Riding day Two (Loire Valley)
After an unremarkable breakfast at our hotel, we saddled up for our second day of cycling along the Loire. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood, the weather was holding, and it looked like it should be a fine day all the way to our next overnight in Villandry. During my previous trip, I had started from Tours, so the super-famous Chateau Chenonceau was not on my path. I had decided that I won’t miss it this time, and had planned the route with a detour to see this gem on the Cher river. Granted, getting there would mean climbing out of the Loire valley, cutting across some forests and open countryside and then cycling back down into the Cher valley. The Lithuanian, the Finn and the Dane hadn’t voiced any opposition to the plan.
Off-route to Amboise
The creators of the Loire cycle route have taken great pains to keep cyclists on dedicated cycle paths when available, on sparsely-used roads when not, and off the main roads entirely. That said, they sometimes go a little too far and take one out of the way, up and down unnecessary hills that don’t result in some sort of satisfying and climb-justifying sight. Thus, we stuck to the main road from Mosnes to Amboise – setting a good pace with most of us taking turns pulling the line.
|The road out of Mosnes|
Amboise was where we would turn away from the Loire and head towards Chenonceau. In the very center of town where we needed to turn south and up out of the Loire valley, we stopped at a pharmacy where the Finn stopped to stock up on medicine (apparently the yoghurt hadn’t helped).
The Amboise – Chenonceau route, already bustling with other cyclists (mostly families with small children) took us through a picturesque bit of Amboise, up some steep cobbles (at one point, the Lithuanian, brazenly attacking on the steep, kept going up, when our route went down, thusly dropping from 1st to last in a matter of seconds), and through the suburbs of Amboise. We climbed out of Amboise where the route followed a busy road through forest, but turned off the main thoroughfare to a little-used forest road. I missed the turn and signalled back to the others that they need to turn, while I headed back to catch up.
The small road through the forest was quiet and slightly rolling. I knew that if I’m to score any KOM points in this bit of the trip, I would need to attack from far off to give myself some room to fend off any counterattacks. So, when I caught up to the group, I casually took my turn at the front to pull. When I saw that a downhill was coming up, I attacked, calculating that there would be a hill at the end of the descent, where I would be able to climb and reach the top first. I was right, and I did.
This pissed the Finn off.
After berating me for “breaking the rules” and attacking from ridiculously far out, he proclaimed that he’s not going to play anymore. Thinking, “uh oh, is this ‘where the race was lost’? Is this trip going to start to suck and descend into sullen silence and anger?”, I replied that when someone like me (who doesn’t “climb well for his weight”) wants to get to the top of a hill first, one needs to start early, and that if he doesn’t want to play the silly KOM and sprinting points game, he doesn’t have to. He hung back in pissed-off silence. I then sidled up to chat with the always-calm Dane and inquired as to whether the Finn’s ass hurt or if he’s hungover. “Yes”, was the reply.
On another downhill, a sudden rush of Nordic indignation hurled past us, hunched over, legs a blur of vengeance and ambition. The Dane and I exchanged glances. “I guess he’s still playing”, I smiled. “Yes”, was the reply.
After freewheeling down a hill that put to rest any ideas of coming back that way, we were just a couple of kilometres out of Chenonceau. Parking in the bicycle parking lot, we decided to risk leaving our gear on the bikes, walked to the entrance and stood in a line of Disneyland-like proportions to get our tickets. Passing though the crush of humanity, and told by the ticket-checker and a menacing sign that we are NOT allowed to picnic on the grounds, we caught our first view of Chateau Chenonceau.
|Before the Finnish tour bus onslaught|
Beautiful. Fantastic. Wish you were here. (that’s my elbow on the right).
Yes, the Chateau is beautiful. Yes, it is probably the most-visited. Yes, the hordes of tourists (it seemed as though it must have been Finnish day with the amount of Finnish that I heard all over the grounds) are annoying (not just the Finns). Yes, it’s still worth it. Yes, we were happy to get back on the road again.
Near death experience or a pound of flesh
Finding our bikes and gear untouched, we set off towards Tours. This section of the trip was not on bike paths. We got lost from the get-go. However, we had a general idea of where to go, so with a couple of wrong turns, we made our way towards Tours, which would put us only 20 km from our stop for the night.
It’s worth mentioning that because this area was pretty much flat, there were no KOM points to be had, but plenty of town signs to sprint for. In a run-down little town that had clearly seen better days (probably before the larger and faster departmental road nearby had been built ), a sprint to the-almost-death took place. Lulled into a calm from a calorie-deficit, I was surprised when the Finn attacked from quite far out (taking a page out of my strategy book, it seems). Thinking I could counter-attack before the visible, but still distant town sign, I got out of the saddle and sprinted to latch on to his wheel. Alas, it was not meant to be. My right shoe unclipped from my pedal, got caught on the return stroke, and was pushed under. As I felt (in slow-motion) my rear wheel lift and saw my future face-plant and terminal road-rash coming at me, I managed to (somehow) control the speed wobble, wrench my foot out from under the bike, and careen to a stop without crashing.
The blood flowing from my leg and the pain in the ankle and foot were a small price to pay for what could have really sucked.
We were about 14 km outside of Tours (back on the Loire) at Montlouis-sur-Loire when we all realized that if we don’t stop for food, that we’ll miss our chance before all the restaurants close after lunch service. This area, like many others along the Loire, have limestone cliffs along the water, where caves have been hewn out. The caves were used as cellars, stables, even homes. Some of these troglodyte spaces have been converted to restaurants. We stopped at Le Cave, aptly named, for a well-deserved rest, food and copious amounts of wine. The restaurant is across the river from Vouvray, so naturally, we partook in a bottle or four of the local tipple, grown, picked and made by the family that owns and operates the restaurant.
|Now it's my hands in the picture|
The food was excellent, the wine as well. The ambiance of the restaurant – cozy and warm from the blazing fire in the middle of the cave – was friendly. We were clearly the only tourists in the place, and notwithstanding the lycra, sweaty/dishevelled appearance, and ordering too much wine for lunch, obviously welcome among the locals. Plus, the Dane was convinced that the lady sitting at the table behind me was flirting with him (even though her husband and her in-laws were at the table too).
34 km to Villandry
The rest of the ride, including passing through the modern/ugly part of Tours was essentially uneventful. St. Pierre des Corps (the TGV station for Tours) was where I had started my last Loire trip, so I was on familiar ground. I didn’t get lost this time. We got to our hotel, right next to the Chateau Villandry, with plenty of time to check in, stow the bikes, shower and have an incredibly enjoyable evening.
But the story will have to wait until the next post.