Portsmouth route: Blois to Beaune
It was a dark damp and drizzly start for the Portsmouth route this morning as they rolled out of Blois for Stage 1, led by team Elliott Wood. Today the riders were to conquer their longest day, with six stages totalling 324km with 3,144m of climbing. Everyone is in high spirits after a better sleep, despite the late finish the previous evening.
The clouds grew heavy as the cyclists made their way through more gorgeous French countryside. Coffee breaks were short and sweet as the peloton tried to keep to time. HTA led the second stage, followed by Lockton on stage three. The peloton continued riding strongly down sweeping tarmac roads, surrounded by quiet yellow fields and woodland. After a hearty vegan salad from the Veg+Van, sponsored by Morris+Company, the riders were plant-powered to tackle the tough, wet afternoon. Bigger climbs and long stages were improved by more stunning scenes and the perfect afternoon tea and cake, courtesy of long-time crew members Sue and Carol who every year bake, borrow and steal 24 cakes for the two London pelotons, at the AHMM Refuel stop.
As dusk settled, the peloton rolled into the final 72km stage with a mix of nerves and anticipation for the biggest stage of the day to the finish at Beaune, led by Make Architects. All in all, today has been a day of incredible efforts from a tight, positive-minded peloton. Tomorrow they head from Beaune to Valence over 295km.
Folkestone route: Reims to Dijon
The Folkestone route riders left Reims at 6am, with team Elliott Wood leading the stage. A long neat ribbon of cyclists, lit by high vis and lights, made its way through the sandstone villages and vineyards of the Champagne region, from the dark into the dawn. With a strong headwind to contend with, the group has nonetheless gelled and is riding well together.
Over the course of the morning, the clouds close in and it’s a chill and bitter slog as riders are battered by headwinds and crosswinds. Mizzle turns to drizzle turns to rain but despite this, the group – led by team HTA – don’t complain and maintain a good pace, keeping together well and staying to time. Everyone’s training is clearly paying off.
Team Lockton take to their bikes for the third stage, a long 71km. The rain kicks in again and conditions look truly miserable as there’s no relief from the wind either. Finally it stops and everyone starts to dry out a bit. Some long gradual climbs get the group to lunch at Essoyes, to once again enjoy a delicious veg option from the Veg+Van. Then m team Vectos leads out a short stage of 34km to Vanvey and the cake stop courtesy of Sue, Carol and AHMM. Stage 5 is led out by team Webb Yates, where everything comes together in a smooth chaingang, before the final exhilarating run into Dijon in the dark.
It’s been a day of two halves for Folkestone, but in the face of adversity, the riders have come through in fine form.
Italian route: Casoli to Pienza
It is a quiet, slightly airy scene as the Italian route riders depart Carsoli with four stages and nearly 240km to cover. The roads were empty and the mist was sitting low, but it is hard to get enthusiastic about a day riding in the mist. Most were pretty well covered up for the chill conditions, but it’s almost like Trish Barton knew something no-one else did about what was to come… With only a few kms to get the legs back in the mode for a day on the bike, the climbing started shortly afterwards. After about 15km the mist thinned, then cleared and made way for the most incredible blue skies, with mountain peaks showing through the low cloud.
This was last of the mist and cloud, and the riders made out way through the Lazio region in sunshine and a warming breeze, before arriving at the old town square in Monopoly di Sabina for coffee. They soaked up the sun, and provided amusement for the locals, having mistakenly stolen a bag of oranges from a couple of local gents! They soon put that mistake right, and moved on without causing an international incident.
The sun remained, as did the warm breeze, but the other consistent factor of the day was possibly a little less welcomed by some very tired legs: the climbing! They climbed and climbed, and it just kept coming.
Lunch was a real delight, with anti-pasta and pasta, all home made, in a restaurant on the square in Vignanzello. In contrast to northern-mid France, it was a warm and sunny affair in the cobbled medieval square.
The afternoon took the ride over yet more hills – some of which even went down – through Bolsena with views out over the lake, and into Acquapendente. This time it was the locals providing the entertainment as some skipping nuns momentarily distracted the ride in San Lorenzo Nuovo, just prior to the final stop of the day. After leaving Lazio and making the final climb up to Pienza for the night, the group entered Tuscany: its fifth region in three days for those avid readers who have been following this epic new journey to MIPIM.
The day’s riding came to a close on the well-lit streets of Pienza, and the only thing left to do was eat, drink and be merry in celebration of reaching the halfway point of this new adventure. Tomorrow takes in more of Tuscany, with an earlier start for a longer day, but one which provides some stunning vistas over gladiator country, which the riders will savour at every turn.
In short: misty, stunning, warm, punchy and very memorable.
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