Tour de Force: Stages 4-6
Setting out a week ahead of the Pros the Tour de Force crew are riding the full Tour de France route.
First started in 2010, Tour de Force is a unique event for those people that have ever wanted to ride the entire route of the Tour de France (without needing a pro contract!).
Riding the 3497km route one week ahead of the race, the riders will roll up the Champs Elysees on 15 July. Lead cyclist Phil Deeker (who also organises the Rapha Cent Cols Challenge), is sending us daily blogs from each stage, which will service as a interesting preview of the stages before the pros ride them a week later.
After a 1 hour transfer from Boulogne we headed back towards the "Cote d'Albatre", via Eu, to Dieppe. The smell of fish, seaweed and low-tide mud enticed some riders to stop for a quick toe-dip, conscious that the next sea they would dip into would be the Med, at Cap d'Agde... after a lot of pedalling! Heading due west along the coast meant a roller-coaster (of course) of a ride, with all sea views obscured by a low thick sea mist that enshrouded us but kept us cool. The pace was good with four mini-pelotons maintaining speeds of between 28 & 32 kph for the first 140 kms. The climbs were all cat 4 and never exceeded 5%; big ring pumping on smooth tarmac. Nice! Verges are being cut and tidied up; bike sculptures finished off; old bikes strung up anywhere convenient.
The mayor of St Pierre-en-Port interviewed me about our event after he had generously offered us his grounds for our lunch break. They were his bikes strung up around the village and he was busy prepping a party for the passage of the Tour next week. There is a real feeling of expectancy in this area already.
It will be a fast stage for the pros with few difficulties, especially in the second half when the route cuts south across the plains and along the Seine valley. It cuts a corner by shifting up gently over a small ridge at 10kms from the end, but nothing to slow the Real Men down!
The pack loved this stage, with the charm of the coastal villages of the Caux region. A real sense of 'journey' has infected us all and this will only become stronger as each day adds to the accumulation of moments and memories. Knee pains are cropping up, but overall morale is good & riders are still strong. We are all working well in groups too.
It's 01.50am as I finish this off, having finished the stage (215kms) with the last-in riders at 19.45 and not had a dull moment since. The alarm is set for 5am, which doesn't leave much time before I ask us all to start pedalling again for another 200k stage at 07.30am tomorrow... well, later on this 'morning' in fact!
a sprinters' stage then, again, with a big breakaway early on for sure.
The first of two 'flat' sprinters stages in mid-France; all eyes on Cav. Having fought against a cold westerly in Belgium – when we were heading west! – we now had a hot south-easterly that seemed much more head- than cross- wind all day! Why is it always like that?!
Rolling fields of corn and beet: the perfect setting for the peloton to charge across in pursuit of a daring breakaway next week. Lots more hedge trimming going on and a few creative "installations" for Le Tour. Cycling across the Picardie region is an insight into 'La France Profonde', where it is quite obvious that nothing much goes on here! so when the Tour comes to town, they quite clearly party! Any amateurs such as us are game for a dress rehearsal, which is very touching and brings a smile to the weariest of our faces. We can see too much of the roads ahead, too soon. The occasional chain-gang session breaks up the hard sense of slow progress, and gradually we eat up the miles. This is gruelling cycling, but it gives such a real sense of the immense challenge that is to ride the whole Tour route.
Tomorrow we will be joined by 20 more riders, in Metz, some of whom will stay from there until the end. Others are part of our happy travelling circus for a shorter "Tour Taster" pack, taking on the three stages in the Alps, for example. To have fresh blood with us gives us all a boost... as long as they don't rip our legs off on the first morning!
Expect to see Team Sky at the front of the peloton A LOT on this stage! but then, won't they be there for three weeks, à la Europcar team last year?
The final 'warm-up' stage with a couple of bumps to deal with at km 145 and km 185, but nothing to break too much of a sweat for. The long rollers of stage 5 were nowhere to be seen. instead we were treated to more forest sections and a selection of very charming villages. Riders rode well in groups, with sprints to the feedstops becoming much more common.
This is of course another stage for a sprint win and marks a strong transition point in the Tour. From here on business gets a little more serious…