Breakfast was at a more civilised 7.30 and was a lovely array of pastries, cereal, cheese and fruit. We ate well and sorted out our route for the day. Nikki joined us from the intermediates and after our briefing from Martin and the ritual group photograph, we set off in our respective groups.
It had been raining overnight and started drizzling when we left, but of course as soon as we put our wet weather jackets on it cleared up and the sun came out!
The first half hour of getting back on the bike is always the worse, when your legs feel stiff and your bum hurts. We hadn’t even gone half a mile from the hotel when there was a very loud bang, just like a gunshot, and Nikki had a puncture! She was well prepared with a spare inner tube and with the help of Adrian the wheel was fixed within 10 minutes. Off we went again.
Although our Day 3 route was relatively free of significant hills, we had over 100 miles to cover, so we couldn’t afford to waste too much time. We were all in good spirits and the roads were easier to navigate as there were some really long fast stretches – typical French roads really. We were elated to discover when we stopped for a coffee break that we were ahead of the intermediate group, which had got lost!
On reflection we didn’t plan our stops properly and because our coffee stop was late and a bit longer than it should have been, we delayed stopping for a proper lunch and just kept pushing on. The middle section had a number of hills which we wanted to complete before we stopped but this proved to be too much for Ali. Her body decided it was just too much and closed down – “bonked” is the technical expression I understand! Poor Ali became disoriented and needed to stop to recover. She perked up after she had been fed with gels, liquid and energy bars and seemed almost high but unfortunately just a few miles down the road when we hit the next hill, she hit the wall again and this time just couldn’t go on. The support vehicle was called and she left us looking pretty dazed.
Again needing to make up time we pushed on. Gels and energy bars are okay but theer are only so many you can eat before needing some proper food so we decided to have an impromptu picnic in a small town at around 4pm. We invaded the local supermarket and cleared the shelves of bread, cheese, ham and tomatoes, to the amusement of the owner.
By this time we still had 50 miles to go and we needed to get some miles in if we were to get to the hotel before dark and in time for dinner. We settled into our pace but this day just wasn’t going according to any sort of plan. John’s back wheel had become buckled and he lost one and then two spokes making it impossible to continue. The support vehicle was called and we all agreed that it would make sense for me and Sarah with Lew and Kieran should keep going while Nikki, Andy, Julian, Adrian and Bob would stay behind with John, hopefully to catch up with us once the bike was fixed.
A combination of faster cycling and a shorter route meant that we did indeed meet up again within half an hour. John’s bike had been beyond repair, but luckily for him, Heather, our support driver had brought her bike along and with some adaption John was able to ride it. It was a very different ride to his own bike – and he was noticeably faster on it.
Our route took us through a lot of country lanes, which were very scenic and quite fast. We rode closely together to keep our speed up and were making good progress. It was at this point however, with about 80 miles under our belt, that my ride to Paris came to a sad end. I was on the right side as we took a sharpish left turn. Unfortunately there was a load of gravel that had spread into the middle of the road and my front wheel hit it at speed and slipped under me. I dived to the road, head first, where I lay dazed and hurting and making quite a lot of noise I think!
Luckily everyone else managed to avoid both me and the gravel and they came to my assistance. The next half an hour is a bit of a blur but I was helped into the support vehicle and Heather drove me to the hospital in Evreux, the town where we were staying for the night. Sarah, understandably , was really upset to see her mum with a golf ball on her face and a suspected broken arm, and she came with me in the van.
We had a very long wait – over 3 hours – to see a doctor and he would not win any awards for his cheerful bedside manner. He prodded and poked my arm and then sent me off for a xray. I was pleased to learn eventually that I had no broken bones but torn ligaments meant that nevertheless my arm was really painful and no strength or mobility. The doctor put me in a sling, gave me some painkillers and sent me off.
While we were waiting to see the doctor, George, who had been riding with the intermediate group turned up. Apparently he has (or rather had) a habit of riding along without his hands on the handlebars. Unfortunately when he was doing just this the draft from a huge lorry had swept his front wheel away and George landed on the road. Luckily there were no cars around at the time but he had a nasty gash on his elbow and stomach. He thought he should get it checked out with a doctor. Thankfully he too found out he had no broken bones.
I feel I should mention Heather our driver, who was a great support and insisted on staying with us at the hospital the whole time. She also arranged for us to have some food brought from the hotel, which we really needed. We weren’t sure why but the sister of one of the nurses was also very kind and offered to give us all a lift back to the hotel to save us walking. We were very grateful.
It was gone 12.30 when we walked in to the hotel and I was surprised to see that there was quite a lot of people still up. We heard that our group had got in at 10. After bringing everyone up to date and thanking them for their support, Sarah and I climbed the stairs (very slowly) to our bedroom.