Stage 21: Montgeron to Paris Champs-Élysées

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 08:00. Transfer: none. Start time: 09:00. Distance: 103km. Terrain: flat (some cobbles). Climbs: None, though there was still a bump or two – 700 metres! Finish: 16:00. Time in saddle: 4h30.

Suffer scores: John is missing spicy food. Alex is missing pizza!

Local lowdown

Just another Parisian suburb right? Well, it was in Montgeron that the first ever Tour de France started in 1903, so it’s a great place to start the last stage. Logistics mean that we start 11km away in Evry and don’t pass through Montgeron, but nevertheless I can feel the weight of history, just as much as passing the famous landmarks of the Arc de Triomphe and the Tour Eiffel. In those days each stage was around 400km, though there were only 6 of them and riders had a few days off between each one to recover. Always starting before dawn, one stage required them to start at 9pm the night before and ride through the night! We may have started at the crack of sparrows some days, but I’m pleased that’s where the similarities between this year’s tour and the 1903 version starts and finishes! Some may have preferred the flatter terrain of the original (only one significant mountain), but I do love the mountains.

To win any prize money in the 1903 Tour, a rider’s average speed had to be at least 20km/h (12.5mph) over the whole trip. In more recent times, the winner has been twice as fast as that. I’m not sure what my overall average speed has been. It has fluctuated, but definitely closer to the 1903 minimum! That I could do so is down to the quality of the bikes we have now compared with what they were riding back then, just in case anyone is thinking that I could have been a champion in an earlier age!

Tale from the Tour

A nice easy roll to Versailles this morning before heading in to Paris. Today’s stage is all about the Champs Elysées. We do only one circuit rather than 8 for some fairly obvious safety reasons (the Arc de Triomphe roundabout is legendary for its somewhat chaotic nature). What this means for us is that we make up the race distance by having a nicer ride into Paris via suburban and countryside routes.

As promised when I left work, I am carrying champagne into Paris!

 

OK so the above photo may have been rigged somewhat, as the champagne made it to the lunch stop in an ice bucket in the back of a van – not just for safety reasons but so that we don’t have to drink it warm!

Nice photo-bombing of the arrival of the champagne by Andrew!

Others had similar ideas, but I was the only one to have brought champagne flutes!

Cheers everyone!

 

At Versailles. Or as we call it, feed stop 2!

This was a great place to take some celebratory photos before completing the final kms into Paris.

The “lifer” group that made it all the way from Düsseldorf

On entering Paris itself, our group stopped to answer calls of nature at a bar. By the time we left (post beer and ice cream) the yellow arrows that we were following were being taken down. Turns out we should have gone direct to the Eiffel Tower before any mucking about. Oops!

Not too hard to navigate 3km to the Eiffel Tower, even without arrows!

Fortunately we were able to explain what had happened before the signs were taken down on the finishing circuit. We then rode up to the Arc de Triomphe before starting the complete lap that we were due to do before we would then peel off the roundabout and head towards the hotel. However, on heading up the Champs Elysées for the second time I realised that we had cut the circuit short and had not gone via the underpass at the bottom. I shouted out that I was going to carry on with another lap and do it properly this time. Rob came with me and we were very pleased that we did. Although we had already ridden further over the three weeks than the pros will, to have missed this little part out would have forever annoyed me!

More celebrations followed at the hotel and then on the Bateau Mouche where we had dinner on the Seine as we went up and down the river. It was a spectacular ending, with the Eiffel Tower all lit up and then flashing its lights for a few minutes every hour on the hour.

Heading up the Champs Elysees

There, that’s it. Sarah and Gareth made sure the logistics and bike riding worked with incredible efficiency given the scale of the task and the support crew were as amazing as ever. All were rightly recognised for their hard work on tour and which made for a brilliant event. Together all the riders have raised nearly £350,000 on this trip so far which will really help the William Wates Memorial Trust support those who do not have the same privileges as us. What we have done is great, but it’s over. What the charities do is greater and continues day after day after day and is far more than a three week affair.

I have been blessed with a brilliant group of people with whom to ride and to share the experience.  Alex obviously who agreed to share a room with me throughout and I trust is not regretting it! Robin, Jenny and Andrew with whom we rode every day – truly a great little team – and others who were on our train from time to time, notably Warren (Wazza), Barry (Irish Gary), Gerard (always ready to leave before we were), and Jamie (you nailed it, better than “horseshoes and handgrenades” – US speak we think for “close but no cigar”).  Otherwise, Travis was a star in the face of adversity and has a very balanced view of life, Ulrich had to cope with getting his bike trashed, Deano completed unfinished business but may still yet come back for more. The Pauls and Jeff possibly made more café stops than we did and then there were those who practically rode the route solo. Huge respect to all the above and to those who I have not mentioned here.

My biggest thanks to my long suffering wife Babs of course. Not just the last six months of serious riding but the last 30 years! I’m on a train now, a proper one and not a cycle “train” and I can’t wait to be home and to spend the rest of the summer together.

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