Sunday morning felt considerably better when I awoke than Saturday morning had. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the lesser amount of alcohol the night before but I’ll bear it in mind for future reference, just in case. It might also have been the fact that I knew we were on the last day with a modest distance to cover.
The Beauvais hotel provided a better range of breakfast than Dieppe had so that was another tick in the positive column. I would also add, as I forgot in the report on the previous day that the staff at the hotel were incredibly friendly and helpful. We were also able to store our bikes in a hidden area albeit it was not 100% secure but we locked them all up with no problem.
Its location was also helpful as we were already on the southern side of Beauvais so didn’t need to navigate through the town to start the trek down to Paris. Happily, my Elemnt Bolt was fully charged and I dutifully loaded in the route for the day and switched it on before we started. It worked perfect;y until the second junction where misread it and took us round a small loop of an industrial estate before arriving back where we’d started. Still, it’s always nice to see a few factories…
I had warned the group that there was a reasonable climb early on in the ride so as we climbed quite steeply out of Allonne, everyone’s spirits were high thinking we’d already done the uphill bit of the day. Err, not quite!
We headed south on the A927 and, just after Auteuil, we were faced with a long steady climb for a mile or so that had most of us sweating profusely realising just how hot it already was despite it was still about 10am. When we pulled over at the top to wring out various garments, two things became apparent. Firstly, Hugh (who had been nursing a serious shoulder injury for a few weeks) was finding the climbing hard going, despite his words to the contrary. Secondly, Graham’s bike was back into full-on spoke shredding mode. Just as we pulled over, another one pinged on the front wheel. We decided to carry on although he was four spokes down at this point on the front wheel and three of these were adjacent, leaving a worrying weak point. It was agreed that he would take it easy down any hills and that we would always ensure that someone was with him, just in case.
We carried on until we turned right on to the D5 just after Ressons-l’Abaye and we lost yet another spoke. Unsurprisingly, it was again adjacent to the existing gap and we decided it was worth trying to repair it on the roadside. Google searching turned up no open bike shops within 50 miles (being Sunday and France). However, this proved to be a wasted effort as the now missing spokes were on all on the disc brake side and we didn’t have the tools and/or the knowledge on how to remove the disc. That was one to look up when we got home! Cycling very gingerly, we headed on before finding some open shops in Ribeauville which was useful for stocking up on water and energy.
We then left the D5 and headed towards Arronville through some scenic roads. This was probably the most beautiful part of the ride, going through deserted country lanes surrounded by views of seemingly never-ending fields. There was one stretch of track (rather than road) that went downhill with a nice left turn at the bottom where I was able to get some decent photos of the guys coming through behind me. Having got a bit stretched out in a rolling section before Arronville, I made this mistake of pulling over to wait after a junction (rather than before) and a couple of people sailed past the turning. After some apologising and a re-group, we carried on south.
More and more countryside rolled by as we re-acquired the D927 just south of Hereville before another longish but easy climb through Herouville. The roads started to become tree lined and, despite the fact we were still surrounded by open countryside, they felt like boulevards and had a distinctly French vibe to them. We stopped for some lunch at a farmers’ market in Auvers-sur-Oise which was very enjoyable and at a complete contrast to the one from the day before. The whole town/village seemed to be out and milling around the centre and it was great to watch the community spirit that was clearly evident.
We were now moving into more built up areas and had a surprise climb through Mery-sur-Oise which went on for about a mile and allowed some of the local recreational cyclists to speed past us on their Peuguots. It became apparent that the heat, traffic and three days of cycling were beginning to take effect and there was some tetchiness within the group (for the first time). Now the map reading became more vital and, given the screen size of the Elemnt Bolt, more difficult. It’s great at turn by turn directions but there’s no doubt that a larger screen in built up areas would make it easier to follow. When there’s complicated junctions, it’s sometimes difficult to pick out the right exit.
On the far side of Bessancourt, I was convinced we had gone the wrong way as we ended up going over what seemed to be a very casual crossing point of a fast looking railway line before turning right and through one of the local drug hang outs before arriving on some very suburban back streets. We wove (weaved?) our way through houses and apartment blocks, then through a park and some rough tracks through a massive woodland area before picking the tarmac back up in the interestingly named Jules Cesar.
To be honest, the rest of the ride became a bit of a blur as we made our way through suburban Paris. The main highlight of this section was our first crossing of the Seine at Argenteuil. We knew at that point that we were getting close and it made dealing with the traffic, junctions and intermittent cycle lanes easier.
I would say at this point that I had discussed the route for day 3 with the group in advance and given them two options. We could either follow the Avenue Verte (either east or west) and , using the Donald Hirsch variants, head into Paris via quite and relatively traffic free roads, with a total distance of about 70 miles. The second option was to basically head straight at the centre of Paris on as quiet a road as we could find and bring the distance down to just under 50 miles. It was widely agreed to do the latter – it didn’t make for good scenery but it was getting us quickly close to our finishing point at the Arc de Triomphe.
We crossed the Seine again near Clichy and were clearly in the centre of Paris. The buildings became more ornate and recognisably Parisian. There was a brief moment of elation as we turned a corner and got our first sight of the Arc de Triomphe at the top of a small rise in front of us. We were there! We made it! Well, nearly, Given that we wanted to make the central island in the middle of what I can only describe as the most insane piece of road anywhere outside of South East Asia, we defied death and BMWs to reach our goal for a few photos before being moved on by some local police sporting some heavyweight armoury. We didn’t argue.
We found a handy bar close by and raised a glass of beer (or two) to our respective efforts. I was quite moved by the sense of achievement, especially amongst the guys who were not such keen/regular cyclists prior to the trip. Having done a number of century and other long rides (including some back to back albeit without luggage) I wasn’t concerned in advance about covering 180 (actually 190) miles in three days but it was clear that not everyone had shared my laissez-faire attitude. It felt good. We had achieved our goal and everyone was still in one piece and still friends.
I won’t bore you with the aftermath which included finding our hotel near Gare du Nord (Ibis Styles Cadet Lafayette for reference) where we were again provided with a secure place to store the bikes. This was thanks to the helpful receptionist who moved some stuff around in the store room – we had been told in advance that there was no such area for the bikes but it never hurts to ask again! We then got cleaned up and headed out for sightseeing and sitting in cafes, eating and drinking the night away. You can imagine the rest.
Monday saw us head to a very hot and crowded Gare du Nord (ten minutes from the hotel) where an error with the passports machines had created a very long, sweaty and disgruntled queue. We had originally been told that we had to book our bikes onto Eurodespatch at a cost of about £45 each as they would not let assembled bikes on the trains. Worse, they would only take two bikes per train so we were faced with a long wait at St Pancras whilst they filtered in on the trains behind the one we were travelling on. As it turned out, they actually loaded three our bikes on the train before ours, the remaining four on our train along with a number of other bikes belonging to some other guys we’d bumped into on the ferry out who were doing a similar trip to our own. This was welcome as was the air-conditioned comfort of the Eurostar train. We were very pleased that we had picked that weekend rather than the one after where 40+ degree temperatures were forecast.
We had a busy but uneventful ride down from St Pancras to Waterloo before jumping on a train back to Woking and another short cycle ride back to our local for a final celebratory drink and a late lunch.
I’ll add another post just to round up my thoughts about the trip, the route and any other thing that spring to mind but that’s it. We did it… and it was great.