Stage 3: Le Vast to Cherbourg, 40 miles

3rd July 2016.

BREAKFAST IN BARFLEUR AND TDF STAGE TWO.

https://www.strava.com/activities/628907229

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After a sleepless night with the Aussies in the roasting bunkhouse (who lights a log burner in July?!) I was glad to be on my way again. It was a drizzly grey morning but that wasn’t going to stop me, I knew it was going to clear up later for the second stage finish in Cherbourg, only fifteen or so miles away, so I donned my thin Castelli rain jacket and headed East to the coast in search of some petit-dejeuner. I actually really enjoyed the rainy ride only 12km to the beautiful Barfleur, absolutely soaked by the time I arrived but not cold at all. I sang and chatted to myself practising my french as I went and I’m sure that the few old farm trucks that I passed on that Sunday morning thought I was an absolute lunatic.

 

 

 

When I reached Barfleur at about 10 or 11am, after a very leisurely start I was amazed to find that the cafes had stopped doing breakfast yet the bars were full of locals enjoying a Sunday morning tipple!! I had a lovely and well deserved chocolat chaud in one of said bars whilst chatting to some more Brits over to see the TDF but without bikes.

 

 

A quick stop in the patisserie to pick up an almond croissant and I was on my way onwards again, clinging to the main coast road along the North-East corner of La Manche which was spectacular, despite the mist and rain. The road was rolling and well surfaced, but the views out to sea were so moody, reminding me of a winter’s day on the craggy Cornish coast. The coast road delivered me into sleepy Cherbourg where I had anticipated more action ahead of the stage finish here in just a few hours time.

There were barriers up in the centre of Cherbourg and more of the gendarme than pedestrians in the persistent drizzle. I started cycling with two chaps I met from Bristol from a club called the Grande Papas, and we decided that we’d try and attempt the climb out of Cherbourg on the TDF route but were quickly stopped by a lovely gendarme from Paris. I used my best french to try and persuade him to let us climb but he was very reluctant. Before I knew it the two chaps were off on up the hill and I obediently rolled back down to the centre-ville, defeated and in search of lunch and somewhere warm to dry off. But before I’d found my way back to the centre, I noticed great gaggles of cyclists whizzing past in my direction, descending the bank and unstopped by the police guards. They all had bright fluro armbands which I guessed signified that they were in some sort of pre-race charity sportive, and according to their kit seemed to be Dutch or German.

 

Not wanting to miss my chance, I cranked up the legs and joined into the pack, I was not going to be beaten! At more of a race-pace, we gingerly cornered the wet, closed city streets of Cherbourg and round the Harbour. That’s when I realised that we’d done it all wrong – the Bristol boys were actually on the wrong climb, and this ahead of me was the closing climb of Stage 2 – up to Le Glacier. I was passed by a few cyclists at the start of the climb and soon my competitive streak cut in, as I set my sights on each single chap ahead of me, powering up steadily and nodding as I passed them – what a buzz! Especially with my saddlebag on the back – not the easiest climbing. The further up we went, the steeper it became, great sweeping bends and the crowds were starting to assemble. The crowds started to cheer, especially for me I think because I was the only girl and it was obvious that I was really going for it. The climb was really spectacular and the atmosphere felt amazing, all fuel for my legs. I glanced down to check my heart rate –  98%, 99%, 103% – I could really not have given much more. Soon near the top with only a few hundred metres to go I was finally halted by the gendarme, but I was so glad I’d spotted my chance and had a go at what turned out to be the best climb in the whole trip.

It was a fun roll back down into Centre-Ville in search now of lunch and somewhere to dry off. Finally the drizzle had stopped but under a cloudy sky I didn’t hold up to much hope of getting bone dry again any time soon. Passing a Pizzeria, I got chatting to Kevin and Mark from 1st Chard Wheelers CC who invited me to join them for lunch. That’s what I really loved about the tour – the whole place is full of people with that one shared passion so it’s great on your own for just getting to meet people to spend time with. A gorgeous seafood pizza and coffee later and we were ready to take up our positions on the hill for the stage finish.

 

 

The caravans had started to come through so we knew that they were getting close. I climbed halfway back up the hill and met 5 lads from Epsom, London, who I joined to watch with. They were hilarious fun and we shared stories of our French adventures, great British rides, gathered and shared our caravan stash and even limbered up with some pre-race stretches. I just laughed so, so much.

 

 

Today’s tactic of watching the race on the climb was a much better one, as you could catch a much better picture of the pro’s as they pedalled past, a more measured effort on the climb rather than the blur of a sprint finish. On the approach we were getting live updates from one guy’s phone – the breakaway Belgian appearing first closely followed by the peleton – Froome, Cav, Sagan, Contador, all powering up the hill. A second bunch followed and from then on it was all very strung out due to a number of mechanicals and crashes earlier in the stage.

Back in the Centre-Ville I watched the Podiums on the big screen and met James and Dave again from GPCC Bristol. James made me wear his cap for the GPCC wall of fame, all good fun! We made plans to meet back here for some beers later on so I headed off to find my local AirBnB and change.

 

 

 

The stay was one of the best I had – Mirelle and her lovely family made me feel very at home in their externally modest but beautiful supermodern house. I had my own ‘penthouse’ room with a fantastic show, Mirelle washed my kit properly (heaven) and I was soon feeling refreshed and ready to head back out to enjoy the afterparty in Cherbourg. Only it wasn’t really that, it seemed that most of the riders had moved on with the tour, as now the crowds amassing were football fans ready for that evening’s Euro game of France vs Iceland.

I first headed to the Irish Bar to have a beer with Dave, James and their crew and then I bumped into Mark and Kevin again and enjoyed two beers with them. This was getting dangerous as I don’t usually drink much at all and I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime… It all got a bit out of hand then back in the square more beers with my French friend and his twelve year old son, my petit ami (who I got told off by his mum for playing with him in the fountain), getting the French flag painted on my cheeks, banter with the two guys from Leeds, getting pooped on by a seagull (I thought that was meant to be good luck) – it was eventful. By the time I was ready to go home I reached into my pocket to get a map up to get back to the hotel and suddenly found my phone missing – merde! In the packed square I think that it would  have been all too easy to slip that one away, and even worse it had my carte bleu – bank card – in the back. With some help from some lovely locals I finally made it back to the house at 4am and climbed into bed, not before devouring a peach – a taste of heaven! Suddenly the 120 mile TDF stage planned for tomorrow seemed a little less likely after all…

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