Today's ride from Combourg to Fougeres was the longest of this section of the European rides. There is no doubt that riding a heavy rental bike is significantly harder than riding your own bike and therefore every kilometre seems at least 50% longer than the kilometres you ride at home. Combine this with a steady succession of rolling hills and it means that each day represents a solid effort in the saddle. The thing that has done the most to lift all our riders' spirits is that the weather has now changed. The past few days have been fine and mild with extended periods of warm sunshine. In addition the wind has dropped almost completely. The net effect of these meteorological changes is that we now have perfect conditions to enjoy our cycling in surely what is one of the prettiest regions of France.
At the appointed start time of 8.30 am we started to unlock the bikes from the garage, only to find to our horror that Andrea's bike had suffered an overnight puncture. All punctures are a pain, but this unwelcome discovery was made all the worse due to the fact that this was the first time one of the ebikes had punctured.
The amateur mechanics (ie the men) in the peloton set to work to try to remove the rear wheel and then remove the tyre. Although we had been supplied with a limited number of spare tubes, none of these were the correct size and valve type for the ebikes. Not a promising start to the day.
We had no alternative other than to insert a skinny road bike tube and then over inflate it to fill the large tyre. I was expecting a big bang at any moment, however the tube did seem to accommodate the extreme stretching without detonating. About 20 mins later we were on our way, riding through the early morning mist. Overhead the sun was shining dimly through the fog and it did little to dispel the freezing early morning temperatures.
We were actually glad that we started with a series of steady climbs as these helped to warm our frozen bodies. After a few kilometres the first of the layers were removed as the strength of the sun increased.
This part of Brittany is dairy country and we rode along many peaceful rural lanes through dairy farms. The cows seemed pleased to see us and gave us beautiful bovine smiles as we rode past. On a couple of occasions we paused to listen to the silence. Apart from a few distant birds, there were no sounds at all. The trees stood motionless in the still air and far away a solitary fox made its way across a paddock. This is the real France that the bus tourists never get to see and we were all so glad that we were able to experience it at first hand.
We have now been cycling almost every day for the past 4 weeks and all of us have grown stronger each day. Not only are we taking the hills more easily but all the riders are enjoying the feeling of being fitter than they have probably been for a long time. Hard work does have its rewards and this is easily evidenced in the group.
After about 35 km we stopped at a likely spot for lunch. Sandwiches and drinks were unpacked from panniers and we sat happily in the sun for quite some time, eating, chatting and laughing. What a perfect way to enjoy a day with good friends in such a lovely place.
The second mishap for the day occurred when Claire underestimated the strength of her disk brakes and stopped too suddenly to remain upright. Although she fell somewhat heavily to the road, the damage was not too severe and she was able to remount and continue, albeit it with a sore knee.
A short distance later the third mishap took place when Claire suffered a rear wheel puncture - the second ebike puncture for the day. The only tube we had was another thin road bike tube, so we inserted it and hoped it would hold. No matter how much we wiggled with the tyre, it would not seat correctly on the rim. Since we were less than 10 km from Fougeres we hoped that it might hold out till we arrived and could buy some new tubes. Unfortunately it didn't.
Claire limped along for the next few km with her misshapen wheel bouncing and the bike making loud complaints. It would have been a miracle if it lasted all the way to Fougeres and miracles are not common nowadays.
With about 4 km to go BOTH Andrea and Claire suffered simultaneous rear wheel flats. This was starting to get serious. By this time we had no spares and the only option was to walk the bikes the rest of the way.
When we arrived at the hotel we asked the girl at the counter if there was a bike shop nearby. Her face lit up and she said "Yes, just a few metres away". While this statement was true, she did not tell us that the bike shop (and many of the shops in the town) are closed every Monday. We tried arranging a taxi to go and collect the two riders but this process took so long that they were already in the town before transport could be arranged. It had been one of those days.
Fougeres itself is a mid sized town with a huge fortified castle at the entrance to the city. I possibly could have had a tour of the place, but after the experience of yesterday, I would rather go to the all night dentist instead. We settled for a few photos of the huge walls and towers instead.Read more