Thursday, 1 August 2013

London to Paris - part 3 - Amiens to Criel...

Friday 19th July 2013

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.

We set off in smaller groups today, half of us were staying in a separate hotel on the other side of the city - we will all meet up out on the road and at the various stops. Gary and I hook up with a group who are moving fairly sedately - as we move into open countryside we have a couple of steep drags to climb which thins us out even more - people are off their bikes and walking even at this early stage. We are soon on our own and making good progress. We arrive at the first waterstop just as it is being set up, only two or three riders there. We don't hang around - ten minutes or so and we're off again, moving quickly over a decent smooth surface. Then we get lost. The little yellow arrows that have been convieniently placed to guide us at junctions have disappeared. We stop at a roundabout to consult our map - we work out that we're not far wrong and a quick detour into the next town should put us on the right road. As we pause at a set of traffic lights to consult the map again and try to marry it with the corresponding signposts we are joined by another cyclist who approaches behind us - he has the weather beaten, nut brown complexion of a local. He is riding some sort of hybrid bike with  big panniers on the back - it transpires that he too is cycling to Paris from London - on his own and self-sufficient - he is carrying camping equipment and everything he needs. He tells us it's his first time on a bike - what an initiation!. We wish him well and head on to pick up the yellow arrows at the next junction - a few more hills and we're into a small village and our lunch stop. Once again the catering is impeccable - this time set up inside a rectangle of pollarded lime trees which create the perfect shady respite. We are early so the food is being laid out as we arrive. We settle down for a rest and fill our bidons. There is a small church opposite and a scattering of stone cottages - one thing we've noticed about all of the villages we have passed through - there is never any people? - where is everyone? what do they all do? - the whole of rural France seems conspicuously deserted.

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
Our rooms are basic but functional - more chalet like really, a three-storey block of timber framed apartments on stilts. Our room is on the second level - our bikes are to stay with us in our accommodation tonight - so we carry them up the stairs - this proves difficult - the accumulated effect of the ride so far, plus the sit down since we arrived has left us stiff - it's a struggle to get up there - no wonder The Tour riders always try to secure ground floor accommodation! - After getting the bikes up we have to go back down to get our bags - then another climb!

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

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