However much you look forward to your London to Paris cycle challenge – 1 of the true monuments of cycling challenges – there is a dark shadow that hangs over every aspect. From training in the depths of winter, the beastings in the spin studio through to packing your kit the night before the Grand Depart.
The Newhaven to Dieppe 2300 ferry night crossing. It can’t be trained for.
Imagine then your departure point is Henley Upon Thames. Adding a draining 50km to the parcours. With the dreaded night on the floor getting ever closer with every pedal stroke. The triumph of reaching Newhaven is muted. Even the bonus shower in Newhaven’s finest hotel (Premier Inn) and a feast at Newhaven’s finest eatery (Brewers Fayre) can’t wash away the foreboding that prior knowledge of inevitable sleepless night brings. Just ask any parent.
The day’s ride (a damn good one) quickly falls into the distant past as you watch, confused, as apparently more knowing cyclists perform strange stretching exercises whilst balancing their backsides on strange shaped rubber balls, as you struggle to keep your eyes open first in the plastic seats (nearly as uncomfortable as a saddle) in the DFDS holding bay – I mean the passenger ferry terminal, before finally your transported on the DFDS cattle truck (sorry bus) onboard the ferry. Finally.
It’s a shame. Any route that cuts through Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Surrey and both the Sussex-es can’t be bad. True there was ‘Death Valley’ (aka the road to Twyford) to be survived, the TTT along Drift road to be endured and multiple stretch-hummers (on the way to Royal Ascot) to be avoided but on the whole Day 1 was not far off the Best of British. Even Crocknorth was met with a smile – or was that a grimace?
Then it happens. It’s as bad as you think it’s going to be. You’d been promised cabin. Or as good as. It’s the floor then. ‘Why did I sign up to this.’ you ask as your eyes don’t close as soon as your head hits your inflated pillow. At least your head is awash with images from the send off, your kids looking up at you proudly. The send off was unforgettable. That’s why you signed up.
Then the French bit of the ride happens.
Dieppe is quiet at dawn. Its race course deserted. The 30-odd strong peloton rolls through town. En masse. As one. For approximately 10 minutes before the selection. The Mountain Bike in 1 group, everyone else in the other.
Even that collective didn’t last. There were soon lots of groups. Whether separated by metres or miles they are all joined in their awe of the traffic free roads (it was only 6am after all), the radiant sunrise and the super smooth tarmac. All the fuss about the ferry had hidden the fact that ride between Dieppe and Paris is one of the best. 24 hour challenge or not, it should be ridden by everyone. It’s got everything, climbs that hurt more than enough, descents that excite just enough, cutting through scenery that makes you feel good to be alive.
Everything you need, except somewhere to buy a coffee and croissant. It wasn’t until 50km in that rural France shook of its sleep. Buchy represented the first sign of life, a bustling market where you could buy an eclectic mix of vintage bikes, ski boots, agricultural equipment, fireplaces. You just wanted coffee. You gulped it down quickly in its flimsy plastic cup if you wanted to get back on the road and drive on for Gisors (to watch the 1st Lions Test). You took your time in the morning sunshine if you just wanted a second coffee.
If Henley to Paris isn’t the normal London to Paris, neither is racing on to Gisors to watch Rugby. The Lions versus All Blacks 1st Test. But you did. You probably also had pizza and a couple of pints before the final run into Paris from Poissy whilst the rest of the Peloton caught up in time to join your second pint.
Then it was just Paris or bust. 30 riders snaking through the Parisian traffic, with tiredness, heat, hunger, excitement taking grip of your senses. Of course there was a puncture less than a kilometre from the finish line. That just preceded the crash at the finish line.
With all riders accounted for (“never leave anyone behind”), you’ve created a new monument in more ways than 1 way: A prayer at send off, a police escort, lucrative jersey sponsorship, a BMC 24-hour distance record, a fixie and a mountain bike with Tri-bars, homecoming in the Reading FC team bus, leaving bikes in the ‘Hands of God’.
It’s hard to know how to follow that. Where to next? Bring it on. (Just not on the Newhaven to Dieppe Ferry).
And here’s proper report: https://www.henleyherald.com/2017/06/29/trinity-fundraisers-conquer-24-hour-cycle-paris/