Angers was the town in which Matt was to join us. He had left dear old blighty a couple of days earlier as he had decided a 550 mile ride wasn’t taxing enough and opted to head for the Alps to take part in the ‘Etape de Tour’ before taking the train via Geneva and Paris to Angers to reach as us at 22:30, as planned. I wonder if such plans had worked out in the UK and our fantastic rail network. Somehow, I think pushing sand up a drainpipe would be more fruitful.
We had arranged to meet Christian Pinneau along with other cyclists from Ligueil at 12:30 so that we could all ride in ‘en masse’ to a celebratory reception arranged by the twinning committee and others from our twin town. For this reason, we knew we should leave Angers early not only to be sure we weren’t late but also to minimise our exposure to the heat.
As luck would have it, the first half of the route was to take is along the Loire Valley [a route I believe everybody should cycle], past some magnificent chateau’s and some especially nice Caves (wine cellars, where some luverly wines were traded: unfortunately, cycle shirts aren’t designed to carry bottles of wine so we had to pass on so many opportunities. Such a great shame, as just before Saumur, we passed the Ackerman Wine Cellar: if you get the chance, visit it. It is fab.
As we (by now, it was just Charles  and I [nearly 60 ]) made our way east, the creaking in Charles’ Colnago was getting louder and he was down to only four useable gears. A quick inspection revealed that the gear cables had shredded and subsequently shredded. We needed a bike shop, and we found a bike shop with a very, very pretty French Lady who could speak hardly any English. Somehow, us two old deluded Codgers had to charm the nice little French Lady into understanding our needs(!). Eventually after much pointing and gesticulating, she got out her tape measure (!) to measure how much cable we needed and snip, snip, we were done. Strictly speaking, we also needed some nipples to go over the end of the cables but we decided to give that one a miss: tempting though it may have been
After a quick temporary fix and our spares safely in our back pockets, we set off again on to Saumur [missing Ackerman’s] for a quick coffee / beer stop. Using a combination of Garmin Sat Nav and iPhone Maps (which were rubbish) we eventually all met up at a cafe / bar by the river less than 100 yards from a bike shop. As my mechanical skills had been enough to give Charles his gears back though we decided to resist going there to get it fixed properly and just rest up and have a drink before setting off to meet the Ligueil Cycling contingent at the designated picnic stop at Monsoreau just east of Chinon. My estimation was that the average age of the 10 Ligueil cyclists was 50, at least. But, they were often highly proficient cyclists as they led us to the picnic zone at 20+ miles an hour. But wow, it was great with 16 cyclists tearing alongside the Loire with two escort cars and our support van, we must have been (and certainly felt) a magnificent site.
Having made our acquaintance’s and sated our hunger, and thirst, the time came for the last 42 mile ride to Ligueil.
The pace was high, the route was hilly, the wind was unfavourable and there was 42 miles of it. As the French Cyclists surrounding the English cyclists there was this feeling that the English were being tested: tested to the limits so it was good to note the two or three of the Frenchies dropped out the back but nevertheless, the English were surrounded: kidnapped maybe?
Mile after mile, the French surrounded and herded the English, neither sided really understanding each other but united by a common bond of our love for cycling, we all eventually reached the outskirts of Ligueil where we all entered the town, three abreast with the French flanking the English (still making sure we didn’t escape) until we reach Centre Ville and then the Community Hall for a big welcome to be followed by interviews and photographs for the local media.
After showering in the local campsite communal showers and throwing all our grimy cycle gear into the communal washing machines, we were each taken away by local families who had offered to put us up for the night [the hospitality in Ligueil was truly amazing]. Once settled in our adopted homes, we all taken back to the Community Hall for what can only be described as a FEAST. Salads of all types, wine, with a barbeque that seemed to be going all night, wine, followed by typical French deserts, wine, and cheese and wine. Everybody had a great evening and nobody had cottoned on to the fact that tomorrow was going to be the longest day. Anyway, wined and dined, welcome and thank-you speeches made, everybody went back to their hosts homes for a good solid nights sleep.
Oh, do you remember Charles’s bike, well the French fixed half the gears before we went to bed, and they finished the rest by 07:30 when we were regrouping ready for the departure (with heavy hearts and heavy heads) and onto Le Mans.
Go Podge, Go
Cycling For a Better Future