Tour de France

Venlo to Nijmegen 68km

After yesterday’s persistent rain, today brought clear skies but a steady headwind. With some luck the wind will maintain this heading and blow us back to Liege for the start of le Tour.

Our destination was the National Bicycle Museum in Nijmegen. As well as cycling monuments, George likes to seek out bicycle museums as well.

It was less than 70 kms to Nijmegen, but the winds and the monotony of riding on bike lanes made the ride seem far longer than it really was. The Dutch have done a great job of organising their road system to accommodate bikes, and George and I agreed that this would be a good destination to bring a novice touring cyclist with its flatness, non intimidating traffic and ample camping facilities. But for a more experienced cyclist it gets a bit dull pretty quickly. We’ve done two days here and that’s pretty much enough. I asked George what more there is to see of the place and his reply was “dykes”.

The bike museum was good though. Some really nicely preserved specimens of early bicycle history from the bone shaking wooden rollers through to penny farthings (dozens of them) and the eventual progression to the safety bicycle.

Germany is up next and we plan to head back toward Liege just on the other side of the border. Let’s see if the Germans yell at us for riding on the wrong roads.

Looking forward to getting back to France so I don’t have eat quarter pounders in order to keep you all updated.

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Oost Maarland to Venlo 87km

A flat and rainy ride in holland. Often in areas bordering on Belgium where things are Dutch to all appearances but license plates are Belgian. Is this a tax dodge?

Bike paths can sometimes be a pain in the neck but what we have seen so far here is pretty well designed and efficient. They follow the main road and don’t diverge or end in silly dead ends.

George and I are working our way towards the national bicycle museum of the Netherlands. Then plan to return to Belgium via Germany.

Camp grounds are plentiful in Holland, and with a slight twisting of George’s arm we spent a second night in one near Venlo. Showers two days in a row!

I would like to thank my Internet sponsor McDonald’s for the opportunity to upload this post and pollute my innards with a quarter pounder.

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Seraing to Oost Maarland 50km

What a difference a border can make. One minute we were riding down a potholed Belgian street past Frite shops and the next we were rolling past beautifully architectured houses, neat front yards and people riding bicycles. We had entered the Netherlands.

The day started in a forest near the delightful Seraing where George fitted a new chain to his bike in preparation for the tdf. We then made our way up a decent climb to the Stan Ockers memorial where I most ran into the back of George as he slammed on his brakes in excitement at seeing the monument. I had a waterbottle in my right hand so couldn’t grab the brake but managed to push George out of the way and jump off the bike before it went down.

We took a few photos then headed back down the hill to Liege where the tour is commencing. We happened upon a critical mass ride there which we rode with until I found a McDonalds that I could use to steal Internet.

After visiting another relatively useless tourist office we were looking for the library when a local pounced on us and offered directions. But then he began telling us his bike touring tales and before long invited us to his house. He regaled us with more stories about his disappearance to Norway, his art projects and bike touring. Quite an interesting fellow if somewhat paranoid.

We passed through Vise, the start of stage two of the tour and just next to the Dutch border. We checked into a campground and I finally popped my cherry and had a shower.

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Namur to Seraing 102km

A statistical entry

Number of days since my last shower: 10
Number of nuclear reactors cycled past today: 1
Number of Belgian cities worth visiting: 0
Number of trail bikes that just rode past our campsite: 2
Number of clean articles of clothing in my possession: 1
Number of days in a row that I’ve eaten steak for dinner: 4
Number of times that I dropped my chain and put it back on with a stick today: 3
Number of litres of metho used for cooking so far: 2
Number of mcdonalds wifi drive bys that have been executed to enable blog upload in Belgium: 2
Number of functioning publicly accessible water taps that we’ve encountered in Belgium: 1
Number of kilometres cycled in the last ten days: 1009
Number of punctures: 1

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Tournai to Namur 101km

We worked our way toward Liege today on a mixture of back roads and busy highways. Belgium doesn’t have the same mixture of roads as France and its difficult to find quiet roads that are also reasonably direct.

Belgium also lacks in comparison to France in another respect – the courtesy of it’s drivers. The Belgians are far more impatient and pushy than the French and give less room for cyclists. One wanker in a BMW blasted us with his horn as he approached, swerved close to us, then squirted his window washers as he passed to spray us with washer fluid. Ballsack. George thinks that it might be a deep inner frustration that the Belgians have for being the idiot cousins of the French.

It’s also proving to be more difficult to find water. We didn’t come across a single cemetery all day to restock our water and had to visit a motorcycle repair shop.

And one more whinge – it’s harder to find camping spots. It took several failed attempts to find one last night but eventually we investigated a side road that led to a golf course. As luck would have it we stumbled on an abandoned road behind a small ridge that is completely secluded.

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Laventie to Tournai 97km

We entered Belgium today to visit the arrival town of Tournai and examine some of the cobblestone sections included in the Paris Roubaix.

A fairly flat and not particularly taxing ride, though my backside is unsure what to make of my new plastic racing saddle after riding nothing but Brooks or Ideale leather saddles for some time now. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for another couple of days before I do something drastic.

I encountered the second rudest Frenchman of the trip so far when we stopped at a small cafe a about 30km into our ride. If you don’t like customers why run a cafe?

Riding the famous cobbles of the PR was interesting on a loaded touring bike. It must be a punishing ride for the racers when they go over these sections with narrow racing tyres. Even my 42mm 650b tyres had the whole bike rattling.

Tournai have gone to far more effort for the tdf than any of the French towns we’ve been to so far. They have several exhibitions on display, one of which we managed to sneak into right on closing time at the Hotel de Ville. They’ve also produced a 21 page colour booklet none of which I can read.

Heading out of Tournai we had trouble finding water for our camp tonight until we came across a coach business that was unattended. So we helped ourselves to their tap.

Tonight’s camping spot is in a large pear orchard which George and instinctively dove into simultaneously as soon as we saw it after no luck finding any suitable spots to camp beforehand. It’s a tad noisy being close to the rail line to Brussels but ear plugs can solve that.

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Boulogne to Laventie 84km

Another “rest day” today as we slowly work our way backwards along the tdf route, scoping out sections of stage three, getting very close to Belgium now. Friteries are quite common, though I haven’t stopped at one yet.

We rode for a good 45km today before finding any food or water. The sun was out and the early part of the ride was quite hilly so I burnt through what little water I had left in no time. George had excess so he topped me up until we reached our lunch spot at Therouanne. There was a nice little park behind the Carrefour where we munched on our lunch and then got some water at the town “Marie” where the old ladies there gave us hairy, smelly cyclists slightly funny looks but were happy to fill our bottles.

A few km down the road at Mametz we finally found a cemetery where we had a much needed wash. Pretty much all cemeteries in France have a tap that locals use to water flowers and clean graves so it is very useful to know if you’re cycle touring as it can be challenging to find water otherwise.

I also managed to clean some clothes that were really started to stink. I hung them off the back of the bike until we reached the next town and then took the liberty of hanging them over a railing in the sun outside the Internet cafe while George updated his blog. my sleeping bag also got an airing as it has been getting steadily less effective as the down absorbs moisture out of the air in our particularly damp camping spots over the last few days.

Finding tonight’s camp was challenging as the tdf route goes through endless semi rural suburbia. We finally found a thin patch of forest along a creek near some houses. Not the best site so far but secluded enough.

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Abbeville to Boulogne 90km

Another morning waking up in a forest with rain splattering the tent. I came to France to avoid the Sydney winter. You call this summer?

I think my tent is becoming a biological sample set of France’s forest micro organisms. Every time I pitch it on a damp, spongy forest floor it picks up a few extra million rare fungi, bacteria, slugs and insects. I’ll need to scrub it before I return to Australia.

Today’s ride was to the tdf finish town of Boulogne Sur Mer. A howling crosswind made it an entertaining and somewhat cold ride. We had planned to stop for a supermarket visit and lunch along the way but none of the smaller towns had a supermarket.

Boulogne is on the coast, and the wind here was stronger and colder than ever. This was particularly evident when we went into a shop or tourism office, where I would immediately start sweating and then freeze again when walking outside.

I gave myself a fright when I passed a mirror in the supermarket. Beard is progressing quickly.

After our usual stops we sought out the Decathlon sports shop where I bought a new saddle. My beloved old Ideale 90 has suffered from all the rain and the leather has collapsed under my sit bones turning it into a prostate grinder. I picked up a Selle Italia racing saddle and a pair of mini panniers on the spur of the moment as well. They should make it easier to carry food as long as they don’t flap into my spokes and destroy the new wheel that I built before coming over here.

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Peronne to Abbeville 120km

A good start to the day with blue skies, cooking breakfast in our forest enclave. Half way through my egg boiling though the farmer who owned the land we were camped on came along. He was quite an elegant chap with his walking cane and deluxe gumboots and cigar. Fortunately he couldn’t speak any English so his attempts to tell us we were camping on his property and shouldn’t be weren’t very effective. But once he realised that we were bike tourists (the highest form of tourist according to Bob Magee) he relaxed and wished us a good day.

Today was Sunday so we had to get to a supermarket before midday when all the shops close. George was also keen to dumpster dive if the opportunity arose.

The day’s riding was largely guided by my GPS which I set to “shortest route” so it will beligerantly follow the shortest path no matter what. So we rode along lots of unmarked farm roads and tiny lanes through thr back if villages. The down side is that all these roads are much steeper than all the main ones so it makes for a hard days riding.

We found another secluded patch of forest adjacent to a farm, and just in time too as I was feeling wrecked by the end of the day.

Duck breast for dinner!

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Reims to Peronne 114km

Our campsite just outside Reims the night before was on a farmer’s property near a canal, with two chains blocking the way with signs saying Private Property, Danger. “Perfect”, said George “no one will disturb us here”. We lifted the chains and found a perfectly flat, grassy camping spot with a view of the adjacent wheat field.

It was another rainy night and I woke to the sound of rain pelting my tent. After an hour or so it eased off and I was able to get out and cook my bacon and eggs for breakfast, and some shitty Nescafé coffee. But shitty Nescafé is better than no cafe.

It seemed to take me forever to pack up my tent and get everything on the bike. I’m pretty much over the jet lag but sometimes still feeling a touch vague.

We started off toward Saint Quentin at about 9, and the rain was fairly steady. It was a busy road too, so endless cars sloshing past, and the occasional truck simultaneously spraying us with dirty water and blowing us across the road. Then George got a puncture, his fourth for the trip and second since I’ve been riding with him. The puncture gods have left me alone so far.

Lunch was sardines and cous cous eaten in the car park of a Dia supermarket, followed by more riding in the rain.

Saint Quentin is a ville arrivee, so George of course had to make a visit to the tourist office where they explained that they had no information about the tour yet. We cycled around town a bit and found a small tdf exhibition at the local sports centre, then we headed out of town into sunshine. What a difference that makes!

Tonight’s camping spot is in a patch of forest next to a first world war memorial and a farm that has a bird deterrent that sounds like a cannon going off every eight minutes.

The forecast says sun tomorrow.

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