It’s not really correct cycling etiquette to award yourself a Chapeau! but nobody else in France has given us one yet. In French cycling culture, a Chapeau! literally means ‘hats off’ and is the compliment reserved for a truly exceptional achievement – a big climb, a long distance, a fast time.
When we tell people we’re cycling to Barcelona (yes all the way from Angleterre) we’ve had some encouraging responses. One bravo, one felicitations, a couple of allez, several bon courage, even a bon velo – but not a hint of that elusive Chapeau! Clare thinks it’s because we’re not mixing with French cycling aficionados and that your average guesthouse owner doesn’t know the word, but I believe it’s more likely our efforts don’t really merit one yet. Chapeaus! are not given away lightly in these parts.
On our first day in France we cycled 97.7km and it nearly killed us. We said then that we’d only deserve a Chapeau! if we beat 100km in one day. Well now we have – two days in a row, in fact.
So motivated were we by the prospect of a rest day in La Rochelle that on Tuesday (Day 15) we sped through the open countryside of Touraine clocking up 111km (68 miles). Then followed that up with another 110km on Wednesday (Day 16), through wooded valleys, across the coastal plain and into La Rochelle itself. Over 6 hours in the saddle on both days and another puncture (Clare’s back wheel again) thrown in for good measure. Aching legs, lots of lactic acid and very sore bums.
Life can be made up of lots of small, private challenges and cycling 100km in a day on this trip was one of ours.
So Chapeau! to us. Hat’s off!
This means that at the end of Stage 4 (out of 7) we have the following stats:
972 km (608 miles) cycled
5461m climbed (higher than Mont Blanc)
61 hours of pedalling
Here’s our slightly strange looking track through France so far (yes, we agree that it’s not really the most direct route to Barcelona):
We’ve been using Open Cycle Maps on ViewRanger to help us decide where to go. These show cycle routes the same way that major roads are drawn on a normal roadmap. I really like this comparison of cycle routes for three different countries in Europe. Here are the cycle routes of the UK and France (red lines are national, purple are regional):
Lots of them!
But this is Holland, using the same scale:
It seems the Dutch reputation as a cycling nation is very well deserved! (Look at the difference between Holland and Belgium just across the border.)
Over the last two weeks we haven’t always followed these specific routes but have made up our own, riding along quiet country roads in the general direction we want to go. It’s easy to do this in France as the quality of most small roads are so good. We rarely see a pothole so have decided this blog really should be called ‘Finding Potholes’ instead. I never thought I’d be sharing pictures of tarmac but here are some examples of the surfaces we’ve been pedalling on:
Though sometimes they can turn suddenly into a bumpy farm track without any apparent reason:
It can also be incredibly quiet in central France. On Wednesday we counted just 2 open cafes, 1 open Boulangerie, 1 petrol station, 15 tractors and 27 cars during 80km (50m) of pedalling. Luckily we had a picnic lunch in our panniers.
Did we enjoy our rest day in La Rochelle? Yes, despite being unseasonably cold it’s a wonderful old town and delightful to walk around. However we were a bit too tired to take it all in.
Will we do 100km a day again? I don’t think so, certainly not two in a row. Six hours in the saddle is too much for us and spoils the enjoyment of the places we’re passing through. Four hours and 60-70km is much better.
Clare is more emphatic. Dismounting on Wednesday, she declared that she will “never, ever, EVER get on a bicycle again!” Thankfully after a day off she is happily riding with me out to the Ile-de-Re today.
Whether or not we deserve a Chapeau! we are starting to feel a bit more like real cyclists…
- We’re going up hills in higher gears
- We go down hills faster and try to use the speed for the next incline
- We worry about the strange squeaks coming from our bikes
- We haven’t been up a big mountain yet
- We like long coffee stops
- We don’t have a clue how to fix the strange squeaks
So we can’t call ourselves real cyclists just yet. At least the roadside fans appreciate that we’re trying our best…
ps. For those of you who are worried about my cycling shorts, I’m happy to report that two French safety pins are holding them up very well. Thank you for your concern.