Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Broken Spoke Tour - Caen to Pau by Brompton 2016

Sun 8 May:
Lewes to Portsmouth, train as far as Havant, rode Bromptons the remaining ten miles into Portsmouth. Jack having potentially serious issue with loose pivot pin on the rear triangle of his Brompton, duly kludged. Supper at the Ship and Castle at Portsmouth Docks, where by chance we meet Iain Rowley and Paul Jenkins, headed for the Pau historic car races (via Monaco) with a Formula Junior Lola. We shall meet again.
(Chap at ferry terminal off on a solo 4,000 mile cycle ride to Croatia and back.)
Brittany Ferries, 22.45 sailing to Ouistreham, outside berth cabin for 4, ensuite facilities. Light breakfast served in cabin.
Mon 9th May: Arrive Ouistreham 06.45. Depart 07:15 for Domfront (71 miles). Easily picked up the Voie Verte, along the canal via the Pegasus Bridge, to Caen. First pitstop at Bar Le Newport, 74 Quai Vendeuvre, 14000 Caen. Past the Bir Hakeim bridge, easy going on old railway line to Thury-Harcourt, following the valley of the Orne, headed for the Suisse Normande. The cycle track peters out in the hill country, just when you need it most. We got separated after leaving Clécy: Richard and Nigel had taken a right fork (D1) signposted Pont d'Ouilly. Jack and I hadn't seen them, and so we took the left fork signposted, less visibly, with a bicycle route (D168/D23). I was unhappy with the ups and downs of our route, mainly along the Orne. When we met R and N however, it turned out that the main route had included an extremely steep long climb. Gruppo compatto at the Bar de L'Isle in Pont d'Ouilly.
I got tailed off on the D25 on the long climb to Athis-de-l'Orne, so decided to ride into Flers and find the Office de Tourisme. Soon picked up the flat Voie Verte, after La Selle-la-Forge, for the last 12 miles into Domfront, pausing for drink and energy bar at a picnic table. My companions are already in the bar at the hotel, which is ideally situated close to the path, but report roadworks at Le Chatellier, hostile drivers on the highway and hazardous hilly conditions.
This day voted the "Queen Stage" of the Tour.
Logis Hôtel de France, 7, rue du Mont-St-Michel, 61700 Domfront. Tel+33233385144, Dining on site. Breakfast €6.50. Spacious and suitable for cyclists, avoiding climb to town centre.
Tues 10th May: To Laval (52 miles). The red Voie Verte exit Domfront is completely unsuitable for touring bikes, best left to rockhoppers and mudpluggers. The French need a grading system for paths as they vary from the sublime to the ridiculous. Rupe followed this for a while, rest returned to town, bypassed Torchamp.
Route via Torchamp, Mayenne. Regrouped just before Ambrières-les-Vallées. Some running on railpath with adjacent Vélorail. Lunch at Saint-Fraimbault-de-Prières, Pays de la Loire, boulangerie and bar. Later long stretches riding beside the Mayenne river, after Mayenne. Many weirs and locks. Chatting to a Brit couple on a tandem. At the top of a long hill: Kyriad Hotel, Boulevard des Trappistines, Laval, 53000 Tel +33243028888. Dining on site. Breakfast €10.00.
Wed 11th May: To Angers (64 miles). We resume the riverside path, making good time to Chateau Gontier for a tea stop at the Café Brasserie du Vieux Pont, in town by the Mayenne. Path quality reduced when changed departments. Chambellay shut. Later we divert to Le Lion D'Anger, via a horse-race course, in search of food. We are late for lunch and all we can find is a bag of crisps.
I lose my companions near Port Albert and I make the disastrous decision to take a footpath, thinking the worst that could happen was that I would have to push the bike. On this path a walker would need crampons, rope and a chainsaw. Eventually I can neither go forward or back, so I fold the bike and climb the cliff by the Mayenne, returning to retrieve my luggage, and making good my escape via a farmer's field. The farmer fails to spot me as I use the old trick of standing perfectly still. My troubles are not over. I reach Montreuil-Juigné, rehydrating at a sympathetic campsite. Lost once more, I puncture on a service road, retreating to Cave et Bar V&B Avrillé, ZI Croix Cadeau, 49240 Avrillé, in the suburbs of Angers. "Taxi pour Monsieur Thomas!" I finish in the broom wagon, some 2½ hours late.
2 nights Hotel Marguerite d’Anjou, Place Du Président Kennedy, Angers, 49100. Tel +33241881161. Breakfast €8.50. Cosy bar. Dining at nearby Cambodian Restaurant Shantou, in the Rue Toussaint, as a heavy storm breaks, with flash floods. Front page news next day.
Thurs 12th May: day off in Angers. To Le Velo Bar, 69 Rue Bressigny, 49100 Angers. Interesting vegetarian restaurant/bike shop with quiche to die for! (Réparation Vélo - Café Bio). Flat fixed, broken spoke removed with plan to reach Pau unmended. Italian restaurant supper at La Piazzetta, 9 Rue des Lices. Good value. Late drinks at Matt Murphy's, 25 Rue Maréchal Foch, full of Dutch truckers from Scania in Zwolle.
Fri 13th May: To Bressuire (52 miles) via Les Ponts de Cé (multiple river crossings, easy going leaving the Loire Valley), Thouarcé, lunch in the Place Charles de Gaulle, Vihiers, then skirting Argenton-les-Vallées. Pit stop at Bar Chez Didier Pizza, 4 Place de la Mairie, St Clémentin. I notice another puncture. We try to carry on but forced to give up at Voultegon, where a lady at Garage Pascal Metais was most helpful. I finish by taxi once more, fixing the flat under cover outside the hotel entrance. Inter-Hotel Plume, 4 Espace Bocapole, Bressuire, 79300. Tel +33549818283. Breakfast €9.00. A shed on a characterless trading estate, no bar, suitable but pricey. Dining nearby at Au Bistrot Gourmand, a smaller shed, also suitable. Tired.
Sat 14th May: To Surgères (66 miles). Tea stop at classy Les Arts, Breuil-Bernard. Then lunch outdoors at L'Absie, on to Saint-Pompain. Pitstop at Benet, Pays de la Loire, at a motorhome park. We transit Mauzé-sur-le-Mignon, a stop on a previous tour. Bushwhacking late in the day led to lost companions, and going round in circles at Saint-Saturnin-du-Bois, eventually reaching Chaillé. I found the Office de Tourisme in Surgères, which was shut. Finally at Bed and Breakfast H de Surgères, 52 rue Audry de Puyravault, 17700 Surgères. Tel +33611460197. Evening meal at 20:00 and breakfast. Top digs, gourmet food, excellent value. Recommended. Early evening beers a short walk away at Café Français, 2 Avenue de la Libération, 17700 Surgères, with meaty terrine snacks.

Pic by RLT.
Sun 15th May: To Pons via Rochefort (58 miles). Jack and I stop at Baghera Boulangerie Pâtisserie for lunchtime supplies at Rochefort. Catch up with advance party at the Transporter Bridge, one of only eight left in the world, at Echillais, sadly hors de combat. Hair raising crossing of adjacent highway bridge on the D733. Lunch in town square at Pont-l'Abbé-d'Arnoult.
Drinks at Alimentation, by the church, Rue de Saintonge, Nancras. Jack and I stop at bar Chez Colette, Cafe de la Gare, Tesson. On final approach to Pons we encounter a bicycle race. Quirky Chambres d'hôtes de l'Auberge Pontoise, 15, 17 Rue Gambetta , Pons, 17800. Tel +33546940099. Lady of the house going to great lengths to provide a good breakfast, €8.00. Total €239.00 for four. Beers and dining in town at Café du Donjon/Le Français in the Place de la Republique.
Mon 16th May: To Libourne (61 miles). Richard now suffering from slowly deflating rear tyre, decides to soldier on, pumping regularly. Tea stop at Restaurant Bistrot de la Poste, Jonzac; lunch at Chevanceaux, Poitou-Charentes. Further stop exit Guîtres at Bar Hotel Restaurant St Roch on the D910.
Both legs and backside now hurting. Relieved to get through a tough day, through the vineyards to 2 nights at Mercure Libourne St Emilion, 3, Quai Souchet, Libourne, 33500. Tel +33557256418. Breakfast €15.50. We succeed in opening the bar at the hotel, which is curiously deserted, and overall fails to ring the bell. Supper at nearby Hotel Restaurant La Tour du Vieux Port. Acceptable.
Tues 17th May: Day off in Libourne. Fix flat tyre on black Brompton in hotel courtyard, then to friendly CYCLE SHOP, 9 avenue de Verdun, 33500 Libourne, for sundry spares, including spray jollop for sealing inner tubes and tyre pressure check all round. Walk to splendid Bar au Rallye, Rue du Président Carnot, Libourne. Walk to supper al fresco at la Guinguette de la vieille tour across the river. Pizza pretty average.
Weds 18th May: To Bazas (63 miles). Pit stop at Relais de Naujan, 28 Bis rte Bordeaux, Naujan-et-Postiac, where the lady makes up some baguettes. Shortly after picked up the excellent Roger Lapébie bike path, turning off at St Brice. Pitstop at Salle des Fêtes, Gornac, exit D228. Across the box bridge over the Garonne on the D15, to reach Castets-en-Dorthe. Themed Hotel le Rodin, 1, Cours du Général De Gaulle, 33430 Bazas. Tel +33556250996. Breakfast €8.00. 1st drinks: Café des Sports, 8 Cours Maréchal Foch. 2nd drinks: Le Boeuf Pop, Place de la Cathédrale, Bazas, Aquitaine. Dining at nearby Restaurant Le Maquignon, 4 Cours Maréchal Foch. Recommended: Buffet starter plus meat course etc. Top value.
Thurs 19th May: To Aire-sur-l’Adour (53 miles), via Captieux, tea stop on N524, we bought lunch in the boulangerie over the road and in the Casino superette a few doors down. Jack and I lunched in a bus shelter beside the old railway line in La Gare, after a 15-20 kilometre due south run, virtually car-free, through the pines, during which two red deer jumped out. R and N ran miles at 19 mph. We commented at Captieux that we were spoilt for choice of boulangeries, cafes and shops whereas other towns would be just as likely to be closed for the day!
Then Roquefort/Sarbazan, Villeneuve-de-Marsan etc. Riding through the Landes on quiet roads much of the way. Traffic on final approach to N’Atura Hotel, 28, avenue du 4 septembre, Aire-sur-l'Adour 40800. Tel +33558716617. Good digs by the river, beers on arrival, suitable for cyclists (others in residence, also pilgrims on Compostella walk). The circus is in town and exotic animals, including camels, are grazing on the riverside. Walk into town across the bridge. Dining at La Villa Toscane, 33 Rue Carnot, Aire-sur-l'Adour, Aquitaine. Further failure to find Floc de Gascogne, otherwise good. €138.40 for four.
Fri 20 May: To Pau (40 miles). Long climb out of Aire to reach D834. First views of the Pyrenees. The boys go bushwhacking. First of three long drops beyond Garlin. Turn off to Saint-Armou. Via D206 to warm welcome at Bar Restaurant Le Castine, Saint Castin (Perrier and Orangina); then Maucor, Morlaàs. Charging downhill, elated to arrive at the Pau sign. Then stopped on final approach, in parkette on Avenue Général Leclerc, for snack and waiting for tour party to catch up.
3 nights Logis Hotel le Bourbon, 12, Place Clémenceau, Pau, 64000. Tel +33559275312. Breakfast €7.80. Comfy digs, ideally situated close to Boulevard des Pyrénées and race track. Late night revellers a nuisance to some.
Pete Webber arrives via London City Airport, Orly and Pau. Under doctors orders to restrict alcohol intake. He kindly brought a copy of Autosport from the UK featuring the Hamilton/Rosberg carambolage in Spain.
Meanwhile beers on arrival at a curious organic bar in the Rue Valéry Meunier. The boys went to the circuit while I had a further quiet beer outside at bar Les Contrebandiers, 12 rue Gachet, near the hotel.
I meet Iain Rowley and Paul Jenkins on their way back from the track. They are staying at our hotel and provide race tickets for the bicycle tour party. It is just amazing how fair people can be!
First evening at Cambodian restaurant Sorya, 1 Bis Rue des Orphelines, 64000 Pau.
Saturday morning: In the paddock at Pau races in glorious sunshine. Photography, note-taking and making new friends. Saturday afternoon: Jack, Pete and I took the Coxitis electric bus, free, to Le Supervie Bar Brasserie, Rue Noghé, Pau. Saturday evening: Restaurant Tagliatella, 8 Rue Gachet, 64000 Pau.
Sunday morning: Enjoyed Formula Junior race in the rain at La Gare. Then Bistrot La Salle, Eurl.Lucas et Fils, 6, Avenue Gaston Lacoste, 64000 Pau. By the race track, a marvelous bolt-hole on a soaking wet day. Good nosebag: Merguez et Frites.
Sunday evening: after snooze late pasta supper at Etna, 16 Rue du Château, 64000 Pau. Even later tapas, for Nigel, round the corner from the hotel. Watching drag racing on the big screen.
Mon 23rd May: By Funiculaire to Pau Station. 1st class train to London via Bordeaux, Paris. 07.52 from Pau; arr 10.15 Bordeaux St Jean, snacks at Café opposite the station, retreating in a downpour; TGV dep 11.28; arr 15.18 Paris Montparnasse; ride across Paris cutting it fine for Eurostar dep 17.01 Paris Nord, non-stop for St Pancras, 18.32.

Total: 583 miles approx.

King of the Mountains: Nigel Lewis.
Most improved young rider: Richard Banks.
Domestique: Jack Kellett (for planning ahead and saving our bacon with catering services).
Lanterne Rouge: Rupert Lloyd Thomas.

Plus Points: Minimal luggage; GPS navigation/direction finding; weather mostly good (some wet but not too hot); health benefits (the gift that keeps on giving). Bromptons generally reliable. Mobile phone mitigated separations. Painkillers (Ibuprofen).
Downsides: Punctures (crevaison). Getting separated particularly late in the day when fatigued; cycle paths a mixed bag; too much bushwhacking. (Forgot my sunglasses.)
Learning points: The Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyre a must for touring, particularly beneficial on rear wheel. Should save on downtime. Carry spray jollop as backup. Need to feed.
Overall: Longest, toughest tour yet, but felt good to be alive.

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