London to Lille 2016

L2L group

So it was back to Portsmouth for the first day of this year’s 300 in 3 (or 400 in 4 depending on which version of the tour you had signed up for). Day 1’s route to Portsmouth, last ridden in 2009, was like meeting up with an old friend that you hadn’t seen for a while, you’re excited about the prospect, a challenging but entertaining run through Surrey & Hampshire.  However, you soon remember what you didn’t like about them – in this case the last 10 miles through a tiresome Havant and the hill everyone loves to hate: Harting Hill. Not to forget the diversion up then promptly down Boxhill (apparently it was a time trial) or the innovative 3 bases start. Where the competition to provide the best bacon sandwich was fierce.

Otherwise Day 1 passed uneventfully. Or did it? There was still time for a passport related mishap and 2 of our number were in a taxi to Newhaven quicker than you can say ‘step this way for your strip search’ to exchange a 4-month old’s passport for their own. More about this later…

The rest of us were safely on the ferry and as usual preferring the bar to the 4 bed anti-tardis cabins. There’d be some tired heads when we rolled of in Normandy at 6am the next morning. A quick detour via Sword Beach, past Pegasus Bridge and the peloton swept through chic seaside towns, not a chippy in sight. As Cabourg, Deauville & Trouville were waking up we were seeking coffee, croissants and running roadside repairs from our new team mechanic, Glen.

The early start meant an early lunch in picture postcard perfect Honfleur, more coffee and crepes, lots of crepes but still no sunshine. It wasn’t as cold as that time on the Dutch coast so the wagon rolled on over the Pont de Normandie, braving the cross winds generated by the heavy trucks. It was definitely single file time. The perilous suspension bridge was just the warm up for an impressive 2.5km Cote St Jean Abbetot hair pinned climb. Yep, Stevo was quickest up that too.

Apparently Saturday is the new Sunday for French café / restaurant owners as venues open for eating were few & far between. Especially for the hard charging front group that were running low on fuel. Naturally there was little sympathy felt by the rest of the team as they feasted in yet another prime venue located by our front reconnaissance support driver, Louise.

There was a palpable sense of relief when Mr & Mrs Wilson appeared on the horizon having caught the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry to continue the ride, both epitomising the BMC never say die attitude (as well as making an amusing nod towards the Day 2 tradition of calamity). Of course we were pleased to see them reunited with the team but more importantly it meant that Dieppe was close and a hard day was over – for everyone except Glen, who was still drinking beer and fixing bikes at 11pm!

Dieppe to Lille, not a Euro 2016 football fan’s train ticket but Day 3’s journey, just the small matter of 120 miles. Another 120 miles. 3 tired pelotons set off through the gloom, (still no sign of the sun), at a pace that could only represent a false hope that Lille would be bathed in sunshine.  The morning was brightened up by a coffee and pastries stop in a rather bohemian cool café/restaurant, unearthed again by Louise who can seemingly seek out the right refreshment at the right time anywhere, even in France on a Sunday.

With the groups briefly brought together, they promptly split up again.  With the hope of sunshine fading a steam train brightened up the morning.  Whilst the typical French tree-lined country roads weren’t bathed in sunshine they still beat Cycle Super Highway No.4 on a damp, foggy day.

Lille was calling hard, such that the peloton did not hang about to hear about puppy saving exploits, stop for misplaced riders (that’s Sweeper Drew’s job) or wait to fix punctures (giving Drew his 3rd hard chase back of the day). Apparently it is only BMC committee members who can be left behind. Not even the ailing Moss was going to slow for them.  Whether it was the excitement of reaching Lille or Tony being scared by the 2 statuesque transvestites in Lille’s main square, the peloton continued to the hotel to find even more excited Novotel staff who wanted photos with the newly arrived 300 mile conquerors.

With everyone accounted for (although photos suggest some were still AWOL) and in line with tour tradition, we enjoyed some post ride drinks, food, administered the required fines and accolades and reflected (raucously) on another tour well ridden. Yet again we’d welcomed back some old friends, made some new ones and bested 300 miles in 3 days.

Footnote. The 300/3 was over for another year and the usual suspects were wandering around the hotel bleary eyed hoovering up breakfast on Sunday morning. Whilst a hard-core, actually nearly half of the group were about to discover that grappa shots and energy bars don’t mix. With a ferry to catch in Calais and 108km to knock off the peloton was quieter but also faster than usual. Very fast as departure time loomed worryingly close. This time though, with a full complement of passports, a ferry was caught with none of the usual dramas.

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