There are many things in life where we know what we have to do, where we’re going and how it’s going to end – like a job or a good film but some things, no matter how many times you do it, just get better and better…the classic London to Paris Cycle Challenge with each of its new cast of heroes is never the same – that is my experience of over ten years of riding and guiding the ‘blue ribbon’ cycling challenge of Europe.
As a cycle leader in the adventure challenge industry I’m privileged to participate annually on this great journey on the humble bicycle between these two great cities of Europe. The excitement never ceases, it doesn’t matter if it’s a large charity event cycling over either three or four days taking in the great towns and cities of the slow road or a smaller compact group of turbo charged cycling enthusiasts streaking through the countryside with one goal in mind to crack this epic challenge under the 24hr mark, the sight of the Eiffel Tower and the victory parade over the fabled cobbles of the Champs Elysees still takes some beating!
But what really makes this tour the greatest in Europe is it’s accessibility and inclusiveness – near enough anyone who can ride a bike can do this! This is why the London to Paris has become one of the blue ribbon cycling fundraising event in the UK, with 1000s of people taking this challenge on every year. With good advice, a well structured training plan (normally over 10 weeks), a well maintained bike and plenty of motivation this is by no means a challenge too far for people from any background or fitness ability…just make sure you put the training in!
This is a short account of my personal experiences and observations of the classic London to Paris cycling challenge.
Cycling the London to Paris – day 1
The nerves are jangling as the gathering begins at our central London event meeting place for the pre-event briefing. A few brief introductions here and there take place between riders but it’s the glances and measuring up of each other that are more than evident, the more competitive riders spend a little longer to figure out where they think their position is in the peloton but the general mood is relaxed once the team start to mingle and maybe even a glass of something to sooth the nerves. The briefing is given by the tour leader and is informal but concise and riders are introduced to their support crew and take in the good advice that’s given. Once Q&A’s are over there’s further chance to make acquaintances at dinner before an early retirement to the hotel room and a good night’s sleep.
For many of the riders, it all started a long time ago for many of these riders who have arrived here today with the payment of a small deposit followed then by weeks, if not months, of training and quite often hard fundraising for their chosen cause (and the reason they’re here). There are many reasons why someone would want to sign up to this incredible adventure and, for a good number, this is likely to be a very personal and emotional following few days. Like most large participation fundraising events, the stories and motives that lay behind the inspiration to enter never cease to astound and the overwhelming prevailing feeling of goodness that surrounds each group as they gather together is truly magnificent. Above everything else, despite all the anxiety of the great cycling challenge to follow, the group is bounded by a common foundation of selflessness and kindred spirit that, for the next few days to Paris, will compound and grow stronger with each pedal stroke and culminate in a finale exceeding any of the greatest films or novels ever written.
The following morning, after all pre-flight photographs are duly taken we begin with the first steady pedals of our great journey weaving through the central London traffic careful to keep the group together through the maze of roads and endless junctions of this ancient sprawling metropolis. Once we clear the city suburbs and pierce through the orbital M25 we have covered nearly 40km of the 100km we need to clear on day one and we can begin to breath in the fresh air and enjoy the rolling hills and scenery of the spectacular Surrey downs…now the riding really begins! Our bearing is for the channel port of Newhaven but before we get there we have the pleasure of riding through numerous historic hamlets and picturesque villages and counties of southern England. By the time we arrive into Newhaven emotions are running and high and the sight of the English channel sends our riders into a jubilant state of triumph and expectation for the following days ‘Transmanche’ and the ride onto ‘Sol Français’.
Cycling the London to Paris – day 2
After a hearty breakfast and a sound night’s sleep at our comfortable hotel it’s a bright start before the short ride to the ferry port of Newhaven and the four-hour ferry crossing to France. The crossing permits us a further chance to recharge our energy levels and rest the legs in anticipation for the touchdown in Dieppe…the Café is not surprisingly popular and the selection of pastries and coffee on offer soon diminish into a healthy carnage of plates of crumbs and empty coffee cups. The crossing takes no longer than four hours but with the change of timezone and addition of the continental hour we are now well into the afternoon and with 75km to cover there is no hanging around. It’s an easy roll off the ferry and it’s not long before we find ourselves on the opposite side of the road navigating the ancient streets of Dieppe familiarising ourselves with the new highway signage and revelling in the challenge of the change of language. Without too much affray we’re on the outskirts of Dieppe and we pick up the now well-peddled ‘Avenue Vert’ that is now our conduit for the rest of the day’s cycling as we forge our way into the heart of Normandy. The AV is a relatively new concept designed almost specifically for cycling and when complete will offer a dedicated sign posted route from Paris to London. The ‘Greenway’ is by no means completed and it seems there is still a fair amount to do before it is, but already we can enjoy many kilometres of traffic free riding on this audacious cycleway. It’s here we also see a change in the riders demeanour and the prospect of traffic free cycling soon has the team relaxed and chatting amongst each other…with glorious sunshine, good coffee and Paris on the horizon, life couldn’t be better on two wheels. Gournay-en-Bray is our overnight stop and this charming farming village offers us modest shelter and fayre and a comfortable night. The team are now gelled fully by this point and are enjoying mixing and socialising with each other-sometimes late into the evening (despite best recommendations for an early night).
Cycling the London to Paris – day 3
Breakfast on our final day riding and the atmosphere is always level ten excitement. The mood is boisterous and the team are animated and energised ready for the final 100km to Paris. Our day begins with more rolling undulations of the Normandy countryside and we opt for the quieter approach roads taking in the spectacular countryside of the Val d’Oise cycling through wheat fields and visiting quaint satellite villages before arriving at our gateway town to Paris, the historic town of Pontoise. Here we catch our breath with lunch on the banks of the mighty river Oise (which joins the Sienne after snaking nearly 350km from Belgium) and admire this ancient roman settlement and its historic architecture. Our route from Pontoise now makes use of the many cycleways of Paris following the course of the river Oise to its confluence with the river Sienne, where we continue to enjoy more cycleway and traffic free cycling for the next 15km before taking the direct road route from the suburb of Sartrouville into the city proper. The excitement is ramping up as from here we catch our first glimpses of our finish point and great landmark of Paris, the Eiffel Tower, and we continue deeper into the bowels of this great metropolis. We make one more crossing of the great looping Seinne and cross onto Boulevard Bineau before the turn onto Boulevard Victor Hugo, named after Paris’s great poet and novelist, things now start to get really interesting. The omnipresent Metro signs, Morris columns and grand Napoleonionic architecture now surround us as we carefully slide our way through this great city, making use of bus lanes where we can (it’s Sunday so buses not so prevalent) but being careful to keep the group together at the great intersections of boulevards and squares. For me one of the first big highlights of the tour is coming up, the right turn onto Avenue Mac-Mahon and the sight of the Arc de Triomphe looming above us from the top of the avenue some 200m ahead of us – never ceases to take the breath away. We steadily approach this mighty structure before us, mesmerized by its grandeur and the reality that our tour is nearing its end becomes apparent. Just the small matter of circumnavigating the Arc before the final avenue to the Eiffel Tower and our journey’s end. Paris is well known for its slightly quirky highway rule of ‘priorite a droite’ which, if not used to, can be a little terrifying particularly on one of the busiest junctions in the capital city. Now the cycle leader earns his colours and prepares to take the group of riders head on into the cauldron of flying steel and rubber, on a good day you’ll be treated to a triumphant 540° orbit (no less) but safety always first and across you’ll be safely taken and perhaps even with a few snaps by tourists witnessing this inspired spectacle. Now safely on to Kléber Ave it’s just a few minutes before we arrive to our destination location, the Place du Trocadéro and the full view of the le Tower opens up to us…and what a view it is – celebrations begin immediately! We dismount and it’s straight into high fives and group hugs before posing for one of the most iconic and possibly the one of the most momentous photographs of your life and made all the better with a band of brothers and sisters who you shared this great adventure with…vive la France! But it’s not over yet…we have the celebratory parade ride down the full length of the Champs Elysees to do yet! So it’s a ride back up to le Arc and a third exit turn onto the fabled cobbles of this possibly the most famous and celebrated street in the world. Now the imagination begins to run wild with visions of Tour de France glory and cheering crowds but reality is not far off as tourists often will clap and applaud any large group cycling on this magnificent avenue and take action shots of you passing down this historic stretch of cobbled highway. Once we have completed our parade we arrive at another of Paris’s great intersections, the Place de la Concorde, your guide once again shows why he is out on front with another diligent execution of this massive open traffic junction and steers the group onto a bearing for the 10th arrondissement and our overnight accommodation close to the Gare du Nord where riders will find their return back to the UK the following day on the high speed Eurostar train service…magnifique! But before then there is just the small matter of a night in Paris…and what a night it shall be!!
The following morning is free time in Paris and after a strong espresso or three, riders venture for a spot of sightseeing and shopping in this great city. Eurostar return is normally scheduled for an afternoon journey so back to London in good time to reunite with bicycles (which are driven back by the event support crew) and be on homeward journeys before nightfall.
As a cycle leader and a veteran London to Paris guide I never tire of the excitement that surrounds this incredible tour. Each group of new riders and challengers bring their own unique enthusiasm and passion to the occasion and despite riding the same itinerary and the same route (often) one is always left with new memories, whether they be joy, delight or pain & suffering, this blue ribbon cycling event is made by the people who ride it…and long may it continue!
I hope this article has inspired you and If you are thinking of riding this epic tour please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions you might have…i’ll be more than happy to help. Or why not sign up to a London To Paris Cycle Tour with us and be sure to have the ride of your life under the guidance and leadership of our dedicated team of professionals and join the party in Paris. Our London To Paris tours are open to all-comers and participants do not have to be a fundraisers to join up, equally, if you are seeking a tour provider for your next charity fundraising event we welcome your call…plenty of places for everyone.
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