After cycling through a very sleepy village we came back out into the countryside and another few hill climbs.
What made this a bit special was cresting the hill and seeing a hot air balloon, no wait 2, 4, 7. 7 hot air balloons all at different heights, just rising above the peaks of some hills in the distance, the sun still quite low in the sky and some mist on the ground. It was stunningly beautiful, like a postcard.
The first rest stop came up on me very unexpectedly, it felt like I had only started and it was already time for a break. A quick stop for more bananas, water, and some raisins and I was off again. Spent a lot of the morning alone, which was incredibly pleasing and relaxing, I was truly able to relax and not think about anything, just the mileage that I was covering as the road zipped past at what several months earlier would have been impossible speeds.
As I stopped for a breather, I neglected to look ahead at the hill that was approaching, otherwise I would have just powered on up it and kept up my momentum. As I was a silly daniel, I didn't do this and had to walk for a bit after struggling with the first hundred feet or so. By stopping like this I was caught up by another rider, a girl from Italy who became a riding buddy for the next stage and a half.
Whilst I was chatting to her I found out that I was the marker for several of the other riders and that they were trying to see who could keep up with me, I was easily spotted as for the 2nd day I had another brilliant white jersey on. The next rest stop also crept up on me and a pack formed as we waited for a few other riders that wanted to ride with us, for a bit of sport etc. I found this quite amusing and rode fairly close to the middle of the pack.
Eventually I got tired of how slowly they were actually travelling as I found it quite fatiguing compared to travelling at what I called my "natural" pace so I zipped off ahead and left them to it. I must not be a very social person as I much preferred my own company and enjoyed the cycle much more.
The route took an unexpected turn and we ended up on very hilly terrain, I started to struggle a lot having wasted a lot of energy getting back up to speed after exerting myself by pootling along at a very inefficient (for me) pace.
The hills became daunting and at every part of the road it felt like the bike was being pulled down into the road and it took incredible exertion in order to make it move, on one hill I had to get off and push it to the top.
I thought I wasn't going to make it and that the next rest stop couldn't come soon enough. This was, as usual at the top of a hill. When I stopped here, I grabbed whatever food was available, it was getting more and more scarce as the tour was coming to an end and they had calculated it reasonably accurately.
I was egged on and left, knowing that there was an "epic" (their words, not mine) climb before lunch. This had me demoralised a bit, but a quick downhill blast on good tarmac cheered me up no end and we were soon back on the flat. I kept a lookout for anything that looked even similar to Paris but nothing appeared.
The climb that was described as epic actually fitted the description, it was a series of alpine style hairpins that ascended about a thousand feet over the course of about 6 miles. For some reason I had no problem with this climb and the scenery was, as I am sure you are sick of hearing, beautiful. There was an almost middle eastern feel about it, lots of red rock (that I am assuming was sandstone) and an incredible heat, apparently one of the other riders clocked it at 38oC.
We arrived into a small city/large town and circled around what I am assuming was the outside of the city centre, lunch was at a golf course on the outskirts and was delicious (do you sense a recurring theme here?) and much appreciated even though the service was a bit disorganised.
During lunch there was a mini-briefing about what we were going to do that afternoon, especially with the entrance into Paris. After this, we all set off, largely as one unit and set about making it to the first stop, where we would regroup and set off again as one unit so that our entry to Paris was more condensed and organised, rather than very spread out as it had been over the previous days and rest stops.
The first hill was quite long and steep but nothing too stressful, what followed was a very steep and hairy descent through a village that must have been superglued to the side of a hill and had quite a few cobbled sections. Now as you can imagine, cobbles on a bike are bad, cobbles on a road bike, with high pressure skinny tires, no suspension and a saddle that felt like it was carved out of rock was pretty bad. Especially if your arse is already busted after a fall and 2 days of cycling on same saddle.
The regouping point was in a forest with a cycle lane through it, again very very pretty. Fruit was getting very low and had to make do with 2 scabby bananas and a half handful of the ever present raisins. Setting off together we were finally on the outskirts of Paris, this leg was a bit stressful and tougher than it could have been as there was a lot of jockeying for position nearer the front, lots and lots of traffic lights and a general uphill grind. As is usual with uphill sections, there is a downhill section that followed, made all the more interesting by the traffic, which being Paris at about 3.30 was backed up, overtaking cars on a downhill section with less than useful brakes and even less useful common sense is not to be recommended. It is however incredibly exhilarating and something you should probably do once at least (you may only get to do it once as it could be your last)
We grouped up once again at the Bois Du Boulogne, in paris traffic proper. This was to be our final stop before the Eiffel tower. This was an interesting leg navigation wise as there was a bunch of 80 tired cyclists, Parisian traffic, Parisian streets and a lack of signage. We all managed to make it through without much incident, I think one woman managed to hit a parked car and fall off but that was about it. We came down a hill and in front of us was it. The Eiffel tower, we had made it. It was an absolute site to behold and there was much ringing of the bicycle bells. It didn't quite stop there however, as we had to cycle around it, staying on the road until the entrance to the grassy area at the back. Upon arrival bicycles were promptly dumped on the grass and Champagne was distributed (well sparking wine that was quite warm)
After being chased off the grass by the park warden and interrupting someones wedding photos (very very very sorry about that) we had to get back on the bikes once more and head to the hotel. The bikes were popped into the back of a van and that was the last that we heard of them.
And as luck may have it, that is the last that you will hear about the London to Paris cycle on this blog, unless of course I change my mind and decide to do it again.