France is of course just a a short-hop from the south of England, so as a kid I cycled many slices of the country. Sometimes on school-trips, other times on holiday and once around the suburbs of Paris whilst playing in a Rugby tournament. The land has always felt very familiar, but the people not so much.
I remember drinking strong coffee made by a host family when I was about 12, before flying down the motorway at 180kph in a convertible Ford Escort XR3i. Life was lively here, to the contrary of my pre-conceived notions.
My most recent experience in France was as the 7th country of 9 cycled in the one week world record attempt (see Austria post).
The thought of cycling in France always evokes images of 'Le Tour' and, sure enough, at times we felt like we were in it as we sped along tree-lined roads, past farm houses, lavender fields and vineyards.
Three other riders and I entered France from Germany and stayed in Strasbourg for the first night, before heading roughly 280kms NNW to Luxembourg via Thionville. By this point in the challenge we were riding strong and feeling good, managing over 150kms each day. Fractures had started to appear in the team however, and a bad call by me to meet other team members in the next town caused a massive delay and bad moods. I had initially thought that I would be helpful by finding a cafe and ordering lunch ready for us all to warm up and recuperate from a morning of battering rain and headwinds, but half the team took a different route into the town and we missed each other. Thankfully we had a support vehicle and its driver managed to inform them. They had already passed the town and were not going to come back, so when we eventually caught up to the group, I could sense the angst in the air. They were tired and not best pleased, so I tried to make amends by towing them for the rest of the day, as I felt like I owed them.
The bad weather had tempted us all just to put our heads down and carry on to the town we had chosen as a good target for the day. There is only a certain amount of cold and wet you can get on a bike, and once suitably saturated you tend not to feel any worse, or so I have always thought. Some team members were exhausted that evening and this was likely my fault. It certainly affected the next few days and ultimately may have been the tipping point for the altercation in Belgium a few days later (see Belgium post).
A team should remain a team, especially when cycling; lesson learned. I should never have gone ahead. Being in each others slip-stream when cycling in a group can conserve up to 40% of one's energy based on always being sheltered by the person ahead and in their drag. I did more than my fair share upfront that day, and was likely part of my thinking to get ahead and find a lunch spot. Selfish I know. There were times before that day where we had been working fairly well to take it in turns up front, at least with one other member of the team doing his bit.
Staying together would mean slowing down, which by the time we got to France, need not have been a big issue as we were on world record pace. So I learned to gauge others more often, as just like me (when i'm not whinging about something), people often say that they are fine when they are not. I was still new to riding in a pack and now having reflected on it, would love to do a better job of it one day. Thankfully the conditions over the next few days improved as we neared Luxembourg , and we all enjoyed a great feast in a barn with good wine and building sense of achievement.