Friday morning dawns quite differently for the riders of the Portsmouth and the Folkestone routes.
As the Portsmouth riders’ ferry docks in Caen, the riders of the Folkestone route have already been out on the road from Calais for an hour.
For both routes, the first stage is led out by Group 1 – Teams McAleer & Rushe and Broadgate Estates.
Having set off from Calais into the dark, the Folkestone riders cycle into much colder weather so Coffees Coffey is a welcome treat on arrival at the first stop.
For the Caen riders it’s a damp, misty 65km to Trun through gently rolling agricultural farmland, punctuated by the occasional wind turbine looming out of the mist. Many of the riders pick up a Belgian suntan, completing the stage splattered liberally from head to foot with a generous covering of mud.
Meanwhile, the Folkestone riders add more layers and head out again through undulating countryside. The peloton is showing signs of tiredness with the kms clocking up, having already done more than yesterday by lunch, but they are welcomed by local children and their teachers and families in Boiry Ste Rictude waving Union Jack flags as the riders come into the town. They sing the National Anthem and a Beatles song, and the riders return the favour by singing the Marseillaise back to them.
The rest of the day for the Portsmouth riders is brighter and drier but grey skies prevail. Group 2 – teams Elliott Wood and JLL – lead out the next stage – through wooded valleys and open countryside. The day is characterised by animals of all kinds: horses, cows, goats and deer, who take great interest in the snaking peloton as it rolls past.
The stage after lunch for the Portsmouth riders is led out by Group 3 – teams Webb Yates and Aspire. It’s a short stage, but punchy, and the group gets split by some sharp climbs. Ride Captains help the riders regroup and stay together.
Meanwhile, the Folkestone riders are led out by the women (for the ladies after lunch stage) but with only two women on this stage, Bill Hughes of L&G joins them on the front. The next two stages are a challenge with over 60km each to tackle.
On the Portsmouth route, the next stage sees the Ride Captains keep the pace steady to allow everyone to stay together and avoid the yo-yo-ing effect that has been splitting the group, and the sun finally makes an appearance.
For all riders on both routes, there is a very quick turnaround for riders staying on the road after the next stop before heading off again – the Folkestone riders have just two more stages to go, whilst Portsmouth have one. There are hot cross buns at the last stop courtesy of AHMM.
For the final stage of the day, the riders head out into the early evening, which quickly darkens. The sight of almost 100 riders riding through the dark, lit up by lights and high viz, is quite something to behold. 279km to Blois for the Portsmouth riders and 305km to Reims for the Folkestone riders, and it’s a job well done for everyone, with challenges for tired legs and sore sit bones.