There is little indication of what lies ahead for the CBRE Cycle to MAPIC peloton as they gather in the chilly dark under sparkling stars, for this morning’s departure. As we head north out of Llanca, we are treated to another beautiful sunrise. After a 5km warm up, the next 40km is lumpy but thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the spectacular views.
The scenery we are riding through is stunning. The landscape unfurls as the hills fold in and out of themselves. We ride ribbons of tarmac that hug steep-sided hills that slope down to the sea. There is so much to look at that our eyes cannot take it all in, and views change with every switchback.
Up steady ascents and down exhilarating descents, the road winds in and out, towards and away from the coast. There is little traffic, and the roads are remarkably smoother than most of those in the UK (apart from Yorkshire). The coastline is undeveloped: the towns are a mix of ecclesiastical and industrial architecture, purely functional and yet still appealing in form.
After an hour we cross the border into France, which provides an opportunity to pay our respects. More amazing coastal scenery awaits as we cycle past terraces of vines. The quiet villages of Spain begin to morph into bustling marinas and ancient seaside towns, complete with palm trees and loose dogs.
There is coffee and croissants at Collioure, a small seaside town famed for its anchovies and connections to artists Matisse and Derain. After a short climb out of the town, a less lumpy, much flatter stage has us all concentrating on a) not losing the rider in front at every roundabout and b) not crashing into the thoughtlessly strewn-about street furniture (there are bollards jumping out all over the place).
After successfully negotiating 40km or so without mishap, the peloton makes its way into Rivesaltes for a lunch of baguette and fruit tart. By now the sun is high in sky and the temperature heading towards the mid-twenties. The riders head out into a suitably arid landscape, red earth and white scrubby hillsides. We are in the winemaking country of Rousillon-Langedoc and we ride through kilometres and kilometres of autumnal vines devoid of grapes.
There is a long climb through spruce and pine up the Col de Feuilla. At the top, overlooked by sentinel wind turbines, Roadside Therapy gets to work on aching muscles whilst the riders rehydrate and refuel in the fierce afternoon heat. Then comes the reward: a sweeping descent to the valley below. Winding roads take the peloton alongside a river bed set amongst more vineyards and the afternoon heat stretches out into the distance as the riders traverse the Narbonne region, through typically French stone villages, tree-lined roads, and dusky pastel-painted buildings.
The final coffee stop of the day is at Fleury. Overlooked by the impressive seventh century Fleury Abbey, the riders eat and layer up for the final stage of the day. As the sun sets over their shoulders, they head north-east, and as dark descends all one can see is the red tail lights of the peloton snaking through the dark.
219km and 12 hours after we set off, the riders arrive into Cap d’Agde. A very long day in the saddle – and for some – the longest they’ve ever done. With significant climbs conquered and soaring temperatures suffered, it is definitely a day for everyone to be proud.