As we file out to our bikes for another day in the saddle it is welcoming to know that the hardest days are done - today will be similar in terrain to the previous two, but only 65 miles or so to ride.
There's a subdued atmosphere as we clip in and get ready to set off. Everyone looks tired, hunched and in need of more sleep. The sun is already beating down and it is going to be another hot, dry day out there.
We get an update that a couple of riders collapsed yesterday with heat exhaustion - and on today's sheet there quite a few DNS - (Did not start). It's understandable - this has been a tough ride, the combination of demanding terrain and excessive heat has taken its toll. Martin, the man in charge tells me that everyone who is struggling will be allowed to drop back in when they feel better - he is hoping for a full roster come Paris. Meantime we've got to get to Criel. My back has been troubling me since we started, I've controlled it with drugs but the hilly nature of the course hasn't helped - add to that sore thigh muscles, excessive saddle soreness (something that's never really bothered me previously) and a pain in my left foot and I realise I'm not really in the best of condition. However I'm determined to get it done - and the prospect of a shorter day and then tomorrow into Paris lightens the load.
Dave catches us up here - but we're leaving just as he arrives - he wants to eat so says he'll catch us up - he will - he's riding really well. We head off and there's the usual tough, steep climb out of the village to the next ridge - long and hard - not easy with a full stomach. At least we know we don't have far to ride this afternoon - the sun blazes again, the tarmac is melting in places and grit and stones get stuck to our tyres. A few more up and downs and the road gets flatter - we're approaching our destination and negotiating various roundabouts and dual carriageways - interesting fact - Criel is twinned with Bethlehem - but no star to signal our resting pace for the evening - once again we're in two separate hotels - unfortunately the first one we come across isn't ours - some of our group drop off here, but we have a little further to travel and enlist the help of a 'man in a van' who gives valuable directions to the Campanile hotel.
Another mile or so and we're there - we join the group of cyclists already congregated on the grassy patch outside the bar, all crammed against the wall on the metre wide strip that is in full shade. A couple of beers and we settle to watch the others arrive over the next hour or so. Pretty soon the bar has run out of beer - bad planning by the Campanile - 75 or so English cyclists arriving at your hotel on the way to Paris - you'd think they might have anticipated a demand for a few beers?
|Outside The Campanile|
After a short rest it's down to the restaurant for supper. As we know, French cuisine is revered throughout the world; sophisticated, complicated, beautiful - the greatest cuisine ever invented? But so far on this trip there has been no evidence - there seems to be a gastronomic malaise in this part of France. The thing is that French food is weighed down by a heritage that is both unimprovable and archaic. Cooking isn't timeless, it's as much a product of fashion as ....well, fashion. All attempts at modernising it diminish it. Cuisine minceur, nouvelle cuisine, the arbitary addition of eastern spices, twiddly garnishes etc - all make it absurd. It's food caught in aspic - you either eat history or move on like the rest of Europe, to easier, dumbed down food.
|Dave grabs a rest before dinner|
I'm not sure what we were served this evening could ever be called 'fine dining' - our starter was a birds nest of raw grated carrot with half a hard boiled egg sitting in the middle. Appalling - absolutely ghastly.
Main course: two pieces of bony chicken with a spoon of boiled rice. Actually the chicken tasted good - just very little of it. No vegetables, no bread. We were left feeling like asking for more.
Desert: a beaker of yoghurt with a teaspoon of raspberry jam. Looked like raspberry ripple but tasted sour, warm and boring.
The uninspired food and the lack of beer meant we went to bed hungry - we all wished that they could have arranged for the mobile catering company to service us in the evenings as well - their fayre was much more suited to our needs. We later found out that one of our group - Jonathan Campbell - made a trip into town for a large portion of Chateaubriande and frites - wish we'd known!
Hopefully today was the last tough day. It's our last day of riding tomorrow and we lay in bed thinking of riding along the Champs Elysees.
Max speed: 36mph
Height gained: 2612 ft
Max temperature: 96.8f
Miles covered: 62.06
Calories used: 5347