Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Only one Audi

Peugeot were a real threat to Audi at Le Mans - they beat all the German cars bar one - but the German diesel driven by the Dane Tom Kristensen, Rinaldo Capello of Italy and Allan McNish of Britain finished first, to thwart the French team which fielded the fastest cars on the track.
The annual tour from Sussex started early this year with an advance party leaving at 12:00 on Thursday 5 June. Les frères Thomas were headed for the Brompton Tour de Normandie. The sailing from Newhaven to Le Havre on the M/V SEVEN SISTERS of LD Lines, followed a gentle eight mile run from Lewes. Two single tickets for foot passengers with bikes cost £34. Pasta Carbonara on the boat was ordinary at £6.95, but the ship was pleasantly uncrowded. The two red Brompton bikes were first off the boat at Le Havre where after recceing the town we inadvertantly opted for a stay at a brothel near the bus station. We retreated to the Navy Bar round the corner. A quick breakfast outside the railway station was followed by an early departure at 07:10 by bus for Caen, which put us ahead of the other patrons. The bikes folded neatly into the belly lockers for the trip via Honfleur.
On arrival in Caen we headed for Tourist Information which put us on track for the Archives du Calvados for some family research. After lunch we checked into the Hotel des Quatrans, 17 rue Gémare, where the Bromptons slotted one-by-one into the world's smallest lift. We dined at the Saigon Restaurant, and finished off the evening at les Touristes cafe. Caen presents a chic face to the world after the dock town low-life of Le Havre.
Leaving Caen next morning we climbed out of the town in heavy traffic, heading south-east reaching St Sylvain for lunch, beer and a sandwich au jambon. We completed the afternoon run to St Pierre sur Dives for two nights where we dined luxuriously at the hotel the first night and found a creperie on the Sunday night after a frantic search for somewhere in France still open. We made a side trip to Cambremer and a visit to Madame Huet on the farm at "La Vignerie" 14340 Saint Laurent du Mont Tel: 02 31 63 08 65 on our day off. Julian wanted to visit a bar in Crevecoeur, remembered from a previous tour, which proved to be heartbreak hotel as they blanked us at the bar after one drink. We moved on to Cambremer where I took Sunday lunch at Au P'tit Normand [02 31 320 320], a splendid omelet paysanne with wine, €20 including a generous tip. The lady pursued me out of the restaurant to express her gratitude.
We are getting into hilly country with much push and glide progress. We climbed to Le Billot next day where we had the lunch uniquement of horsemeat, fried egg and frites. Two nights at Vimoutiers with the Brit expats at La Couronne, 9 rue du 8 mai, [33 (0)2 67 21 49]. We walked to Camembert in the morning where there was no bar/restaurant so we beat a hasty retreat. We reach Gacé via Le Sap where Julian falls off the Brompton in the town square with no real harm done. We check into Castel Morphee, 2 rue de Lisieux, for two nights, grateful to reach our rendezvous without any serious bike trouble. The front luggage carriers on the Bromptons proved well up to the task. We spend time at the Café de la Gare which is a time-warp establishment run by a splendid old lady. Sadly the old station building has been demolished since our last visit. We face the usual rudeness at the L'Etoile d'Or, best avoided when in Gacé.
We meet up with the tour party at the Restaurant Tahiti, which has changed hands after many years in the same family. They arrive in good time in the Mercedes V220 CDI and Land Rover Freelander. The Merc left Little Commom at 05:45 for a Channel Tunnel crossing at 07:20 and an RV with the Freelander at Cheriton. Shopping at the Intermarché and the run into Spay, by the canal and the River Sarthe, for check-in at Camping Houssay. There is a computer glitch which causes a short delay; how camping has changed over the years. We soon take possession of chalet No 4 "Mimosa" and after a barbecue we assemble the bikes for the run to Guécelard, where Kyla Brox is entertaining the punters at Club Motorsport. Numbers are somewhat down on previous years.
Bryan Hurt is aboard the Haro DX with Shimano 21 spd, Dave Roadway sports the Dahon 16spd with 26" wheels. On the tiddlers are Nigel Lewis with the infamous Bugatti Royal, Jack Kellett with the magnificent 2007 Brompton Titanium 6 spd, Richard Banks with the familiar Pashley Fold-It, Andy Thomas on the Universal, and the two red Bromptons for the remaining Thomas brothers. On our return Julian punctures, Nigel loses his chain [and marbles] and Richard sheds a small but vital part of the Fold-It so we are down to seven bikes next day. Despite an extensive search the petite pièce cannot be retrieved. Jack soon mends the Brompton puncture with a new tube.
After purchasing our tickets at the track - Dave scores a bootleg pass at €30 - we take lunch at the Bar Le PN Restaurant by the level-crossing at the top end of Arnage prior to the start of the 24 hours. Jack retrieves a rucksack left there the year before. We watch the start of the race from the Porsche curves before cycling to the ACO clubhouse to meet Matthew Marsh, 2007 race competitor, for a brief chat. Back to Spay and Saturday evening at the Cafe de la Gare, an old tram stop. The younger element walk to the track and back - about 8 miles - and reappear in the small hours. Sunday we head to Mulsanne for the now traditional end of the race which finished this year at 15:00. Overall the race does not seem to be buzzing with spectators by comparison, although 250,000 are claimed by the ACO and the standard of actual racing is well up. Radio Le Mans continues its sad decline - the dreary Geordie proving unlistenable with the usual advertorial blather.
We leave for the Coeur de Lion B&B at Brionne which we reach in good order with plenty of time in hand. Pre-dinner drinks in the bars of the town. Supper at our usual pizzeria was not quite up to snuff compared to previous years and we resolve to try the creperie next year. After a more than adequate breakfast we depart for Calais, via Rouen. The satnav lady guides us through the morning traffic as we cross the Seine on the last leg of the tour. There are clear glimpses of Blighty with the White Cliffs of Dover from the the French motorway. The usual lunch at Flunch at Cité Europe, good value, followed by supermarket shopping. I research the price of cassis at Carrefour and purchase a couple of bottles for good measure. Back to Kent via the tunnel after a short delay, loaded with booty in cardboard boxes.

Plus points: superb cycling, no serious breakdowns, live-music [Kyla on best form yet].
Downsides: price of admission at Le Mans continues to climb at €62 for Enceinte Générale; Radio Le Mans; rudeness at L'Etoile d'Or in Gacé [best avoided]. Greatly increased prices in France due to Euro inflation.
Overall: A classic race in mixed weather conditions. A fifth Audi victory in a row. A well-organized tour.

1 comment:

andy said...

warm welcome at the Cafe de la Gare in Spay..the best of France..a l'annee prochaine!