Sounds like the start of a difficult European joke, no? It was actually the (almost) beginning of a really good 3 day ride through undemanding terrain with some great views, nice architecture, good wine and some seriously good food.
I have done the Loire -- in 2009, if I'm not mistaken. It was my second big trip - with a just-purchased used Kettler trekking bike. It had a gel-seat and everything... (my butt has never hurt more than during that trip) - it was then that I was pushed to become an apostle of Brooks saddles. Anyway, the 2009 trip was a lonely-ish trip from Tours to Nantes (around 300 km) with minimal planning (ie, none). This trip was different.
I started preparing for this trip WELL in advance. The call went out far and wide in February to old and new friends, inviting them to an easy, but well-lubricated and filling adventure into cycling French waterways. The personal and private responses were enthusiastic. At least 10-12 friends said that "yeah, I'm pretty much a 100% in". Good thing I didn't make reservations with penalties...
When Ascension day vacation rolled around, the peleton had boiled down to 4 of us. We would be meeting in Olivet, a suburb of Orleans on Wednesday evening, so that we might get an early start on Thursday, cycling down the Loire past the famous Chateaux of Beaugency, Chambord, Blois, and Chaumont sur Loire
before having an altogether too rich dinner and too much wine before resting up for the next day that would inevitably be more of the same -- chateaux, food and wine. The trip would be debilitating...
The night before
Our hotel, where we would also be leaving our car, was a good 10 km south of Orleans proper, so naturally, we hopped on the bicycles and headed into town for drinks and dinner. After crossing the Loire, we stopped at one of the first available squares with outside tables to have a glass or two (or three) of wine before going to Le Cozy, a restaurant that I had researched before the trip, and had deemed as being good enough for the food-snobs (the Dane and the Finn). By food-snobs, I simply mean “people who really know what food is about, really like to eat and cook well, and would be unmercifully mean to me if I took them to a restaurant that they ended up not liking”. No big deal.
Naturally, we struck up a conversation with a local couple at the next table who told us that Le Cozy is crap, and that we really need to go to La Chancellerie. Naturally, we ditched our plans and switched to local wisdom. Notwithstanding the fact that La Chacellerie was clearly a tourist restaurant on a touristy square, it was actually good, and reasonably priced. So we treated ourselves to an extra two bottles (or was it three) of the local tipple.
|About to swerve back to the hotel down some Orleans boulevarde.|
It was dark when we left. Somewhere along the way, I had the brilliant idea that we need to stop at a quaint beer bar somewhere halfway back to the hotel. We locked up our bikes and confidently strode to the door, which was locked. Strange, but we were determined to get our nightcap, which turned out to be a beer-schnapps. I’ve had beer schnapps twice in my life – once in Germany (Kiel) and once in France. I’ll try to remember to avoid any other beer-schnapps in the future.
We made it back to the hotel in more or less one piece (the Lithuanian took a nose-dive on a parking-lot curb, the Finn plopped into a bush of some sort, I did a sympathy crash for the both of them, and the Dane smirked).
I’m not going to tell the story about how we essentially broke into the reception area to look for the room-key that one of us had left at reception before leaving for dinner. Suffice it to say that it was all caught on security cameras… the police were not, thankfully, called.
Freshly baked croissants, pain-au-chocolat, baguettes, cheese and butter. That’s breakfast. When you’re a big guy ready for a 100+ km ride, you let yourself go (like any other time, but now without the guilt). We set off along the now-familiar path, on towards Mosnes, our first overnight on the journey.
As we had already done Orleans, I decided that we should skip that bit and take a “short-cut” from Olivet west towards the Loire a Velo trail, saving a good 10-15 km.
Rules of the road
The Loire valley is not a place where the Schlecklettes (or any other grimpeur) would be in their element. It is, for all intents and purposes, flat. One needs to entertain oneself inbetwixt the nice views of chateaux, nuclear power plants and wine-breaks in quaint wine-growers’ villages. Thus, when traveling in a group, one can always go for sprint-points, fight for the king of the mountains jersey, etc. Sprints are simple – if there’s a town sign, it’s the end of an “intermediate sprint”. “Mountains” are simply anything that involves climbing (often becoming the subject of heated debate from the side of those that didn’t get to the top first, as to whether it was actually a hill or not).
Yes, the Dane was the sprinter for the day. He had the uncanny understanding of when to attack. I was forgetting all day long to watch for the red and white signs marking the beginning of the towns. He didn’t miss them and the one-two that it would take me to realize what was happening would result in my inevitable defeat.
Winecycling – King of the Mountains
I crushed every 200 vertical metres of the day (I DID say that the Loire trail is quite flat). Undisputed. I earned every litre of wine represented by every polka dot on every king-of-the-mountain jersey ever made.
Scary French folk
|Beaugency, where some cafe owner really didn't want our cash.|
The morning ride, with its sprints and minimal climbs passed quickly with a quick stop for coffee in Beaugency. At Muides-sur-Loire, the Finn got peckish, so we deviated from our path towards the village in the hopes of finding something to eat, as Blois was just a bit too far to bear without food. After we crossed over the river, we saw that there was a broquante, a flea-market, going on on the left bank. The smell of something being grilled met our noses, and we figured it a good place to score some quick calories. It was around 11:00. The Dane and I quickly found the tent where the local amicale sportive had it’s fund-raising wine/grill thing going on, quickly ordered both and settled into fuelling up. The Lithuanian was, as usual, on the phone, doing deals (he’s an independent businessman) – the Finn was off looking to score some local sausauge. Amid the crush of local French humanity, our barkeep (the portly drunk guy pouring our 1.50 Euro plastic cups of local plonk) kept refilling us (and himself). This place was rockin’! The gapped-toothed, mullet-sporting locals were a far-cry from the “there’s something about French girls – they might not be the best looking in the world, but they DO carry themselves so sexy” line…
But, the poitrine (pork belly) sandwich was really good.
The buzz wore off before Blois.
We got to Blois (I won the climb over the slightly arched bridge over the Loire). The poitrine had been digested and burned, so the tanks needed to be refueled. We tried to get into a Michelin starred restaurant, but apparently, sweaty, lycra-clad Finns, Danes, Lithuanians and Winecyclists are not welcome at the Orangerie. So, we plopped down in a hole-in-the wall that had, according to the Dane, the best beef tartare he’s ever had, some seriously good beef for me and other assorted goodies all-around. Plus, the cat didn’t attack us… and slept through most of the meal.
The end of the ride was at Mosnes. It turned out that our hotel was, essentially, a Chateau – a nice surprise. The weather was perfect for sitting out on the terrance and having a couple of glasses of rose, which we did before even looking at our rooms. The town was the boondocks, with virtually no choice of eating establishements, so we chose the hotel restaurant.
That will require a separate post. It gets ugly...