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Tour de France Sojourn Day 1

I rattle and rumble down the ferry gangway into early morning France. It’s around 5am and I’ve not had anywhere near enough sleep. Out of the port and it’s left up the first hill of the day. An old woman shouts “ALLEZ!” from a high, unshuttered window. Light seeps into the sky, I can see it’s broken cloud ahead of me. As I crest the hill turning on to the main road I look out to sea and there is an ominous dark bank of cloud following me, rain falling at an angle in a gloomy smudge. At least the angle means I’ve got a tailwind. The whirling wind turbines standing sentry along the ridge tops confirm this. I didn’t plan to be on the main road, but realise this way avoids some early hills and there’ll be no traffic this time of the morning. The only traffic I see is heading into Dieppe so I trundle uninterrupted to where I pick up my planned route a few kilometres east.

Turning right I’m hit by a strong sidewind and the first raindrop. The wind stays all day but the rain comes and goes and is never bad enough to count as proper rain. Every time I turn west I’m given a shove by the wind, allowing me to stop pedalling and save my legs for the hills I know are coming. Today is about conserving energy, it’s going to be a long day and there’s no rush, a total daydream ride. I’ve got hours to get to Amiens and I know the way, no map checking stops required, just a list of road numbers and by memory. I join the road to Fresnoy-Folny realising from the Departmental banners alongside the road ready for the helicopter shots that Le Tour is coming this way tomorrow. The sky overhead is pale blue and long shadows cast across the tarmac. The wheat fields to my right glow golden in the early morning sun. The skylarks are starting to sing.

It’s a long drag up to the village but once over the crossroads I know I’ve got an even longer descent. Which will be needed as I then know I have the biggest climb of the day into the Haute Foret D’Eu. I rest of the drops and speed into the village of Grandcourt which still seems to be asleep. I have not idea what time it is but it must be early still. I check the time, it’s just gone half seven, the tailwind is pushing me ahead of where I imagined where I’d be by now. Hopefully by the next town I’ll find an open bakery or cafe.

As I start the climb into the forest clouds are fast blowing in from the northwest, slowly obscuring the sun, shards of light clip the tops of trees making the view ahead stunning in that dark sky bright landscape kind of way. The expected rain doesn’t happen and summit the hill in grey but in the dry. The roads are damp so I must be behind the rain, but a glance over the shoulder indicates I may well be stuck between two banks of rain. Dropping down the other side the sky ahead is cracked with blue. After a few non-descript kilometres around Blangy-sur-Bresle I cross the border between the departments of Seine-Maritime and Somme, which means I think i’ve passed from Normandy into Picardie. Also it means I’m more than half way to Amiens.

A couple more road junctions and I’ll join the D211 which will lead me all the way into Amiens. I stop and buy breakfast from a village shop in Senarpont, after the last few climbs I’m in need of refueling, the emergency flapjacks and bananas have been consumed. I can’t see anywhere near the shop to sit and eat so I ride a few miles until I spot a bus stop in yet another sleepy village. I lean the bike against the glass shelter and pull a croissant and pain-au-chocolat from a pannier top.

The D211 undulates mile upon mile towards my destination. After one of the longer climbs I ride along a plateau of green and gold fields of corn and wheat. The road is straight and flat in tree lined segments. Occasionally I get caught in drizzly showers but all the while being pushed by the friendly wind. The rise and fall continues and despite soft pedalling whenever possible I’m starting to feel the 60 miles in my legs with each new ramp. Over one more lump and I can see Amiens cathedral towering over the horizon. Almost there.

An hour later and my tent is pitched and I’ve showered. Time to ride the cycle path along the River Somme into the city centre to find lunch and the tour finishing straight. I manage to find both at the same place and buy an official Tour de France saucisse baguette. I stroll up and down the tree lined avenue looking for a spot to lean on a barrier and wait…

and wait…

and read the weather forecast in the newspaper handed to me whilst eating the apricot handed to me and drink the water handed to me.

and wait…

and watch the team buses drive past.

and wait…

and watch the publicity Caravanne pass hurling instant landfill into the crowd in a mess of noise and colour.

and wait…

and listen to the frenzied commentary crackling from the speaker strapped to the tree next to me.

and wait…

“DIX KILOMETRE!”

and wait…

“DEUX KILOMETRE!!”

“FLAMME ROUGE!!!”

we all lean forward…

and ZOOM!!

That was a long wait for a few seconds of racing.

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