London to Paris 2013

London to Paris - Part 1: London to Dover - and Calais

Tuesday 16th July 2013

We travelled down in the early afternoon. It was hot and sunny and our trip started with all the forethought and seriousness of a proper expedition; our bags were stuffed with enough Lycra to equip a Tour de France team and our bikes were firmly anchored to the roof bars. The journey was relatively easy, no stressful traffic hold-ups and almost before we knew it we were circumnavigating the M25 looking for Croydon.

Croydon is a pleasant residential suburb for commuters into London - it was the location of London's main airport until the second world war and there has been much regeneration since. But we were more interested in the roads - in particular the gradients. We noticed it was hilly. We drove up a long twisting rise that silenced us as we contemplated what the possibility would be of riding up such a gradient on a bike. None according to Gary.

Selsdon Park Hotel
We arrived at The Selsdon Park Hotel and Golf Course - a picturesque country resort, once the seat of the Bishops of Rochester, situated in 205 acres of finely manicured Surrey countryside. It's an impressive looking place. We booked in and took our bags up to the room - which was adequate - but sooooo hot! - it felt as though someone had left the heating on - I tried opening the windows but the security arrangements meant that the maximum aperture was only around 25mm - insufficient!

We adjourned to the bar - the air conditioning was working at full tilt in there and we felt comfortable. It was 4.00pm, we'd already had two pints - this might not go to plan.

As we looked out over the car park we watched more and more cyclists arriving - the anticipation was becoming more noticeable - the palms sweatier. Two more pints and we are watching highlights from the days stage of The Tour on the big screen TV - we are joined by Stephen who introduces himself and asks if we are riding - we enjoy some chit-chat about bikes and training before he wanders off to join the group dining experience in the adjoining restaurant - we didn't bother booking in for that.

At about 7.00pm we are joined by Dave who is riding with us - he got held up at work and then had to get across London in the rush hour - we go down to register and pick up our luggage labels and route maps - and that's it we're about done. We retire to bed early - its and early start tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 17th July 2013

We're up at 5.30 and down for breakfast by 6.00am - the hotel room was unbearably hot, we didn't get much sleep - in fact the whole of the hotel is sauna-like (except the bar - best avoided at this time). The breakfast room is full with cyclists - cursory nods are given in the way of greeting and everyone stocks up on full English with coffee and orange juice.

After that we check out and take our bags down to the awaiting trucks, then get our bikes and join the masses at the front of the hotel. As you might expect there are delays, late arrivals etc and it is 7.20am before we start rolling out of the car park on route for Dover. It's baking hot again, even at this early hour, I suspect it will be tough by midday.


There are 150 cyclists suddenly spilling onto the busy roads of Croydon - motorists are impatient; it isn't long before horns are papping and I can hear expletives being exchanged. We make gentle progress through the leafy suburbs before heading into quieter country. The Ministry of Agriculture has to take some blame for what is happening down here - medieval copses have morphed into paintball playgounds or corporate bonding camps. Ancient barns turned over to aromatherapy temples, Hop farms into holiday cottages. As we journey along narrow, untidy roads the peloton forms into separate groups, we're part of a group of 40 or so, strung out single file, so that we snake through the countryside. There is a protocol when riding in a group like this, a series of hand signals to warn those behind of potholes or obstacles in the road, or simple shouts to warn of cars either approaching from behind or in front. The shouts went something like this:
"Car up"

A dead badger creates quite a hazard to a group descending a hill at maybe 30mph.

Oast Houses
There was quite a long climb up to the first waterstop - by now the field has thinned dramatically - I climb the final half mile alone - having somehow lost the others. We stop at a pub and fill our bidons with fresh water, there are energy bars, bananas and chocolate for those who need it. We fill our bottles take a banana and we're off. The sun is rising and gaining strength as we head deeper into the 'Garden of England'. It's a big shock to be honest; much hillier than we'd expected, and the hills are steep. One after another they roll on - like a natural rollercoaster, all taking place in a shimmering heat-haze. Gary and I get lost around lunchtime - somehow we missed a turning and have to retrace our steps to find the village hall that is our midday stop-off point. Lunch is excellent, a shaded bivouac with trestle tables containing an abundance of freshly prepared dishes for our sustainance. There's bread, cheese, lots of pasta dishes, salads, coleslaw, ham etc etc - plus a good selection of cakey things for dessert - it's all good and we relish a rest in the shade and off the bike.

Soon we're off again - more hills - it really is a relentless grind now - and each one seems a little harder than the one before - all the time the sun is hotter and everyone's pace is distinctively slower than this morning. We pass through a small village 'Wye' and decide to stop at a roadside pub - we have plenty of time before the ferry departure and the heat is making the temptation irresistable. We secure our bikes and step into the bar for a refreshing, cool lager-shandy - perfect. Other riders pass but none join us. We contemplate another but decide to press on.

Just another twenty or so miles to Dover - a few more hills and we're there - the last part of the ride is flat or downhill as we roll into the port and find a space on the grassy patch opposite the ferry terminal - now it's a question of waiting. Our ferry leaves at 5.30 - we have an hour wait. There are people arriving all the time - and a few in our bunch who are missing -  as time presses on I hear the organiser say he will have to go out in the van to scoop them up - just then they arrive in, the last few cyclists, visibly drained and looking tired. This was a tough first stage - and we've still got a few miles to ride in France to get to our hotel.


Riding onto the ferry was an experience - a bunch of 150 or so riders holding up the traffic and making its way over various roundabouts, ramps and obstacles before coming to a halt just on the edge of England - The white cliffs were right beside us as we awaited to be checked in/on. The last few yards had to be negotiated on foot, and we were given a complete bay to ourselves for our bikes. By now its about 5.30 - the sun is still strong and the sea calm as we set off across the Channel. We get to the restaurant but there's not much of a selection and I'm still feeling full from lunch - I opt for just a sandwich whilst the others get chicken and chips. Add on the hour time difference and it's near enough 7.30pm by the time we get off the boat in Calais. Then its a ride of about 5 miles to our hotel - This one has air-conditioned rooms (hooray!) - We queue for our room passes, get our bikes sorted, find our bags, get showered and its bed time - no time or energy for a drink at the bar - just need sleep!

Max speed: 30.1 mph
Height gained: 4859ft
Max temperature - 104f
Miles: 85.45
Calories used: 7582

London to Paris - part 2 - Calais to Amiens

We slept much better, even with, or maybe due to, the background rumbling of the air-con. It was another early start for the longest day of the trip - 100 miles or so to ride. We wandered down to breakfast and filled ourselves with croissants, bread, ham and cheese - plus a couple of strong coffees and a glass of orange juice - once again our bags were collected and our bikes were out ready and waiting for us. Gary and I set off - Dave was having a lie-in.
The first three or four miles around Calais were easy enough, then as we entered open countryside the terrain took on a more ungenerous nature - it was much the same as yesterday - an unrelenting panoply of steep hill and fast descent - each seemingly worse that its predecessor. The sun was hotter still and by the first waterstop we were soaked in sweat. We guzzled the cool, fresh water with a zealous haste and sought relief from the sun in whatever shady corner we could find.

As the day went on the climbing continued, including some long stretches of steep, narrow paths, no better than gravel tracks with edges bare and unprotected. I took my eye off the road for a second to reach for my bottle and rolled off the edge of the road, just enough to cause me to lose balance and within a second i was off the bike - thankfully I wasn't travelling very fast - but I lost skin on my elbow and knee and suffered a nasty bruise to my thigh.

Onwards and upwards the pitiless roads stretched out with dawdling bends and steady upward gradients. Riders are flagging now, sweat-drenched, emptying water bottles over themselves in an attempt to allay the effects of the torrid heat, the July sun, blazing on full power. We hear of a rider who has collapsed - the rumour is sun-stroke. We hear that he's okay and is resting and hoping to rejoin later. This is serious, hard-core riding. I don't remember any mention of the effort required on any of the material that was sent out when we signed up? - But we're here now, doing it, no choice but to keep going.
damaged elbow

Our lunchbreak is another village hall - this one beautifully cool inside - we collapse to the floor along with 30 or so other cyclists - and gradually cool down our core. After a rest of maybe 30 minutes, we press on, the terrain remains the same - there is a cruel rise immediately after lunch, so that the effort makes regurgitation a distinct possibility.

Now we're passing along roads covered with a canopy of dense trees, the sun shines through creating dappled diamonds and oblongs on the road, but it's essentially dark and difficult to see the variations in the road surface. I spotted a couple of interesting wildlife examples - unfortunately both dead. A mole and a red squirrel.

damaged thigh!
As we approach our destination, Amiens, the road flattens slightly - we are treated to a few miles of consistent, smooth road - and then we can see the city below us, we ride the last mile or so along a track next to the river. There is a young man playing an acoustic guitar - 'Don't let me be misunderstood' is the tune. And then we are in the city proper, a few streets and we arrive at our hotel - a Holiday Inn, not as good as the hotel in Calais - but nevertheless a welcome sight. We don't even bother getting changed or having a shower - we are straight into the bar - our faces blank, frayed and drained masks whose physical resource has being pared down to the quick - remember the old film - 'Ice Cold in Alex' where the soldiers are crossing the dessert in a truck - dreaming of a cold beer at the end - it was like that - Gary renamed it - 'Ice Cold in Amiens' - and that first beer was very welcome.

We showered and changed and came down for a supper of spaghetti bolognese - we heard stories of people dropping out and being scooped up - we could understand it - the combination of heat and difficult terrain made the day most demanding. After supper it was immediately to bed again - the effort of all day out on the road takes it toll - sleep is what we need. Gary and I have had problems in the past trying to get home after a few beers, but tonight was different, no excess of beer just extremely tired and a problem remembering room numbers. I went up to the room, Gary was following in the next lift.  Gary arrived at 'the room' and tried the credit card room key to no avail.  Gary knocked on the room, still no response, after more knocking and a few choice words from Gary, I replied, we had a conversation, I opened the door and saw Gary's back to me talking to the room door on the opposite side of the corridor !!!

Max speed: 36.2
Height gained: 5925ft
Max temperature: 105.8f
Miles: 99.52
Calories used: 9286

Ice Cold in Amiens!

The Cathedral at Amiens

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

London to Paris - part 4 - Criel to Paris...

Saturday July 20th 2013

Gary - preparing for the off
We slept remarkably well - basically because we're knackered! So the prospect of just 50 miles or so into Paris provided a cheery start to the day. Breakfast was basic - as expected really - but enough to get us fuelled up and ready to roll - carrying the bikes and bags down was just as difficult as getting them up yesterday - but we managed and soon we are ready for the off.

We ride in a group through the outskirts of Criel and the first upward drag of the day - no warm-up for this one so it felt harder than it really was, then we had some flatter terrain and smooth roads before a series of rollercoaster up and downs. 

We headed into Chantily - with a pretty face and a pony-tail, hanging down - we saw a group of around 10 cyclists, part of our entourage, heading back out towards us - they were looking for the route through town and said it was back the other way - Dave checked his GPS and disagreed - we decided to trust his machine - so far it had proved to be extremely trustworthy - and it proved so again. Soon we were riding through an archway and onto a cobbled road - we had been told about this - a section of road that has been used as part of the Paris-Roubaix classic race - after 50 metres I felt I had been shaken and stirred - the bike would soon drop to bits with this type of abuse - I have no idea how they race on this type of surface but like everyone else I got off and pushed the bike for the rest of the section.

The waterstop came early - I hadn't drunk anything since setting off, so no need for a bidon top-up, I enjoyed a banana instead. A few more miles and it's the lunch stop - everything is coming early today - when we arrive we are amazed at the amount of cyclists already congregated - we were towards the front of our group - how did this lot get past us? Then we find out this final stop is a joint affair with another group who had been riding in tandem with us on a different route - I wonder if their's was easier than our's - we find out that they had been more consistent with mileage - 75 miles per day - whereas we had two long hard days and then two easier ones - we decide ours was the best option.

On the outskirts of Paris
It is the last time we will be treated to the excellent food of the mobile catering team - we make the most of it and give them a round of applause at the end - then we're off again - only another 20 miles or so to do.

We start to look out for the Eiffel Tower, a beer for the first one to spot it - as we get towards the outskirts of the city the traffic gets heavier; there're lots more obstacles, lights, roundabouts etc - it seems we are stop-start-stop for miles - then there is the obligatory roadworks - it's not just the UK. But bikes are great for weaving through traffic and we are soon on the other side and speeding up. We meet up with another group consulting their map - but we're following Dave's Garmin GPS system - so far it's been doing a good job - we speed off with them behind us - a couple of their riders join on - we spot the tip of the Eiffel tower peeping between some new high-rise office blocks - this is it; we've made it; we're here. We speed up now, incentivised by the the sights and the sense of achievement - we zoom like madmen through the busy streets - we pass through red lights with careless, reckless abandon, drunk on adrenelin. We're moving along at 26mph - the two riders can't keep up and we quickly lose them.

Outside the Louvre
As we get closer to the centre a local cyclist joins us - 'You have cycled from London?' he says
'Yes' we reply
'When did you set off'
'This morning'

Now we're in the heart of Paris - some people outside a cafe stand and applaud as we pass. We negotiate the busy traffic in the centre - taking a bit more care now at traffic lights - then, through an archway and we're outside the Louvre - that's it we've done it!! We congregate on a corner looking out for our organiser - but we realise he'll be stuck in the roadworks and traffic - we find a shady spot and take a breather. It's unbearably hot again but the emotion of the day has left us unaware of any problem, physical or meteorlogical. Then we're off again - we have a route to the foot of the Eiffel Tower via the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triumphe - we head back onto the busy streets, but the traffic is cycle friendly here - cars seem to give way to us - they flag us by at roundabouts and allow us out of junctions - can't imagine this happening in the UK. We make our way up the Champs - its a steep rise up to the Arc de Triumphe and the road surface is bumpy - cobbles with bits missing and broken - we are hindered all the way by a continual series of red lights - the traffic is busy - we wonder what will happen at the Arc - one of the busiest intersections in Europe with cars whizzing round from every direction. Suddenly we're there and edging out into the traffic - once again the traffic slows and stops - they let us through - the traffic parts like the water of the Red Sea - there are people clapping through car windows and peeping horns in a friendly congratulatory way. We enjoy it so much we go round again - then off and down the Champs Elysees - next stop the Eiffel Tower.
As we approach there is a traffic-free section and we can see crowds of people up ahead - Dave and I sprint towards them and they let out an enormous round of applause - we're in front of The Eiffel Tower, our organiser has a table with banners set out in the perfect spot - we take some photo's and are presented with a plastic beaker of Champagne and a finishers medal. It's an emotional moment - here we are in the heart of Paris, under one of the world's iconic landmarks - and we've pedalled all the way from London. We relish the moment and take a few more pictures.

After half an hour of contemplation we need to get to our hotel - we've another 5 miles to go - but it will be easy. We set off smiling for the final leg. After about three miles we spot a typical Parisian corner cafe/bar - I shout to Gaz that we should stop - we do and take a seat out of the sun close to the street corner. The waiter duly arrives - he looks the part, waistcoat, white shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbow and one of those stripey aprons. We try to tell him we need two beers - large, 'deux bier, grande, pression, silvous-plait' - He speaks fairly good English (better than our French) 'Ahhh you want large beer' - Moments later he is back with two of the biggest beers I've ever seen - massive stein affairs, the sort you might find at a German beer festival. Ideal.

The celebratory beers
We sit sipping the beer and enjoying the moment. Then a couple of our group cycle past - we shout out and raise our steins - they laugh and acknowledge - but carry on. We decide to try to get people to join us, we're on route to the hotel so everyone will be passing. The next few riders pass by - this time we're on our feet, holding up the beers, shouting to them to stop and join us. Soon we are building a collection of tired but elated cyclists at this small roadside bar - we take all the seats, our bikes are piled up and spilling into the road - any cyclist who passes by is greeted with a huge cheer and encouraged to stop and join us - if they pass by the cheer turns to a boo. Across the road is a small area laid out for Petanque - Gary and I go over and challenge the two people to an 'International Tournament' - France vs England. The two guys accept and we buy them a beer to seal the deal. It's starting to get silly.

At the bar we have all the outside seats - more are brought out from inside - our bikes are piled up taking space in the road, there are people sitting on the pavement, on the grass across the road, all over - the atmosphere is electric - we are losing at Petanque but it doesn't matter. Every few minutes there is a deafening cheer as another cyclist arrives. It is one of those unplanned moments that make a trip extra special. We get chatting to various riders and plans are made to meet up later. Meantime another tray of beer arrives...

Suddenly a van pulls up - it is Martin, our tour guide and organiser - he tells us that we have to get to the hotel - there is a lorry waiting to taking our bikes back to England that has to get to Calais tonight - we're holding up the schedule - a boo emanates from the crowd - but we realise we will have to go. We drink up and make our apologies to the French Petanque team - we have to leave and will, on this occasion, concede the match. A pity, we'd met a Frenchman in the bar, apparently a champion, who had agreed to play for us!

The tangle of bikes is gradually unthreaded and we make a slow, wavy line in the general direction of the hotel - it's follow the leader time - I have no idea where we're going. But we make it back okay and get our bikes onto the lorry. The hotel is the poshest one of the trip - The Pullman - apparently it's over 200 euros a night to stay here! - Our room is great, a double bed each, big air-con unit, lovely bathroom. We shower then it's time for supper.

The restaurant is packed for the last supper - it is buffet style, lots to choose from, prepared with more style and flair than we've experienced so far this trip. There's even a cheese board with some perfectly wonderful soft, smelly varieties. It's not long before Gary has ordered a bottle of wine for our table - it lasts about 5 minutes - then someone else on the table - Jonathan - offers to reciprocate - however he insists on popping out to the offy, reluctant to pay Pullman prices - 15 minutes later he's back, but the stakes have been upped. Instead of a bottle of wine, Jonathan saunters in with a bottle of Napoleon Brandy - neatly presented in an Eiffel Tower shaped bottle. I begin to think this is going to be a long night; and a painful morning.

After supper our party consists of around 10 of us - Amazingly one of the riders, Julian, has my email
address in his phone - his family own a printing company in Norfolk. It transpires that we've worked together on a project in the past, both employed by the same client but working independently. We are out on the streets now - someone says we need a blues club - we ask a chinese taxi driver who has no idea. Then someone spots a Jazz club - we make a beeline but its 30 euro's just to get in - we try to negotiate a group discount but to no avail. We're back outside wandering, we come across a bar and settle for that - we sit at the pavement tables drinking draught heineken and reliving our experience. Some Americans approach us - they are lost - they need to get to The Pullman Hotel - no problem, I offer to walk them round in the interests of Anglo-American relations. They're from Chicago, at least that's the nearest city - they're 'doing' Europe, they had already been across to the UK to trace back ancestors who originated from Cornwall. When I get back Julian suggests we move on to a club as the bar is about to close - It's 1.00am. I don't fancy it but agree to go along, thinking we'll never get in dressed ib shorts/tee shirts etc. My theory holds out until club number 3 - the doorman lets us in. We're in a dark dingy bar area, loud dance music, expensive drinks - I find a corner to hide in - Gaz takes to the dance floor!

It's 4.00am when we emerge - Gaz looks like he's been for a swim fully clothed, he's soaked through from tip to toe. Now everyone is hungry - it's Pizza time. After that we try to figure out how to get back. Gary and Julian walk off to find a Taxi - I'm with Dave who is wandering around in an alcoholic haze. Somehow we all get split up - and I've got Dave's phone - no sign of anyone? - I call Gaz but it's Dave who answers - he's around the corner and has found the route to the hotel, the others have gone.

I get back to the room at 6.00am - its light and Gaz is in a coma. Can't believe we've been out so long - and can't wait to get to sleep.

Max speed: 31.6
Height gained: 1699 ft
Max temperature: 104f
Miles: 57.98
Calories: 4698
Beer drunk: Loads!

London to Paris - part 5 - Paris for The Tour de France....

Sunday 21st July 2013

I woke at around 11.00am - in fact Gary woke me as he staggered around the room - I felt awful and just needed sleep - Gaz decided on walking down to the centre with Stephen our farmer friend from Suffolk. I said I'd see them later and pulled the blanket over to shield the spears of hot, bright sunlight.

I wished I had kept clear of the club last night - we were so misplaced in there - I should have retired, not out, at a more respectable time. Too late now - but another hour or two in bed should sort it - I set the alarm on my phone for 1.00pm.

Instantly it was 1.00pm - I felt no better - but got up anyway and made a wavy line for the shower. Gradually I was feeling human again - I wandered down and out of the Hotel - heading in a vague, uninformed way to where I thought the Eiffel Tower would be. Within four-hundred metres of the hotel I went past a Blues club - we went in the wrong direction last night. The sun was hot and my dehydration needed attention - I stopped at a cafe for coffee and a bottle of water - there was a piano player singing 'Those were the days' in French. I moved on - using google maps to direct me - I was shocked to see that I had to walk almost 6km - my legs were tired, my feet hurt - I almost turned back - then Gary called - he and Stephen were at the Eiffel Tower - where was I?..... On my way I told him - but at least an hour away - I told him I'd call him when I was close.

I paused at a random green patch, caught in the intestines of concrete like trapped wind. A sit down - it's just too hot, i'm grateful that the bench is in shade. I realise that wandering around the streets of Paris is pretty much the same as the streets anywhere, .... all the International brands and universal labels are here in their masses - the old Paris, the pensions and bistros, 10f menus, coffee with chicory in bowls and Pastis at 9.00am have vanished. But that's not to say there aren't still places to be seen and stylish people to see - you just have to work harder. The characters are still there - the cabinet minister with the drooling lip, eating oysters with one hand; the French pop star dressed entirely in black leather with dark glasses the size of satellite dishes; the old glamour model with her dog; the father with his daughter, or perhaps a friend of his daughter, the mournful, gargoyled faced waiter.

Finally, after what seemed like a journey lasting days, there it was. The ultimate landmark - 324 metres of latticed iron work - the most visited pay-to-enter monument in the world.  I couldn't quite understand how it had remained hidden from me for so long - it's not exactly small - You could say it was an eyeful..... I strolled along the Seine in the general direction, I bought another bottle of water from a street vendor and sat on a bench overlooking the river and the city beyond. I'm close now - but feeling extraordinarily tired. At last I cross the Seine and I'm on the Champs Elysees - there are people lining the streets already, their places claimed next to the barriers. There are a lot of Union flags and people wearing Mark Cavendish masks. The atmosphere is building, there are various 'official' trailers selling merchandise and the usual food stands. The smell of onions fried in fat and water and then scorched on a hot plate is something that England has given to the world - I imagine this is a smell that the Crusaders would recognise - all the way from Tilbury to Acre.

I arrive at the half-way point, the Arc de Triumphe is up the hill and I'm around the finishing line. I can see they're setting up the podium for the winner and there's a big screen here too. I buy another bottle of water and a can of coke and call Gary. He's on the other side somewhere but says he'll wander over. I need to sit down but the only place I can find is a bench under the full intensity of the blazing sun - I don't care - I take a seat and drink the coke in a couple of gulps - I start sipping the water and listening to the other people sitting around me. There are a husband and wife from Evesham - he has a strong Birmingham accent. He sits on the other side of the bench whilst his wife sits on the floor - he talks loudly of watching the Tour on TV and how he much prefers Phil Liggett commentating to Sean Kelly. His wife says nothing. Then he seems to be assembling something, looks like a box, not sure where it came from but he offers it too his wife as a makeshift seat - she declines and stays on the floor. There are another four people sitting immediately behind me. They are Scottish, two couples. One of the men bears an uncanny likeness to a younger George Clooney - the other man is older and dressed in cycling attire including what looks like a recent purchase of a 'King of the Mountains' polka dotted jersey. They get chatting to the Birmingham couple - The Scots have been on holiday to the South and the older man has climbed Alpe d'Huez and The Galibier - he tells of riding up d'Huez before The Tour passed through - the crowds were already assembled and gave him much encouragement. It's about an hour since I spoke to Gaz - and I spot him wandering through the crowd. We decide to get another bottle of water and then move away from the crowds to a patch of grass for a lie down. It's about 3.30pm - The Tour won't be here until around 8.00pm - it's going to be a long, tiring wait.

We hear an announcement from the podium. ....'And the winner of the 100th Tour de France .... Christopher Froome'... and then the national anthem starts playing. They're practising the winners presentation - people start to sing along ... they even have people dressed in cycling gear on the podium waving to the crowd - it seems like nothing is left to chance. Then there's an open topped car riding along the Champs Elysees, in it a collection of past Tour winners - Eddy Merckx (the greatest of all cyclists), Miguel Indurain, Bernhard Hinault and Gregg LeMond. Then there's a childrens' race. We hear that parts of the tarmac are melting - we know about that - there's a vehicle like a big road-sweeper that rolls around the course sweeping away debris. All the time the crowd is getting bigger, swelling now with anticipation. The big screen flickers into life and we watch the riders setting off on the final stage. It's a relaxed day for most of the peloton - the tradition is that no one attacks the yellow jersey on the last day - the race is won, it's over - all that remains is the battle for the stage victory - for the sprinters - and a chance for Mark Cavendish to make it five consecutive victories on the Champs Elysees.

It will be another couple of hours before the Tour arrives in Paris - I'm flagging now - my legs ache, my skin is burning, I'm still suffering from last night - we realise we should have stayed in the Hotel and come down at around 6.00pm - there's a lot of waiting around for The Tour - which is fine if you're prepared, chairs, a parasol, a cool box, aspirin etc. Another can of coke and a bottle of water - I even pluck up the courage for a sausage baguette - much more stylish than a hot dog. Then, at last, The Tour caravan arrives in town - you don't get to see this on TV - a procession of vehicles, floats, displays featuring the various sponsors who parade around the course throwing out samples and bits and pieces - after that the riders are approaching - there's a long procession of outriders and cars then the riders speed into view, there's a surge and a cheer from the crowd as they fly past - its all over in the blink of an eye, as they head up to the Arc de Triumphe - then they come past again on the opposite side - its deceiving on TV - they don't look to be going very fast - in real life they are - and there's a distinct sound as 180 or so riders fly past. We watch on the big screen to see what's happening on the rest of the course, and wait for another blink of action as they come round again. All the time the tension is building - Cav gets a puncture, can he get back on the pace? Will it take too much energy, can he win for the fifth time on the trot? - The final lap sees the tempo lifted - they're really moving now - we know what that road surface is like, it's cobbles, many of them broken and rutted - its a shaky, unstable surface that rattles rider and bike - we can only imagine what it feels like at 40mph or more.

Then it's the final lap - everyone is shouting and straining to see the action - we watch it on the big screen for a clearer view - for a second we think Cav has done it - but no - he's well beaten - its not been a great Tour for Mark Cavendish - by his standards two stage wins is a disappointment! - but he'll be back next year I'm sure - with a better lead-out train.

There's 500,000 people around the course and we think the best option is a quick getaway via the Metro back to the hotel - within 20 minutes of seing the final sprint we're in the bar of the hotel - I can't face a beer so a celebratory soda and lime has to suffice. We sit for half an hour and others arrive back - all with iPhone pics from their various vantage points - many with much better views than ours. But it's still been a memorable day - I'd a long held ambition to watch a stage of The Tour - and the final stage must be one of the best - perhaps Alpe d'Huez would be the only one comparable?

We get to bed early - totally drained, aching all over and tired - but satisfied.

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