’s a wonder not more of us had come to grief on it before.
We were soon pedaling through residential areas – and could sense the French capital was close. Before you know it you’re on cobbles, then you realize the Arc de Triomphe is towering before you at the end of the road. We passed several groups of supporters waving flags and cheering for their loved ones. Round the roundabout and down the second cobbled street, it’s amazing to sail past all the massed traffic held at bay by the motos. Unlike in the countryside it seemed clear that Parisian drivers were none too amused about being held up. Cue much revving of engines and angry staring.
But we were smiling – some of us also crying – as we started pedalling across the Seine with the Eiffel Tower to our right. We had made it. Cue hugs, bottles of beer and that crazy group photo.
Of course our fellow ‘gurneurs’, Molly, Patrick and Maureen were at the finish line to meet us – M and P having swapped the school ties for their Look Mum No Hands cycling caps. All five Gurning Grimpeurs were back in Paris again – time for the ‘posh dinner’!
PARIS ‘POSH DINNER’ – OUR 15 MINUTES OF FAME
The Cyclevox film crew was buzzing around everywhere getting the shots they needed for the parody video of Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’. Jacqueline and me had been shrinking violets when it came to the ‘Happy’ video in 2014, so we did our best to get our faces in front of the camera when we could. Our efforts were rewarded. When the video was aired during the Paris dinner, we appeared pedalling along singing part of the chorus.
Next year? Mmmm?