We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Day One: Dieppe to Menesqueville, 78km

An early start to get to Dave's and the journey to the coast for the Newhaven-Dieppe Ferry, which I was glad to see was a bigger ship than the flat-bottomed Transmanche crock o' shite that I've been on countless times for our Dieppe spring training camps. We walked the bikes on, and instantly an oily bosun (I dunno - look here) grabbed the Colnago off me, placed it against a bulwark, and proceeded to nonchalently layer every other bike on top of mine - with total disregard for the relative fragility of a top-class machine. Bad enough? No: next the lazy, aggressive lashing of webbing straps all over and pulling them tightly together. Pedals in spokes, carbon rear-mech faceplates scuffed against chainstays.... So, it started well, but once into France we had a further unexpected brush with authority, although this time with guns.

I genuinely thought the French were relaxed about time-keeping and urinating in (sufficiently-private) public areas, but a 15-minute delay to the Customs Police 'schedule' and a sneaky slash against a tree-shaded perimiter fence resulted in a Nazi-style line up, bikes down, van unpacked and bags emptied - good job the joke Frenchman's outfit (really) in Graham's bag went unnoticed. We really should have got through customs completely before bike-tweaking and bladder-emptying. Passports confiscated for an hour-and-a-half by these gun-toting bored French douaniers, if that's a legit word. Wankers is one I do know: can I use that? One in particular - unfortunately the only female, a 'larger' woman with a particulary hard face and ginger-haired top lip (think a hirsute Vicky Pollard in a uniform) - was unnecessarily aggressive, refusing to talk to me, the only French speaker, but instead just existentially playing the role her fascist garb dictated.

When we were finally released (we had been toying with the idea of digging three tunnels - Tom, Dick and Harry), we made the mad dash through the centre of Dieppe and on to Menesqueville 78km away. A good bit of organised through-and-off over many of the same rolling roads we'd used on those spring trips I mentioned earlier saw us arrive just before dark. And so we started the ritual that we'd repeat every night for a week: bikes in the garage, beers and laughs, rooms and showers, evening meal and too much wine.

Really good food at the Relais de la Lieure, starting with a crevette terrine, then either skate wing in cream or the ubiquitous steak-frites, a selection of regional cheeses, crème brûlée, coffee and Calvados. The first day was over, and to paraphrase Morrissey, we could laugh about it now, but at the time it was terrible.

The Colnago is under there somewhere ...

Andy, bladder emptied, about to face the music. Accordian music, probably, courtesy of the French Customs Police.

With a bit of disciplined riding and despite the best efforts of France's
finest, we made it to the hotel before nightfall. Good job: none of us thought we'd be needing lights at this stage.