I think all of us felt a pang of sorrow as our coach turned its back to the Pyrenees and headed towards Toulouse. All were relieved to see the mountains behind them, but many were planning their next trip back to see the mountains that had remained hidden from them behind the curtain of mountain mist.
5am was an early breakfast, even by our standards, but with a 225km stage to be ridden and a 2 hour transfer, there was no choice. One of our group gave his Radio Peloton broadcast that has now become part of every coach transfer : a hilarious take on true (almost) anecdotes that have occured on our journey, on and off the bike. This was our last 'proper' stage but we all knew that it would not a be a gift.
As it turned out, we were gifted a southerly wind all the way, which meant that we could see the backs of the leaves and feel the warm wind blowing us along the rolling roads. After the first 85kms in the plains north of Toulouse, passing through many truly charming villages and small towns, we arrived in Cahors. This brought us to the central part of the ride : an 80km stretch on the D820. This is a fairly major road that follows a ridge through the Causse area in Dordogne. Views are superb either side of us, but offer insufficient reward for the hard, hard grind up and down never-ending rollers.
We ride in small pelotons and many groups maintain an average speed of over 30kph, which, given the 'undulations', was pretty impressive. It has become noticeable how much stronger everyone has become after 3 weeks of daily stage-riding. Tired, of course, but elated and smugly fit. They have earned it. 50 miles is a long way to follow the same road, and is equally challenging for the mind as it is for the legs. As one rider commented, "even arriving at a roundabout seemed exciting!" Finally the route hangs a left and we are treated to a well-deserved little country loop around the Lac de Causse, with the final climb of the day : the Cote de Lissac. Smooth new tarmac, no traffic and typical Dordogne stone-houses along the road all bring smiles to our faces. A fast run down to Brive and we are home and dry....just before it starts raining! The weather has not been that kind to us, it has to be said, although the Pro's don't seem to be having the same problem. But when we hear that ir is STILL raining in the UK, we feel that it could have been a lot worse.
There is a bitter-sweet thing going on in our group as we are all aware of the imminent end of our Bubble-Journey. We will soon be heading back to our 'normal' lives and fighting to find time to ride our bikes as much as we want to. But frendships have been made for life here and so this adventure will live on for many years yet in the hearts of those who rode all or just part of it. Tomorrow we have 5 hours to catch up on some sleep in a coach on our way to Bonneval for the final TT stage : 50kms into Chartres and a chance for an early finish allowing time for us all to TLC our bikes and even relax a bit together. I can see a few beers going down swiftly tomorrow!"
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.