France: Day Eleven – Les Issambres to Nice

Woke to a fair breeze but joy of joys, lovely sunshine to complement our seaside setting. A good breakfast, a most friendly send off from our lovely landlady & photo shoot, we were off. The coast of the Cote D’Azur was what I’d had in my head as we planned this trip & saw myself cycling this section under a clear blue sky & soaking up the atmosphere.

I’d clearly ignored the frequent comments about the traffic, thinking this was a feature of July & August & not Springtime. In the event, it was a pain & it was almost a joy to leave the coast & head inland & up a long climb through the mountains. What beautiful scenery, what gorgeous peace & best of all, no punctures or breakdowns. We even had a coffee stop, on a terrace, overlooking the sea & in a state of high excitement to be in such close range to Nice.

Did I just say no punctures? Just on the outskirts of Cannes, Chris was suddenly detached from the peleton & the scouting party found him with a flatty! The support vehicle was well ahead & trapped in traffic so we did what seemed appropriate to the day & found a restaurant on the coast about a mile away, booked a table for seven & relaxed into an early lunch. When the van arrived, Chris was fitted with a bright blue spare tyre (save him right for taking the piss out of mine!) & after Moules, Frites , was almost smiling.

The last 7 or 8 miles into Nice was really quite nice & most of it was on dedicated cycle tracks we shared with the roller bladders & walkers. A photo shoot at the first signpost, another at the fountain & off to the Hotel Campanile (no prize, but a welcome sight). An hour & a half of packing up bikes & loading the van, a pleading session with the owner of the business behind the hotel to let us park & a quick bath & it was off to the local Garibaldi Square for beers & people watching. Our recommended Restaurant (thanks Mungo) was judged too formal & expensive so we found somewhere close by which did the trick nicely. Watched the sun go down as we people watched on the terrace & then had an excellent meal & an after dinner promenade & thought how wonderful it was to contemplate a saddle free future.

The last day was a mere 50 miles & leisurely 4 hours of saddle time.

France: Day Ten – Aix en Provence to Les Issambres (Cote D’Azur)

Although we spent most of this day with rain threatening & evident all around, we didn’t actually get wet. Perhaps as well, as we got enough punctures, plus a case of mangled gears to make us think we’d been really bad boys in our younger days. The punctures, we think, were a result of having to use the hard shoulder on the busy dual carriageways, which of course carry all the grit, glass & general debris. However by about the seventh one it was all past a joke & in particular when mine went for the second time in an hour, on the downhill section to the coast. It went with such a bang it was a real shock, but all I could feel was relief as it could well have had me out of control & over the edge. However by now we didn’t have any spares left so I jumped in the van & we went in search of a bike shop which we found, after some reluctant French help, in St Maxime. Bright blue tyres on a red & white Specialized frame were not going to do my street cred much good, but as soon as we arrived at the hotel, I fitted same & promptly got back on the bike & headed back to St Maxime to get my 80 + miles in for the day & to make sure the bike was fit for the final push, tomorrow.

La Caravelle at Les Issambres was beautifully situated, right on the coast & the landlady was a joy who couldn’t do enough to make us welcome. The rather quirky rooms & temperamental plumbing might not be to everyone’s taste but it was good fun & at less than Euro100 for two, including a decent breakfast, not bad value in this expensive part of the world. At the landlady’s suggestion, we went to Maison Fleurie (I believe it was called), a short drive away. After an initial slow start whilst we were studiously ignored in favour of the locals, we eventually got fed & watered & our (probably drunk) hostess was good fun & served some surprisingly tasty food, off the set menu. A good precursor we felt, for the final push to Nice.

Stats for the day – 81 miles, average 14 mph, max 32 & 5 hours 43mins in the saddle.

France: Day Nine – (was to be) Port Camargue to Aix en Provence

I woke quite early & tried to convince myself the noise was the air conditioning unit in the room, but sadly no – it was the wind. The weather then added rain & finally torrential rain so we all turned up for breakfast in casual clothes & decided to hang on until things turned a little brighter. It wasn’t to be however & the rain got steadily worse until it became evident the roads were beginning to flood & to have continued would have been uncomfortable in the extreme & worse still, dangerous. For the rest of the trip we were to see fast flowing rivers & floods, the result of these days’ storms. We therefore set about testing the support system & trying to fit seven bikes (one spare), luggage & food plus the seven of us, into Chris’s new ‘super van’. No problems – soaked & not a bit dejected, we set off for Aix en Provence. Our coffee stop en route is not etched into memory, other than being the crummiest café this side of Algeria & with stairs to the toilet that were more dangerous than any cycling we’d done so far.

We arrived in Aix de Provence around 3.00pm & spent a few hours over a lazy lunch & a promenade in this lovely town, albeit in damp miserable weather. Back to the hotel at 8.30pm & agreed an 8.15am start the following day, although the free WIFI virtually guaranteed, via every conceivable weather web page, that we would be wet for the entire day!!

France: Day Eight – Carcassone to Port Camargue

This was to be the big one of the trip & in that regard, it didn’t disappoint us. 111 miles, 8 1/2 hours of cycling & combined climbing of 620 mts. It didn’t exactly inspire when we woke to a cold & wet morning & evidence of the same winds we’d had the previous day. On the plus side there wasn’t a lot of climbing & we did get the wind behind us for part of the way. However at 30 miles Gus had the first of what was to be many group punctures & as his spare also had a hole, it was a frustrating delay for us all.

Overall it was the sheer length of the ride that took its toll although we did maintain the regimen of 20-mile stops & a decent lunch break, which brought instant relief albeit often only short, lived. We arrived in Pt Camargue in the wet, quite shattered, but to very attractive cottage type accommodation (Spinaker Rest) around a pool, into which Richard promptly plunged for all of about 15 seconds. Alan was having trouble finding us & Christopher struck out to guide him in – an act of extreme kindness given his state of general exhaustion.

This upmarket accommodation, on the coast & with a lovely Marina fortunately also had a very good but rather expensive restaurant so at least we finished off the day, well fed & watered & we had now done the ‘coast to coast’ which was the original plan.

France: Day Seven – Montauban to Carcassonne

A truly difficult 94 mile day which had us in the saddle for 7 ½ hours and averaging only 12.2mph Although the scenery was wonderful, we had lots of early morning steep climbs over rough & difficult roads. Post lunch wrong directions then took us well over 1100mts rather than the promised 250mts on climbs that just appeared endless. The run down the other side hardly provided relief, as there was strong wind of force 6/7 which made the run treacherous, in particular as the odd truck decided they could pass us with just inches to spare. By way of final insult, the wind turned directly into our face for the final 7-mile run into Carcassone. A hard day which left everyone shattered, some frayed tempers & Gus muttering ‘I can’t believe I climbed that mountain’ & Alan deciding it was hard in the van, let alone a bike!

The wonderful sight of the walled town couldn’t tempt us out that night & we decided to eat in the Hotel Restaurant, which in the event wasn’t bad & we were regaled with the voices of a whole travelling choir of elderly Germans. The thought of 100 miles plus the following day sent everyone to bed early & with a fair amount of dread.