In 1994, I fell in love with yellow, or colloquially, le maillot jaune. I had the belief that one day I could wear the famous jersey. Sadly, like most adolescent dreams it was short lived and I returned to the fantasy world of wanting to be the next Mark Crossley or Peter Schmeichel. That said, my love of cycling remained, but it was put to the back of my mind for 11 months of the year until the famous maillot jaune was on someone’s shoulders again. The 1994 tour started with a British rider, Chris Boardman, of Halfrauds bike frame, Boardman, taking the individual time trial. The race then shot down to the French coast, boarded the Eurostar at Calais, and then set off on its two-day holiday in Blighty.
The British route saw it start near the imposing Dover Castle, the key to England was this time opening the door for French crown jewels/81st edition of the greatest grand tour. I am sure most kings from King John ‘Lackland’ would be turning in their grave knowing of this invasion from over the channel. However pleasantries were exchanged as the Italian rider, Flavio Vanzella claimed the maillot jaune on both stage 4 in Brighton and stage 5 in Portsmouth.
It wasn’t until the next day that the maillot jaune was on the back of a Brit in Sean Yates, however the tour had just returned to France at this point and once again my 21 stage obsession had to be lived through Eurosport, its grainy coverage and my 14” television set.
With one month to go before the prologue of the 103rd edition of the Tour de France, Nick Coulson and I set off on our own quest for the maillot jaune and our ride from Marble Arch to Arc de Triomphe.
The stats are as followed:
Total distance: 285.1km
Average speed: 23.23 km/h
Calories expended: 5811
Total moving time: 12 hours and 39 minutes
It has always been a childhood dream of mine to sprint along the Champs-Elysees and win the coveted stage 21 of the Tour de France. The reality was somewhat different.
We set off at 11am from London and made good progress towards Newhaven. London was slow going, risky and not for the feint-hearted. However, once we crossed onto some trails (not intentional but was good fun walking up a muddy path) we hit our first open road just outside Croydon and we flew our way down to Newhaven. We even managed to stop for some food at a lovely pub where we abused their plug sockets, coffee machine, and ketchup bottle as we replenished our glycogen stores before setting back off towards Newhaven. Upon our arrival there we were greeted like any other passengers, informed of our foolishness for not checking the DFDS policy on bikes (n.b. if we book two passengers with bicycles – that tends to mean we are on a bike each). We met lovely customs officials asking if we had any petrol in our bikes; not quite what the UCI would ask when searching for a motor in the bottom bracket, but we answered no and were allowed on our way. At the terminal we met 34 riders who were doing the same route but taking three days – their own petit-tour, but raising money for a spinal charity. Two of the riders were using a handcycle – luckily like our route theirs was pretty flat, but still impressive.
On the crossing we had a cabin where our intentions were to sleep, as we were to cycle through the night, but we ended ‘carbing up’, drinking coffee, chatting, showering, and filling our jerseys with food; knowing that we would struggle in night time France.
As we disembarked the ferry, we said bon voyage to the tourers, and off we went towards the Avenue Verte. The route was fairly simple and safe, partly because it was 11pm, but also because Northern France is quite bleak. The Avenue Verte is superb, smooth and steady, yet in hindsight I would rather use the road, as there are annoying little crossings every 2 km or so, and despite the darkness, you have to be quite weary of those pesky Renault Clios, and Peugeot 106. We made slow progress on the route, but by the time we hit the roads again we had never been so glad to be on slightly rougher surfaces. The road section was fine, but again it was night; if we had known what it was like I would have preferred to stayed on ‘busier’ roads as this would have improved our speed somewhat. (Something to consider for next time around). The night was getting long; we stopped at road junctions to raid our supplies, refuel and rehydrate. We did get to a point where water was quite low and a puncture slowed the pace, but a fantastic croissant and water stop at a bakery in some random town, in now not so Northern France, gave us an opportunity to restock and evaluate our progress. We then continued and made our final leg towards Paris.
Entering the capital was quite confusing and neither of us had any idea of quite where we would come out. The roads all looked the same, we seemed to ziz-zag across the Seine a few times, and saw about 4 or 5 mini Arc de Triomphes.
Finally we entered the Champs-Elysees and unknown to Nick, I tried my best to sprint my way as hard as I could down the road, often leaving Nick at traffic lights, and giving him disparaging looks when we met up at the next light – in true Tour de France style. Little did he know, I was aiming to accomplish another lifetime ambition of racing down this infamous road. We arrived in Paris after being on the road for 22 hours and 3 minutes, cycling for 12 hours and 39 minutes.
We took the customary picture at Champs-Elysees, rushed to a café for sustenance, only to find that the French were on strike (again), so coca-cola, coffee and a poor man’s croissant were all consumed before we rushed back to the Eurostar to get home.
A great, but tiring experience overall. I want to thank Nick for persuading me to do it, and to apologise for not telling him about my dream of sprinting down the Champs-Elysées.
Strava: @Gareth Simpson