The first thing that strikes you about the roads leading out of Bordeaux heading up the Dordogne is the smoothness of the tarmac and whiteness of the paint upon it. It makes for super smooth rolling of your bicycle tyres, which is just as well when the bike is weighed down by four stone worth of pannier, tent, and general camping equipment. Not to mention overweight Mackems.
Dropped off around eight a.m. on what felt like could have been the hottest day of the year. Unhitched mountain bikes from the trailer and bags from the undercarriage storage compartment. The bus pulled away, leaving behind five men on the verge of adventure – six days to ride four-hundred miles to catch a glimpse of the world’s greatest bike race.
By mid-morning, the beauty of Bergerac had been swished straight through in a blur, adrenaline and the sense of needing to get early miles into the legs becoming almost sunstroke inducing. By early afternoon you run out of water and can’t find an open shop anywhere. Luckily, you find a fountain to top up empty bottles and drench the backs of necks. The suspicion of said fountain actually being connected in some way to the local drainage system is very strong within the group, though nothing is said, just, you know, body language.
As the heat beats ever harder, the pace slows to a more manageable crack. The constant chirp of crickets mixes in with stifling air to create a pressure in the forehead that demands you rip your helmet from your nut and dowse it. Except you don’t, you just keep going.
When the days final destination is reached, forearms are starting to prickle, the rubber tyres are close to melting, and you’ve found your way to an uninhabited campsite near Beaumont-du-Périgord – eighty-five miles further east. That’s when you realise what day it is, and realise you have a couple of hours to find yourself a bar with a TV. This is when you get to practice your non-existent French. This usually includes talking slower and louder whilst waving your hands frantically.
And so, you find out, nearest town/village – four miles away. Possibility of a taxi to get you there – none. Chance of then actually finding a bar – less than zero. A way of then getting back – ‘We will inform your next of kin.’
You need a miracle. And that’s just what you get. The offer of a portable TV being set up on a patio underneath an *olive tree; a meal made on the hoof by the campsite owner’s wife; and a gift of wine and bottled lager to go with it.
The sun goes down, and the heat of the day lingers cool enough to make the wine and lager tickle the brain into fooling yourself you’ve landed in heaven. And then it starts, with co-commentary from Arséne Wenger (in French), probably the worst World Cup Final you’ve ever seen.
Still, it could be so much worse, and unknowingly, that’s just what would happen. But that’s a story for another day.
*probably not an olive tree, but it sounds nice.