Wednesday, 26 June 2013

London to Paris - Day 3

Day 3 arrives and somebody has switched on our magic peloton.  As with the previous years ride, it seems it takes two days of riding before things suddenly click into place and everyone in the group settles into a drilled 2x2 formation, riding at speed, staying in position and finally snaking across the French countryside.

A long 127km stage out of Amiens before lunch meant this had just arrived at the right time.  The crosswinds were still battering us, yet of the three days this was the most enjoyable for me.  We pushed a great pace for a couple of hours, with ride captain Eddy dialling it up on the front, the group stayed tight and in formation and we were all having a good ride despite the wind.

As with the previous day, it's so important to keep the food and fluids going in, in particular as my fellow rider John fancied a crack at the King of the Mountains stage that day.  Whilst group four doesn't officially race, there was a bit of banter flying around that this was where scores were to be settled.  Cycling Plus editor - Rob Spedding - had been bragging about 'big ringing it' and his fellow riders from Future Publishing - Richard and Dave - were up for something too.

As ride captain -Gareth - tipped us off that the red section was a km away, it was no surprise that peloton positioning became a priority.  We were stopped at the bottom of the climb as some of the riders from the group in front were still going up it, so a quick sort out then my job was to drag John half way up and he'd pop out and do the business. 

We edged to the front of the group and - boom - off we went, me tapping out the pace with John behind me.  There were some good climbers who had pinged straight off the front, I blew up about half-way up and John catapulted off to go and disappear round the hairpin to the line.  Unbeknownst to me, I also had Rob Spedding on my wheel and he nipped out to batter me in the last 200m - nice!  By the time I reached the line, I was breathing hard, but we'd had a good laugh.

Can you post this for me?

As the day dragged on, everyone was ready for lunch.  The group had been slowed right down as we were catching groups in front and needing to hit the closed road time slots etc, it made for a frustrating last 20km to lunch as we were all starving and keen to push on.  As we pulled into the lunch stop, I put my bike up against a fence, marched straight to the food and eat two huge slices of apple tart back to back, I don't think they touched the sides - I posted them!

That was closely followed by a cheese and ham baguette and a half of a tuna baguette shared with brother in arms - Tony.  You can tell it was a hard day, people were very quiet and just eating, with the occasional groan of  joy as each mouthful hit the bottom of an empty stomach.  A nice coffee later and Team Skoda got ready for the final run into Paris.

We're off to the Eiffel Tower

As you come out of lunch, it's straight up a steep drag and once that's out of the way, you hit a great stretch of downhill, before you meet the main road into Paris.  A huge peloton of 450 riders snaking down the road, with traffic stopped, people taking pictures and video, wonderment at the sight.

A team member had a mechanical so we hung on and rode into Paris as a line of green, eight wide, including the green jersey which fellow Skoda rider - Matt Exley - had won.  It's hard not to get a little emotional as you tick over those final clicks with a bunch of people you've been so close to over a few days.  Regardless of which group you ride in over the three day event, when you hit Paris, you are one big bunch.  450 riders, each with their own story, one incredible journey.

We all had a bottle of champagne, a few manhugs, shake of hands and a little something in our eyes that said "we've done it," for some of the team it was the longest they'd ever ridden and a lot of effort was left on the road, no words were needed, we knew.

Then came the awards, for all the jerseys and a small surprise for me as I was awarded the "Spirit of Hotchillee" award for our group, awarded by the ride captains.  Out of the blue, this was recognition in my organisation for the Northern training rides, jumping up from the previous years group six and for keeping spirits high on a couple of tough days - much appreciated chaps!

Time to blow off some steam

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was 30 minutes to the gala dinner.  I got my case packed in advance as I knew I'd be tired in the morning, catching the 10.15am Eurostar.  A quick shower and change and it was some well deserved sustinence in the shape of a big dinner and plenty of beer.  The HotChillee after party is great fun, full of sore legs and plenty of dance floor shuffling, but with high spirits and happy cyclists.

The evening ended, expectedly late, I'm glad I packed.  HotChillee founder - Sven Thiele - is a bit of a legend when it comes to a party and chapeau to ride captain - Dan - who saw off all his compatriots with a superb shift at the bar.

So, there it ended.  My second London to Paris event with HotChillee, another superb event, great event organisation and logistics, probably the closest you'll get to feeling like a professional.  Closed roads, massueurs, mechanics, peloton riding mixed in with a whole bunch of new friends made en route.  Group four was brilliant, great ride captains, great people and some amazing personal efforts.  My next blogpost will be my mini G4 L2P unofficial awards for people I rode with in the group.

Driving home, my thoughts drifted to next year.  Shall I do it again and aim to go up again?  I'd need to lose some weight, get fitter, faster and stronger, something to think about.

As I sit here four days later, like last year, there feels like there is a little something missing in my day.  It's not energy food, that's for sure.  Maybe the sense of being part of something, escapism, the feeling of pushing your boundaries, friendship, camaradrie and teamwork all fall to mind.  It's the only way to cycle to Paris

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