Stage 5 day two was another 100 mile cycling day, heading north from the champagne region, skirting east of Paris to finish in St Quentin. Another headwind day, so a perfect opportunity to hone the group riding technique – with the ‘awesome’ Group 2 riders.
The day started with a 5.30am alarm call – so just 4 ½ hours sleep following the Bollinger champagne reception and dinner the night before – then a quick breakfast before the rendez-vous in Challons. Never one to turn down a media opportunity, did a video piece with Taylor Murphy (the Slam Insider) whose angle was that, as a triathlete, then this cycling lark was easy. I put him straight, as the following video shows.
Today’s ride had less time pressure than day one, and more hills, so that meant more opportunities for stops. The groups set out in reverse order i.e. slowest group first; and we were the penultimate group to set-off. The first stop was back at the Bollinger champagne house in Ay, not for a ‘hair of the dog’ but more for a photocall. Each group in turn had their photo taken on the steps.
Leaving Ay, the hills started. Now those that have visited wine growing regions know that vines need well drained land to grow – and that comes naturally from hillsides. So we soon had a double climb as we left the wine growing valley behind us, only to be passed by Graeme Le Saux and Lee Dixon on the Pizza Express tandem. To add to the occasion they were dressed as wine waiters and Graeme (at the back) was carrying an open bottle of champagne. As competitive ex-sportsmen that didn’t stop them from working hard on the hills – respect guys!
The second stop was in a pretty French village that had a boulangerie – where the group bought their choice of freshly based cakes and savouries (mine was a pate en croute!) Nice to sample the local produce. To make up from some lost time our group became more organised, and under Dave Butler’s instruction, we started chain-ganging. With the 12 riders riding two abreast, in close formation, our peloton only took up the same space as an artic lorry. The outside line of riders moved forward one at a a time, taking a 30-60 secs turn on the front, tackling a modest headwind, whilst the rest of group tucked in to take shelter from the breeze. By the time we approached the lunch stop, we had the riding technique perfected, and noticed a helicopter buzzing around overhead. Assuming this to be the Discovery Channel doing some filming, we had no better incentive to ride in tight and controlled formation to the rest point. And as a club cyclist, that felt really great!
The afternoon was a continuation of the group riding, with plenty of banter to keep everyone on their toes. That night, I found out that I had a new nickname – Mouse. Why, because I had a bike that squeaked, following the previous days rain and road grit that had caked itself on my machine. Following the afternoon refuelling stop, where Catermasters provided a lovely cup of tea (and more cake!), our route led until the much larger town of St Quentin where we battled with the rush hour traffic to get to our destination.
So, another long day in saddle – nearly 8 hours of riding – but a deep sense of satisfaction at what we had achieved.