Posted by: Zombi | June 10, 2010

Day 7 Cambrai – Reims

When the Tour de France arrives in town it is party time for the locals. When the route is announced following much lobbying and passing of ‘favours’ over the proceeding months and years, the ‘lucky’ towns involved in hosting a stage start or finish or even those who will simply see fleeting glances of the riders as the route whistles through, will spend hundreds if not thousands of euro’s preparing for the big day. Signs will be hoisted in to position, flower displays will spring out of the ground at the pace only normally seen on a middle of the road TV makeover show, even roads will be re-surfaced. This is those towns day in the spotlight and boy do they enjoy it.

Well today the Tour arrived in Cambrai and I must say I was dissapointed.

Packed up from the campsite following the now obligatory night of rain I was out and in position for the official roll out for 9.40 from outside the Marie. The Mayor must have slept in…

Not perturbed by the lack of suitable officials to see me off I made my way through the neutralised zone. At the start of each stage the riders work their way out of the town centres behind the official vehicles, in my case a bin lorry, in order for the fans to see their hero’s close up and slower than race pace.

Now I was making good time, the fact the rest of the peleton must have slept in with the mayor really helped, not that I’m insinuating they were all ‘together’ that would just be bizarre.

By the time I reached kilometer zero, where the real racing starts I was well clear. It would have to be a long breakaway but I knew I was in a position to do it.

With 95 miles in front of me I had to be really careful not to have it on my mind. Watching the miles tick down is like watching a clock on a Friday afternoon when the sun is shining and the birds are frolicking (unfortunately my desk has since moved and I no longer overlook the local all girls sixth form).

As the early morning clouds hung over head I was aware that today could be wet as well as long. Sure enough, with little over 5 miles gone the rain started. Fortunately I had my rain jacket to hand and despite not reall staying dry, you never do, I remained warm.

Unaware of the time gap back to the peleton I was getting impatient for the team car to come up to me at the front with some food. Eventually, after resigning myself to the fact they were not coming, does nobody have an alarm clock, I had to pull over at a boulangerie for some much needed food.

In the pre war Tours, before the glitz and money that is doing it’s best to ruin modern day sport, riders used to hop off when ever they were succumbing to hunger or thirst and literally ransack the bars they were passing. Often coming out with botes of wine or brandy to keep them going. The store owners would be honored the riders had chosen their store and not bat an eyelid.

Unfortunately times have changed and I had to settle for a pain au chocolate and a can of coke. I had to queue to pay.

Suitably nourished I was off again, still unaware what my lead was there was no time for hanging about. I had to press on and get the miles done. Knowing the sandwich prohibition that covers France between the hours of 12 and 2 I decided it would be best to try and get as far as possibly before my lunch stop. I was still hopeful the team car would be up with me later but I knew I couldn’t rely on him.

The reasonably flat terrain helped and by 2.30ish I had completed around 60 miles. Wet and tired after so long in a lone breakaway, and with no sign of the rest of my team there was no option but to retire to a roadside bar for some much needed lunch. When I walked in, dripping wet and muscles rippling (or was that nipples rustling) the three occupants sprung to life… well, they looked up begrudgingly. When I had eventually persuaded them to rustle me up a sandwich, which for some reason the lady I presumed was the owner insisted to the young girl making it that butter would NOT be required, I was pearched like a Moroccan tree goat, on a stool that was clearly too small to be used for any real time, in a room that looked like a 1950’s homeopathic doctors waiting room, complete with beads instead of doors and lamps that looked like they had not been dusted since Tour riders had last helped themselves to a bottle of fine cognac. The sandwich duly arrived, flys shoo’d away just to late to stop it being inconspicuous. I still wolfed it down.

Unfortunately, due to the amount of time I had been detained at lunch I was fearful the peleton had been and gone whilst I was eating, I will definately be looking for a more reliable team next year!

Not to be put off I decided there was no other option to push on and finish although working against a peleton in full flow, each rider conserving energy by riding in anothers slipstream, would leave me perilously close to missing the cut off time for the stage. The fact I was weighed down by all my own equipment didn’t help, that again will be spoken about tonight!

Battered by the rain I finally dragged myself in to the centre of Reims at around 5.30 after just under 7 hours in the saddle, that is roughly 3 hours more than the real professionals will take. To do that, day after day, I have real respect for them now. There is a minority who dope but do remember, they are caught in cycling unlike most sports (google Chelsea blood spinning to see how organised doping is clearly accepted in football. Football, the sport that “has not caught anyone doping therefore does not have a problem” – psst – you need to test for it 1st!). Even the few who have doped still have to go through incredible feats of mental endurance unlike pretty much any other sport. That’s my opinion anyway.

By the time I had reached the town centre, the rest of thetour was long gone and I had just enough energy to find a youth hostel to ensure I didn’t have to have a night in the wet tent and then head out for some much needed tea and a nice cold beers (the 1st I have had in around 4 months due to my training).

It’s the closest I will get to riding the Tour. I hated ever minute of it, that’s the thing with cycling, it is just about suffering, but I am delighted I did it and now I can have just the tinyest insight in to what my hero’s do each and every day of a three week stage race.

Now where is that damn team masseur…



  1. Ben, looks like your making good progress. We are all following you via this blog at work. You were nominated for a Completely Brilliant Award this week but didn’t win.

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