Sunday, July 06, 2014

Le Mans and beyond

We took a fresh approach to our Le Mans tour this year. Rather than riding from one of the channel ports all the way to the circuit, we took the train with the intention of cycling on day trips in the Sarthe and the Loir.
Day 1: Train from Lewes, via Eastbourne, Ashford, Lille, and Le Mans. This itinerary involved some tight connections but worked like a charm. There was even time for a quick tour of the old town in Lille, a bit hazardous over the cobbles on our Brompton bicycles. Coffee at a pavement cafe prior to departure. On arrival at Le Mans we took the tram to the circuit, then cycled via Guécélard to our digs at La Flèche, 29 miles. We were staying in a trailer on the Camping Municipale de la Route d'Or campsite by the river, close to the centre of La Flèche. Good value at Euro 57 per night for three. Restaurant Le Gargantua, 6 place Henri IV, 72200 La Flèche. Pizza starter followed by pasta for hungry cyclists outdoors.
Day 2: La Flèche to Marcé to visit the aircraft museum situated at Angers airport, 46 miles round trip. The museum is well worth a visit at this casual location. Home of the third plane of René Gasnier, first successful aviator in Angers. On the way back I was quickly tailed off on the climb out of Marcé, and settled into my own rhythm on the bike, without a map. Keeping the sun behind me I was much later surprised to find my companions coming up behind me. We covered 20 miles of undulating roads in two hours. Restaurant Ô Patio Gourmand, 44 rue Carnot, 72200 La Flèche in the evening.
Day 3: Exit La Flèche via the old derelict station, on a tarmac cycle path on the old railway line to Le Lude. This delightful run was covered at some speed, with Richard adopting the aero tuck of a time-triallist. We bought supplies and took a picnic outside the Mairie in Le Lude. We back-tracked on the path for a short distance before turning south west on the road to Baugé, with a pitstop in town for drinks, while Jack rounded up bicycle oil and batteries. Return to La Flèche via another bike path, this time dressed in fine gravel, shady on a hot afternoon. 45 miles. Comptoir du Boeuf, 1 place Henri IV, 72200 La Flèche. Less than satisfactory restaurant, the food did not match the service or location.
Day 4: La Flèche to Guécélard, 34 miles. This trip started with a brutal climb on the D12 out of town with a sharp left at the top onto rural roads. Three Course traditional lunch in Noyen, 11.5 Euros. Good night at Club Motorsport in Guécélard. Live music by “The Wobblers.” Much beer drunk.
Day 5: Guécélard to La Flèche. We went bushwhacking back to our digs, west of the main road, reaching La Flèche in 26 miles. Tired. We watched the Le Mans race on the TV.
Day 6: Exploring La Flèche taking in a flea market, the lakes, then out of town on the bike path to Luché Pringé, with a picnic by the Loir. 29 miles in all. Back in time to catch the end of the Le Mans race, another Audi demonstration run. Rated by Richard as "the best meal in La Flèche" - Restaurant La bisquine - 11 rue Henri IV - 72220 La Flèche.
Day 7: La Flèche to Le Mans. We tracked east successfully avoiding a steep climb, via St Jean de-la-Motte. Stopped at some ancient standing stones, La Mère et La Fille, in the woods. We bought lunch at Cérans Foulletourte, crossing the main road and pausing at La Suze sur Sarthe. We took the bike route into Le Mans, following the river with marginal surfaces, at 43 miles. A stretch of canal put us on final approach. The Ibis Budget hotel was adequate but the check-in arrangements were chaotic. A bar in town gouged us at Euro 6 for a small beer. Dinner at La Tagliatella, 9 Boulevard René Levasseur, suitable. Assorted low-lifes were dealing outside and a bin-diving lady opposite was rescuing trash from the Galeries Lafayette.
Day 8: On our last day the SNCF were on strike. We therefore diverted via Paris, riding our bikes from Paris Montparnasse to the Gare du Nord and changing our tickets for Ashford, completed by Eurostar rapidly and with a minimum of fuss.

Total: 252 miles.
Plus Points: Collaborative cycling (peleton), suitable distances, cycle paths, day-trips meant less luggage, reliable Brompton bikes, isotonic drinks, fruit, La Flèche a good base, good- value digs, Eurostar flexibility. (Personally I was fitter, better-prepared and therefore I performed better.)
Downsides: SNCF on strike.
Learning points: Take less luggage, more-suitable clothing (again).
Overall: Well organised, good company, health benefits, roll on 2015.

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