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Rachael's Tour de France Cycling Holiday

Rachael's Tour de France Cycling Holiday

Rachael’s trip to Tour De France


It’s been a while since my last blog and I had hoped to write about my adventures during Tour De France but that had to go on the backburner in support of a family matter.  So now I have a moment and also an escape from the chaos of the six weeks holiday I shall recap. 

But first let’s just remind ourselves that Welshman Geraint Thomas WON the Tour De France.  The rider who was once a cyclist with Welsh Cycling and who Primal are the kit sponsors…WON the Tour de France!!!

July is one of the best months in the sporting calendar, this year none more so as we watched England progressing in The World Cup and the start of the biggest cycling event on TV.  Most people who are mad about their cycling switch attentions to The Tour De France and even those who have no interest find themselves tuning into ITV or Eurosport to catch up on the days stages and wonder why this is even interesting, It’s the Bore De France not The Tour De France according to some of my non cycling friends!   However if you are like me, I could spend hours with the cycling on while pottering about listening to the homely voice of Irish man Sean Kelly, Carlton Kilby or Ned Boulting, call me sad, but I was even watching it live on Sky Go on my mobile while at the beach and was looking forward to taking my bike over to France for a few days to ride some of the routes and watch the race. 

The start of the trip to France began with a lunch and catch-up with friends en route to Southampton for our Ferry crossing to Cherbourg.  Paul having retired from the police and moved to the New Forest now dedicates his time to all things cycling while working with his brother in law at their cycle shop, Boost Bike Hub.   

After one of the most unbearably hot night’s sleep in our hotel we boarded the ferry, bound to Cherbourg with the heatwave guaranteed to follow us as we crossed over the pond to France.  We waited a while before the ferry doors opened so I took the chance to flip a Primal discount cards in the open window of a car next to me belonging to 3 very tall men who were too tall to open their car doors and fold their long, slender hairless pins into their seats until the cars adjacent had moved and guessed they were time triallist by the bikes on the back of the car, as we headed out on to French soil I glanced back as they remained patiently on the ferry.

For the duration of our trip, we would be staying at Le Bobs, a friend and colleague of Fatboy, the Cagney and Lacey of Cambs Police control room.  Le Bob had moved to Brittany a few years earlier and he and his wife Julie are always very popular especially around July.  We had a long journey ahead of us to get to Bobs and had booked a night in the town of Fougères, staying in the very spectacular Chateau-de-Montbrault.  If you watch the tour on Eurosport you get a history lesson and a view from the helicopter as Shaun and Carlton talk us through the background on the structures and history of the towns and villages the tour passes by.  The historic Town of Fourgeres was host for the start of Stage 7 and the streets and homes were decorated with flags, banners and bikes in the jersey colours and it got us talking about whether or not Froome would be going for another tour win. 

Leaving Fourgeres we made our journey to our base for the week at Bobs in Gouarec and just like we had seen everywhere else, the villages, shops and fields were all geared up (pun intended) to celebrate the tour coming through Brittany.   Getting the bikes out of the car I looked loving at my Liv Envie, despite knowing we would be cycling up some of the big hills and only having a 28 chain ring on the back compared to my Cannondale’s 32 I didn’t care despite Fatboy scoffing that I would struggle…but we will come back to that in a bit. 

The next morning dressed in my Theta Helix Jersey and Bib shorts we headed off to cycle part of the route through Châteauneuf-du-Faou (I always want to refer to it as Du Pap). Due to the timing of England’s kick off that evening, we decided to drive to Plévin, a commune in the Côtes-d’Armor, Brittany which was about 18 miles from Gouarec and 20 miles from the race.  Before we set off from the quiet and quaint little town with its church as the centerpiece , we sat outside in the sun with a double expresso and a biscuit chatting away in English to the elderly owner of the café bar who could only speak French, but it worked with the help of hand signals, “We are off to see the tour” , “ahhh Oiu Viva la Tour”  as he patted Fanboy’s back and  beamed a huge grin as he waved us off on our bikes as a few more cyclists rolled up.  We made our way through the French villages and countryside, turning left and right where ever the Wahoo instructed and indicated a steep climb was imminent.  “Cor blimey”  I huffed as I slipped into the granny ring and pushed my way up the winding tree lined hills, feeling like my lungs were burning as they began to warm up properly but looking behind me I could see Fatboy and I was pleased I had beaten him to the top. That was 1 hill of around 6 within a short distance.  As we approached Châteauneuf-du-Faou we heard a beep and realised it was Bob and friend Alan in their Citroen finding a space to park while we headed towards the crowds of spectators and Gendarmerie.  As I looked around to find a space to stand I noticed a group of cyclists next to me and was excited to see that they were in Primal and from Mid Devon CC.  We all watched as the caravans came by in succession in their parade, throwing Madeleines and packets of BIC pens, UCI yellow hats and Haribo to the crowds and a short time later the motorbikes came through to clear the roads.  The voice inside the Gendarmerie radios indicating the lead riders and the chasing pack were imminent, the buzz of excitement building as the helicopters began to appear overhead and the support cars came travelling through.  With cheers and encouragement the crowds roared as Romaine Bardet came through followed by Team AGR2Mondiale and Lotto Soudal.  The cheers from the patriotic French screamed encouragement, until Team SKY whizzed by, Froome followed by Thomas followed by Dan Martin, Mark Cavendish who was only identifiable by his white helmet and orange shoes as the pack whooshed by.  Within moments the riders had all passed by and all that was left were the support cars and mopeds and people rushing to unpin the official Tour signage from the lampposts as souvenirs.  

Heading back to Plevin we rode through some of the most beautiful old rivers and hamlets and I was keen to capture some of this on my alternative version of the Go Pro.  Stopping at an old bridge over a river, I took some photos and carried on cycling up a looong gradual hill for about a mile.  By this point Fatboy was way ahead because he had a  32 chain ring and was smug about it while I had my 28……..and by the time I reached the brow of the hill I was brushing grit and gravel off my knee and elbow!! 
‘You Ok”? He asked. 
“No, did you see that DPD van, he came by really fast….and then I fell off my bike”. 
“Did you have your camera rolling”? 
“No, I switched it off”. I will come back to this later… 

The next day was stage 6 and the race would be coming through the center of Gouarec.  The night before, the roads through the town where lined with motorhomes and busses, banners and flags. By the morning the road closures were in place, the vibe was exciting as the crowds of spectators overnight had trebled.  With a belly full of breakfast (thank you Julie) it was time to hit the road again, this time cycling along the route the tour would take through Gouarec to the finish line in Mur Du Bretagne.   As we cycled out of the town there was a nice tail wind so managed to sit at a good pace as we went by to claps and cheers which we reciprocated with a wave and cheer back.  As soon as we got out on the town on to the back roads they began to indicate an end to the flats and the start of lots of climbing which would have been okay but seeing as there were hundreds of eyes watching me along the side of the road it was only a little bit off-putting so I had to think of plan B – how to pull a face that made my exertion look effortless. In the end I gave up and just blew a sigh and laughed as we reached the kick ups offering a cheesy grin in reply to the encouragement and light humored heckling that I wasn’t going to let the man beat me up the hill.  Riding along the route was unreal.  The chalked graffiti on the roads, the hay bales representing a bike, There were flags from supporters all over the world. Chile, Australia, England, Wales, Scotland, Poland and it felt like a unity. It gave me goosebumps, but so did the sudden descent with a sharp right turn as I pressed intermittently on both brakes while Fatboy hurtled down it confidently with the sudden sound of his squawking disc brakes and the shout of a spectator shouting ‘wrong way’ pointing to the official Bostik tour signage, within a few miles we arrived at Mur De Bretagne and cycled up the crowded infamous climb of the summit to the finish line where the riders would race up twice to the finish line.


The summit was heaving with fans; the fields for as long as the eye could see were filled by motorhomes. Everyone was in good spirits and again cheered the cyclists as we all attempted to make it to the top while dodging the crowds walking along. Some of the riders were on shopping bikes some on Dutch bikes and some carrying a large French stick down the back of their jersey.  The summit was a steep (the downhill sign said 15%) and it would have been embarrassing if I had keeled over at any point on the slow-paced climb to the “500 meters to go” marker. I’ll get back to that point later.


For the next 4 hours myself Fatboy, Bob and Alan watched the caravans and Segway’s go past throwing hats, Haribo, Madeleines and BIC pens, while water jets sprayed the crowds. We were lucky enough to be stood next to the Bora Hansgrohe official fans with their official flags and giant cardboard cut outs of the Bora riders faces, holding up one giant face the guys announced it was a brother Rapha (Majka). They were funny to be near and little things kept us entertained over the next 4 hours.   As news progressed over twitter that the riders were approaching Mur De Bretagne, there was news of a rider having a fall but nothing more than that, then the faint sound of the helicopter became louder, this time followed by another 5 helicopters hovering  above us, the T.V cameras poised as the convoy of cars and mopeds came racing by and the excitement of who would be the first over the top of the summit at the 500 meters to go sign, as the riders came by, at a slower pace you could see the pain and grit in some.  The temperatures were high, the climbs had been a challenge after many days of the same terrain and yet they still had to do another lap before they could finish.  The roar again from the crowd was deafening as we all cheered on our teams, Go on G we screamed with cheers as we watched him head his way over the brow.   Where was Cav? Did anyone see Sagan… at that point a lady lost her hat over the barrier into the road.  Coming over the hill were the Trek Segrefredo team and Michelton Scotts rider Luke Durbridge…. Swooping down with his long arms reaching to the floor he scooped up the hat and handed it back to the owner and carried on out of view…but then I was distracted by something else, hang on who are they next to me??? Exeter cycling club, in their “50shades” Primal Jerseys.  There was only a short window of time to chat with the guys before getting back in position to see the finish.


Within the hour the repeat of the helicopters; cameras braced and sounds of cars and motorbikes raced through.  The Gendarmie armed with their Machine guns scuttled along the narrow path behind me and the anticipation began to grow.  The riders were fast approaching, people were squeezing in to witness the finish of a fantastic stage and then there they were…a battle of sweaty faces pained and determined readying themselves for the final few meters to win the stage. Who was it going to be?  The excitement grew as the riders raced past, Sagan, Froome, Bardet, Alaphilippe, riders we could only just make out in the blink of an eye. Where’s Cav, did anyone see G. they appeared in their droves, fast and furious human machines.  Beating them all the finish line,  his body swaying side to side and pushing out every last watt of energy  was Irishman  Dan Martin and what a well-deserved win that was for him, eventually we started to see the riders for a third time,  twice up the hill and then back down the 15% descent.  Riders were still coming in to the finish line and the Bora guys next us yeling and whistling hollering out to their team as they finished and made their way back down.  I couldn’t believe it as one by one the riders pulled up and chatted about the race and how they were feeling.  It was Rapha Majka. Shaking his hand, I grabbed a quick photo opportunity and I thought I’d leave them to catch up and instead just ogle from a few feet away.


As they crowds began to disembark and make their way down the hill, we until we could safely get the bikes out of the ditch and make our way out.  Walking along the now very dusty pathway, in and out of the ditches carrying my bike on my shoulder I reached an opening and slipped through the barrier, hopped on the bike and slowly freewheeled in and out of the team cars and pedestrians until we reached gridlock.  Looking at the cars I spotted a sparkly teal S Works on the roof of the car next to me, as I sat on the frame of my bike staring at it, Fatboy pointed out ‘that’s Sagan’s bike’.  Doing a double take at the bike and then at the passenger seat of the car, it was him…SAGAN. He was staring at me staring at him.  Undoing his window he gave me a thumbs up and pointed to my Primal kit and was wondering what it said, ‘ Preemal ambassador’ and nodded. Just as his driver was about to move away I asked for a photo and Sagan obliged while his driver stopped enough to allow a few snapsmof us together.  Rolling the window up, Sagan gave the thumbs up again and to the bike and slowly moved their way out to the exit barriers.   I was stunned and totally beside myself screaming like a excited kid inside.  As we approached the exit barriers, we could still see Sagan and a crowd had gathered at his car and felt lucky to have had my moment as the others knocked on this window and called his name repeatedly but were not fortunate.  Sitting in the car in front of Sagan, with his feet on the dash looking exhausted was Julian Alaphilippe. What a day that was.  We slowly made our way out of Mur De Bratagne and cycled back to Gouarec. Arriving back at base I was sad to see the motorhomes, signs banners and flags all gone.


I was sad to also sad to say goodbye to Bob, Julie and Alan and they all joked about staying away from DPD vans, with me reminding them that it had come by quite fast and then I had fallen off my bike.  Back on home soil, we reflected on the week away and how we would love to return with the bikes again soon. Meanwhile Fatboy uploaded the photos and videos on to the laptop.  Hang on….what’s this he said, I recognise that hill.  Connecting the video to the TV for better viewing he hit the play button, the camera rolling showing footage of the lovely riverside hamlet, the old bridge and the juddery footage of the mile long hill…wait, there’s that DPD van.  A quick rewind and replay…and again followed by a heavy wheeze of laughing as 1 minute and 10 seconds later the footage of the camera on my bars begins to sway left and right as the view ahead zigzags on the screen, one zig and then….in slow slow motion a zag and then for those watching a head tilt left as the camera footage goes sideways glancing up the light grey tarmac, my feet are in view and so are my hands as I clamber back on muttering to myself about playing it cool like Del Boy in his classic bar scene.  I cycle up to the brow of the hill where Fatboy is waiting with his 32 chainring and a smug look on his face.  “Did you see that DPD van….it came by really fast…..and then I fell off my bike”.  Shortly after the laughing stopped, came a lot of pinging from Wattsapp as the video of the TV showing the video was sent to Le Bob and Alan for their analysis, not to mention my cycling buddies who have been entertained by the film. I recognise the silence and then laughter while I maintain its how I said I came off my bike.


There is a book that I quote the title of called; (A panda Walks into a Bar,) Eats, Shoots and Leaves, The Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation, I must practice this with my breathing next time I keel over up a hill and remember to pause when it counts.  It’s not about pressing stop on the Garmin anymore…darn that camera.


Can we ride unicorns instead?


Until next time ride safe ride Primal.