Ok, so I know these are all out of order but you’ll have to bear with me! The days have been long and the nights short.
I thought these 3 days would be the toughest but I’ll suspend judgement until I’m sitting at AB’s villa being plied with more of Barb’s wine and probably been encouraged to do something else of an equally ridiculous nature!
Anyway today has been fun. You may have seen from the tweets that I met a guy called Tim whilst waiting for the ferry at Royan. He was wearing a Rapha top which is one of my favourite cycling brands and without doubt one of the most comfortable. It’s a premium product but believe me – when you are doing something extreme you realise the value straight away. Rapha manufacture the Team Sky kit (if you don’t know what I’m on a about – turn on the coverage of “Le Tour”, look for Chris Froome and you’ll see. ” you ‘ave the same top” I said with a slight French twang. “Yes mate” he said. It transpired Tim was from Leicestershire and was going to Parentis en Born too so we hooked up. Pure chance.
We compared routes, agreed that we would try my slightly longer – but closer to the coast route and off we set. Our route took us along cycle tracks by the side of a lake and then towards the coast. There no agriculture down here. Its miles and miles of Pine forests that either have cycle routes along quite (ish) roads or the French have simply cut straight lines through the Pines and tarmacked them. They go on for miles. As you ride through, dependant on where you are they are either deserted or used by sports cyclists (then men and women aged over 45 – clad in lycra) or holiday makers on rental bikes. All tend to say “bonjour” as you pass which even after 50 miles of saying the same – you make sure you return the compliment. I didn’t here “aw’right mate” once.
We stopped for lunch right by the sea at Contis Plage which appeared full of surfers like so many of the places down the coast. We kept coming across what looked like the refugee camps of Calais only for Tim to point out that it was Dutch campers enjoying a DIY centre parks. “Yesh” as they would say. We managed to make good speed on these smooth routes where the French have laid the perfect tarmac for cyclists. When you ride a bike you quickly come to realise that not all tarmac is smooth. Some of it has rougher stone that seems to cause the saddle to vibrate right up your arse meaning that you have to stop and reapply the cream. I bet the big lumps are cheaper for our councils to buy it wont encourage people to ditch their cars.
This scenery went on for ages. At some point we thought it would go from Maziman to Bayone – 50 odd miles – but as we got closer to Bayonne we had to go through a number of seaside town which are just a pain in the arse (not because of the tarmac) but because of the navigation. The crickets were screeching in the forests which at times seemed deafening but you become immune to it. Before long we approached the outskirts of Bayonne and abandoned the cycle routes as the lure of the cold beer became too much to resist. Bayonne seems lovely. A city built on the sides of a wide river that seems quite classy. It’s rugby country down here and you can see why many UK players opt for a few years in the sun enjoying a great quality of life. As I’m quite ignorant when it comes to French geography aside from the Alps, I had no idea that Bayonne and Biaritz were such close neighbours (think Birmingham’s proximity to Solihull without Small Heath and Sparkhill in between). We headed for the bar of the hotel that Tim was staying at, downed 2 quick ones before I headed round the coast to Biaritz and on to Bidart. Bidart is about 3-5 miles beyond Biaritz and the Garmin (that’s earned its spurs again) routed me along the sea front at Biaritz. The beach was full at about 7.15pm with people preparing to watch the sunset. It really does look a smart place. Surfers whizz in and out of the traffic with their boards strapped to mopeds (imagine that in the UK?).
I arrived at my hotel at about 7.45. From the room I can see the mountains of the Pyrenees beyond and the coast around to San Sebastian. It will be a lumpy 40 miles tomorrow – like that Suisse Normandy bit on day 3. My legs are getting stronger though – although they are knackered so it should be fun. Despite carrying swimming trunks with me (for the cold water treatment), I’ve not got near to the sea yet so i’m looking forward to having a dip at San Seb.
Whilst enjoying the 2 beers with Tim in Bayonne, it transpires that his route to the Pyrenees brings him through Bidart so we will ride to the Spanish border together and then go in separate directions. I can’t believe that it been 8 days in the saddle (having left a week ago today) and I’m so close to Spain. By the time I write tomorrow, I’ll have completed 2 of the 4 countries. France has been fantastic, we have so much to learn from these guys albeit I recognise they have more space to play with than us.
146 km today