Tuesday 14 July 2009

Tour de France 2009 - Day 2 - Le Tour, Without the Waiting

After a night in a bed, yes, a bed, the joy of getting up and wandering to the kitchen to get eggs, bacon, coffee, and orange juice, so so French, hmmm. Bacon was from a farm near Peterborough and bought at the farm outlet in Cambridge. Orange was bought in Barcelona, and so was everything else.

Ed and I got the bikes out from their downstairs storage and fiddled with them knowledgeably, yeah right. Mostly dealing flat tyres wouldn't seem bad until you find out that Ed's grandfather had a bike shop and the inner tubes were from it. The valves where unknown to modern science, possibly Victorian.

Ed rigged up something that seemed to work, but it require both of us involved in a series of body positions I last did whilst playing Twister. After that it was just a question of fiddling with gears, brakes, saddle heights, and the sheer level of dust on them. So, a couple of hours after starting we were tired, sweaty and about to start the ride.

We headed up valley along the back roads from our sleepy village. My legs were so excited about being got out for a little exercise they were jumping around like suitably wound-up puppies. This was hard for all to take as I seemed to disappear into the distance all the time. Judicious photo opportunities allowed me to save face.

We soon transferred to an old railway track that snaked along the valley with stupendous bridges. these were mostly metal based full of little holes where you could just make out a raging torrent 30 to 50 metres below. After a while we were off the old track, with the same level fo signage as we got to begin with, that is none.

A rather unedifying main road took us on to Amelie-les-Bains and across the river Tech again and back to Palalda.

Palalda was very pretty and full of single lane streets with 3 storey houses and 1 in 3 gradients. We found the "Sports" cafe down this dark street and ventured in for some refreshment. As soon as we passed the bar the panoramic view of the whole valley opened up through large windows at the other end. The 1 in 3 slop guarenteeing a lack fo any houses the other side of any road.

The cafe boasted a rather noncholant cat that just said "quoi?" with a look to all entreaties and advances we lovingly made. I swear that if it had struck up a Gauloise I really would not have been surprised.

The light refreshment consisted of Croc Monsieur and a glass of a new local beer called Cap d'Ona. It was rich, malty, and full of flavour, much like a good Broadside, but with a texture that was unmistakeably lager. This is where British lager gets it so wrong. It has no flavour, just fizzy pop with alcohol added. Alcopops are a least honest about their origins. Only later we discovered that the beer was fortified with a local wine called Banyuls, ahem.

Thus fortified, we were encouraged us to venture back along this side of the valley headed back out this time up to a good height of 340m. Then back down to 200m along a fast twisting, technical descent. I was in 7th heaven, going 25-40mph for 2miles. Sliding from one side of the bike to the other, judiciously applying brakes and pedalling madly to make the bottom. Nearly came off once but that just got the heart pumping. It always happens just after you've make the corner and trying to speed up without concentrating on the road. Suddenly you've drifted into the grass and gravel on the road edge and have to gently push yourself back onto the tarmac. A few hairaising moments where you visualize the trip down off the roadside into the tree branches around. It wouldn't be severe but would be very embarrassing.

At the bottom I waited. And waited. In that short distance I'd gained 4 minutes out of others. This is cycling parlance for being described as a demon descender. I'm sure there are plenty of good amateurs and all the pros that would completely wipe the floor with me, but I yet to find any that'll do it on a bike they don't know.

Erica had had enough of cycling by now but was happy for Ed and I to extend our rise with a short excursion further up the mountains. We said goodbye leaving her on a familiar road not too far from home, and scanned the hillside for the obvious track. Well, it was very obvious on the map but consisted of a overgrown field in reality. Oh, the reminders of west Wales. After going round, we found the other end of the overgrown field and concluded the road route really wasn't that bad even if it was 3 times as long.

our loop was only meant to take us to 250m up again, but by some bad mapreading and fairly unpenetreable "interdit" signs we ended up on a 410m loop. Just as I was about to break, Ed stopped and said "I'm pooped but you go on". I was able to drop pace but still push on. Ed caught back up after a while, only to "poop" again leaving me on my own to the summit as King of the Mountains.

The hamlet at the top wasn't stunning but could at least fit the French "jolie". We enjoyed being up in the middle of nowhere as much as it was a ride in itself, then plummeted back down to home. I took 2 minutes out of Ed on the descent. This time hairy road edge experiences, but some hilarious "Caaaar!" moments and showing I could get to the road edge if I wanted to.

At home the pool was very inviting, for about 2 minutes. Followed by a second lunch of gazpacho, bread, and cheese.

Now, some of you will have started to spot a small item lacking from the itenary so far. Wasn't I in this country to see something or other? Wasn't there a purpose to my travels and travails? Well, yes. So after lunch we all sat down in front of the TV and watched the Team Time Trial of the Tour de France. Now, again, I hear those quizical looks. Yep, I've travelled 1000 miles to do something I can do at home, and even there hear the darn thing in English! Well, at least I got to sit in a French bar for a little while, cycle on the right, see mountains covered in cork trees, and still see the race conclusion. This time a bit astounding, the yellow jersey separated by less than a second. For all of you who'll read about Lance not being to quite do it on his comeback in the British press, please understand that no-one really wants the yellow jersey just now. It's too long to defend it. Also, I really doubt he has the ability to get it. Unmistakeably he wants it, but there are at least 2 others with bigger talent right now. And that's just in his team.

Anyway, after the TV, we wandered into town to pick up supplies. We seemed to keep missing shops until we got into Perpignan. It was fairly uneventful apart from spotting so really good shed deals.

Our route home took us to the village of Vives where there is a great place for good Catalan food. This was very reminiscent of a place in Paris where you get meat on a board that was cooked on an open fire and a side order of fried diced potato. As before it tasted wonderful.

And that's where the day ends. I'm the last up, sat on the patio with Soulwax pumping out some georgeous dirty techno as I find a place to hide some beer. That is dirty in the sense that the techno beat is nicely grunged up and distorted to make Kylie sound acceptable.

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