Monday, July 02, 2012

Le Mans and beyond by Brompton

Small Wheels bicycle tour, June 2012

Mon 11 - Last minute repairs to the bikes at Future Cycles complete, we leave Lewes by train early evening. We were headed for the overnight ferry Portsmouth-Le Havre departing 23:00. Floods in the Chichester area divert us from Brighton via Clapham Junction, a shock for Jack who was looking forward to a break from commuting. We cycle from Portsmouth station to the ferry terminal checking in at 21:30. The catering arrangements put Portsmouth firmly in the craptown category: "The Carling is off" the barman announces triumphantly; chips but no fish; too late for pizza! Good old Blighty - rail chaos and slapdash service.
Tues 12 - A late night aboard ship is followed by an early start as we rig the bikes and head into the traffic in Le Havre, on the four Bromptons, in the wet. I was riding a 1999 short wheelbase 5-speed. The rest on more modern 6 speeds: Nigel on an 'M' model, Richard on a 'P' and Jack on an 'H'.
A driver with a swaying caravan needs admonishing. Nigel nearly takes a tumble hitting a wet drain cover but he wrenches the bike upright. We busk our way out of town finding cycle paths and then the D6015, D982 towards the Pont de Tarcarville. We are doing a steady 15-16 mph on the flat. We take our first pitstop at the Resto-Bar du Hode on the Route Falaises. The climb to the Tancarville sees me tailing off as I push the bike up the hill with the camions coming past. Great view of the Seine. We top 30mph on the descent, turning right and west on the D6178 into a headwind. We then turn left just short of the River Risle, on the D39 to Pont-Audemer. We are now in a rural delight where the pace slackens and the heavy traffic is left behind.

We take a restaurant lunch outdoors at Pont Audemer (pasta for me). We struggle to regain the D39-D137 to Pont-Authou. The derelict railway line adds interest. We pitstop for cherries short of town. Richard is suffering with his saddle, requiring constant careful adjustment. I am encountering a sagging seatpost. We then take the Voie Verte to Bec Hellouin, diverting to see the abbey. On to Bosrobert, at 49.2 miles, where a delightful chambre d'hôte run by a Swiss couple awaits. Some pear cider kicks off the celebration followed by a stroll in the garden. Supper consists of cream of courgette soup followed by Porc Normande in copious quantities. Wine and cheeseboard are demolished.

Marguerite & Roland Progin-Chopard, "Aux 2 étangs" 4, Route Moulin du Parc, 27800 Bosrobert Tel: 02 32 44 87 03
Wed 13 - 39.6 miles to night at Rugles. From Bosrobert we backtrack to Pont-Authou, then taking the road south to Brionne in the rain. We follow the River Risle on a marked cycle route, taking a right at the Viaduc du Bec. Before Beaumont-le-Roger we are passed by three serious cyclists as Jack, Nigel and Richard join the pursuit. Suddenly I am by myself as we head into town for a tea stop by the church. We purchase supplies at the Coccimarket.
Following a long descent we take a lunch stop at the mediaeval market hall in La ferrière-sur-Risle, buying more food at the boulangerie. Strawberries are most welcome. Back on the cycle route in hilly country even Nigel and Jack are off the bikes. We encounter soaking rain, diverting onto the D830 to Rugles, arriving at 15:00. The sun came out as we 'dried out' at a bar in town. Then to:

Mme Francoise Tobo Au jardin de Françoise 3 Rue G. Clemenceau 27250 RUGLES Tél: 02 32 24 76 24 Mob: 06 76 33 46 28

Our host is jolly and serves rice with the meal to stoke us cyclists. Some Ricard is also consumed.
Thurs 14 - 44.9 miles to Villaines-la-Carelle. Exit Rugles by a rural road following the Risle to L'Aigle for a tea stop in town, D3 to Moulins-la-Marche, D6 to Sainte-Scolasse-sur-Sarthe for picnic, we catch up with Nigel at Le-Mêle-sur-Sarthe, D4 to Blèves with stop for Perrier, Orangina and Pelforth, then long climb to Villaines-la-Carelle. We arrive in the village but the digs are still some way to go, down then up a long hill past a quarry. I'm fairly wasted on arrival in the farmyard but the B&B is run by a Dutchman and Heineken revives.
We take a truck to a Chinese restaurant in Mamers for late supper, where they are reluctant to serve noodles. We are joined by Helen, a Dutch person, who gives Jack a lift in her Toyota IQ. Home by taxi.

Bart & Gerda Huizinga Le Fay 72600 Villaines la Carelle Tel: 33-(0)243 97 73 40 GPS: 48.376334,0.297962
Fri 15 - 39.4 miles to Spay cabin. First off we take the truck to Villaines-la-Carelle, while Nigel climbs the hill on his Brompton. He arrives at the same time. We unload the bikes, exiting on the D202 to Vezot & Mont-Renault, turning right into a headwind on the D300 to Dangeul. After a tea stop we head for the valley of the Sarthe via Ballon, Montbizot, La Guierche, Neuville-sur-Sarthe and Coulaines, arriving at Le Mans. We take the tram to the circuit, for the short bike ride to Arnage and Spay. I take a short cut via the Mulsanne Straight to Hunaudières, through the chicane, arriving at Camping Houssay ahead of the pack. The Bar de la Gare beckons.
Sat 16 - From Spay to Club Motorsport at Guécélard by Brompton for tea and conversation with Pete Webber, beers at the bar in town followed by lunch at Le Peppino restaurant, an uncrowded joint on Le Mans weekend - recommended.
Sun 17 - Up early for the croissant run into town. From Spay to La Suze via Roézé-sur-Sarthe, relaxing with a beer at the Logis Saint Louis in the town square, and back. Andy joins us on the blue titanium Brompton. One way to Guécélard in the evening for supper, fold bike and return to Bar de la Gare with Andy in the Nissan March. Cheese platter and drinks.
Mon 18 - 43.8 miles to night at Tiercé, on the Sarthe. I manage a whole day in the saddle with no walking uphill. Depart Spay, D51 to Fillé, Roézé-sur-Sarthe, then left on the D23 to Malicorne-sur-Sarthe. We rendezvous with Andy at a teastop in the square. Back on the D23 we head for Durtal. Andy comes up alongside in the Nissan March while we are grinding out the miles. He scouts Durtal for us and guides us to Le Durestal restaurant for a pizza/pasta lunch, a bit spendy. We take the D68 to Tiercé among the trees, close by the River Sarthe but tantalisingly out of sight. On arrival we stop at an inhospitable bar opposite the Mairie, no cause to linger. Night stop with our genial host M de-Stoppani, who periodically plays the piano.

M de-Stoppani Chambre d'hôte et gîte rural La Drustière 49 rue de Porte-Bise 49125 Tiercé Tel: 02 41 37 07 73 Mobile: 06 98 99 14 24 GPS: N 47° 37.468' W 0°28.146'
Tues 19 – 72.7 miles to Oudon, on the Loire. Trying to avoid the main roads we exit Tiercé on the D74 to Cheffes, then to Angers, via Cantenay Epinard and Avrillé, where we join the new tram route. A teastop at Angers and we divert into town for food shopping. We are guided by a cyclist to the south bank of the Loire at Les Ponts-de-Cé. We take a picnic by the river - real men do eat quiche.
We have strayed off our route and this proves to be the longest day. We climb to Rochefort-sur-Loire, stopping at the René Gasnier memorial, a pioneer aviator. I am hoping this is the last climb of the day - fat chance. Richard laughs as we blow through 50 miles and we are all in personal best territory.
We reach Oudon via Ancenis, but it is not over. A long climb to our digs flattens me. We then meet a Kiwi couple who are cycling from the Atlantic to Munich.
M et Mme Gauthier Sous les Pommiers Pierre Blanche 44521 OUDON Tel : 09 71 46 84 21 mob : 06 03 06 14 96
Wed 20 - 49.6 miles to Frossay. We are supposed to take the 'Loire a velo' route to Nantes, but sundry navigational snafus mean it is lunchtime by the time we reach the city, via Mauves. The midges by the river are an additional hazard. We are at the point where fatigue is limiting bandwidth. A steak sandwich and a couple of tinnies help. We pass the Secodi-Perkins diesel works in Nantes. We see ‘La maison dans la Loire’ at Couëron, where we catch the free ferry across the river to Le Pellerin, a chance to put our feet up. More shopping for our evening meal. We follow the canal and stop to ask a lady the way to Frossay. On exiting the town I feel like I am hitting the wall with cramp, so take the last mile or two very gently. The delightful chateau was a hospital during WW2, in the St Nazaire pocket. We have our own picnic indoors, then the patron invites us for a digestif in the cave below.
Chateau de la Rousseliere 44320 FROSSAY Tel: 02 40 39 79 59
Thurs 21 – A short morning hop of 17 miles to St Brevin-les-Pins on the Atlantic, via Saint-Viaud where we shelter from the rain. The boys duck into a supermarket on the outskirts of town and I miss them, rolling into the centre of St Brevin, taking tea at a cafe in the square. The toeclips have come into their own in the wet weather. I am sorry that the ride is all over. Nigel and Richard battle across the bridge to St Nazaire in the rain while Jack and I, reunited, catch the bus over the Loire, the driver dropping us near the hotel in Trignac. Fare two Euros. After lunch at Flunch we all take a taxi to the U-boat pens in town. We sample the bars and take supper at a Moroccan Restaurant.

IBIS Hotel, St Nazaire Trignac, 5 rue de la Fontaine Au Brun 44570 TRIGNAC Tel : 02 40 90 39 39 GPS : N4718’ 0.48 » W2 12’ 31.75”
Fri 22 - We cycle to St Nazaire station, which is rundown and grubby, not consistent with the TGV image. I buy a copy of L'Equipe. We take the first class train to Paris Montparnasse: 10.51 from St Nazaire, arrive Paris Montparnasse 13.45. We ride across Paris to the Gare du Nord, taking a beer nearby while avoiding panhandlers, pickpockets and pimps.
Delayed 16.13 Paris Nord, arrive London St Pancras 17.36. London has its own special form of unpleasantness and we are glad to catch the train south with our possessions intact.

Plus Points: Rain (little sunburn), collaborative cycling, long distance cycling, reliable Brompton bikes, Chambre D'Hotes, SNCF.

Downsides: Rain, iffy navigation (exploit height bank), variable state of 'Loire a velo' route (at best a work-in-progress), British railways, Portsmouth Ferry terminal, security scare at Gare du Nord, London.

Learning points: Feed before problems, try isotonic drinks (St Yorre, Badoit have high mineral content), more training, avoid off-piste digs where possible, take less luggage (disposable clothing a success).

Overall: Well organised, good company, health benefits, personal best performances.

1 comment:

Reb - Life Doesn't Have to Suck blog said...

Enjoyed the report. Highly impressed. Made me feel exceedingly lazy.