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  • Day22

    A Test of Strength in Sancerre

    September 11, 2019 in France ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    After our late start yesterday, we were all keen to get rolling on our bikes as early as possible. I had previously instructed the team to be down for breakfast by 7.30 am, so that we could get started on our ride at 9 am. Since a peloton rides on its stomach, it is always important to begin each day with a hearty repast of cereal, juices, baguettes, yoghurt, cheeses, fruit and of course coffee.

    Buoyed by the lovely meal we had been supplied with the previous evening, we all entered the breakfast room of the hotel with eager anticipation of what glorious delights would be waiting for us. Our spirits soon took a dive when we saw the meager assortment that was waiting for us.

    Not only was there barely enough food for 6, let alone 16 hungry people, but there was almost no cutlery or crockery either. The cereals ran out in the first couple of minutes. This was perhaps just as well as there were no bowls left to put the cereal into. The six slices of ham did not go far either. Although there was still some orange juice, the glasses were smaller than an egg cup, meaning that it was all gone in a single swallow. The owner simply did not seem to appreciate that anything was wrong, even when people had to resort to eating from dirty crockery.

    We looked at each other, wondering whether we were about to witness some sort of miracle of the loaves and fishes. Unfortunately miracles were in short supply and so most of the group went hungry. The owner even struggled to supply us with hot coffee - our staple heart starter for the morning. If it had been an episode of Masterchef, I would have scored the breakfast a 2/10. The only pleasing thing was the lovely crunchy baguettes.

    Although the breakfast was a letdown, our group was in high spirits at the prospect of a lovely ride along the Loire. The early morning weather was cool and fresh, a far cry from the scorching days we had so recently spent in Caumont.

    On the way out of Charite, we stopped at the local Boulangerie to buy some sandwiches and cakes for a picnic lunch by the river. At least we then knew that we would not go hungry during the day.

    The first part of the ride took us out of the town and back across the Loire. The most obvious feature of this part of the city was how neglected the ancient buildings were. Most of the houses looked like they had been deserted, giving the place the feeling of a ghost town.

    We were soon comfortably cruising along an elevated levee bank. We had no real need to hurry as the day's ride was relatively short. It was wonderful to be able to just savour the moment, stopping for pictures along the way. We knew that there would be very few opportunities to purchase food or drinks along the way, however the guide book promised that there would be a cafe at the little town of Pouilly.

    Although we initially rode a short distance past the turnoff, we did eventually make our way across the long bridge and found the promised coffee shop. It gave us a wonderful chance to chat with a group of fellow travellers and laugh with the owner. He asked where we were riding to. When we told him we were going to Sancerre, he rolled his eyes and pointed upwards with his hands. It turned out to be a very accurate prediction of what lay ahead for us.

    After our morning tea stop we continued for another few km, looking for a suitable place for our picnic lunch. We were very happy to discover a lovely spot, right on the river bank. It was the perfect place to eat our baguettes and enjoy the rising temperature.

    When we caught our first glimpses of Sancerre we could see that the final few km were never going to be easy. The city was prominently situated, right on the crest of a distinctive hill. A very steep hill. The ebike riders were not daunted, the rest of us shook our heads in fear and dismay.

    Although the early climb was modest, the road took an abrupt left hand turn, sending us directly up the side of the mountain. The gradient would have been at least 16% or more. I could have risked a heart attack by trying to ride up it, but I could think of no good reason to do so. I stopped and started to walk. When I looked back I found that almost everyone else had done the same thing. As it turned out only two of the ebike riders (Maggie and Sue) had managed to complete the first part of the climb without dismounting, the rest of us decided to ride "Shank's pony" instead.

    As we walked our way slowly up the climb, the views opened up behind us. Although it was really hard work, the location was breathtaking (yes, literally breathtaking). A short time later we reached our hotel - the Clos St Martin, and were able to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring this beautiful hilltop city. Once our heart rates had settled a little, we all agreed that the effort was really worth it. How priveleged we were to be able to experience such a glorious part of the world.
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