Stage 3: Binche to Épernay

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 05:45. Transfer: 1h30. Start time: 08:18: Distance: 214km. Terrain: hilly (2,529 metres climbing). Climbs: three Cat 3, one Cat 4. Finish: 18:05. Time in saddle: 8h06. Temp: 26C. Drinks: 5 litres.

Suffer scores: John 2/10. Wim 7/10.

Local lowdown

We start in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Binche, renowned for its medieval battlements and Mardi Gras carnival. Although the finish in Épernay will give us the opportunity to stock up on champagne, we are a very long way from Paris in terms of the Tour (though only 120km away geographically).

Tale from the Tour

Today it feels like the Tour really started. No more riding to and from the hotel with no need to worry about packing. Instead we’re into the normal routine of early breakfast and main luggage on the vans by 06:15 so that we can take a coach transfer to the start of today’s stage. Thankfully there are no more cobbles either!

As taken by a fellow rider

One more photo from Stage 1 taken by Ray:

Muur de Geraardsbergen

After 12km we crossed the border into France and were met with mile upon mile of great roads. We formed a good group of about 10 people fairly early on and, rotating the lead on the front in a disciplined manner we just ate up the distance. For large chunks of today we were rolling along comfortably at 35kph, though a few climbs towards the end did bring the average down. In fact, for a supposedly flat stage we still managed over 2,500 metres climbing as a lot of the terrain was rolling. This meant we also had some fast, sweeping descents which allowed me to reach a top speed of 60kph without feeling like I was taking any risks. Great roads, great countryside.

Indeed, the poppy-ribboned wheat fields in the morning gave way to champagne vineyards peppered with roses along the way. Such stunning scenery, such a good group and this is now possibly vying as one of my top 10 rides, though I probably already have 20 top ten rides, such has been my good fortune over recent years. The fields were also strewn with wind turbines which tells you what it is like around here. The Tour organisers are hoping for a lot of cross-winds which would make racing interesting, however today was not too bad. Though there were some gusts that moved you sideways, there was nothing serious.

We passed through Reims and caught a glimpse of the magnificent cathedral there.

Looking back the other way having taken that photo was a sight that made us laugh. Perhaps that’s where to go for the best prescription!

If so, then perhaps this is the chemists:

A few more shots from the ride:

A variety of kit now on show

Champagne and roses for Babs

Last night we briefly discussed whether Le Loop is an event or a club. Given the camaraderie that reaches across the years and the numbers of people who come back, we quickly concluded that it is a club. A club where for us the membership cost is a light sprinkling of insanity!

Some of today’s core group, most of whom I rode with in 2017.

Wim and I have decided to continue rooming together – better the devil you know! It’s a good call, given the number of self-confessed snorers and messy people around. Wim is from Belgium though has lived in Scotland for 13 years, so I still have a Scottish accent to listen to! Sorry Alex, you have been usurped.

Wim reckons today’s suffer score was 7 on the basis of the heat (it did touch 32C this afternoon at times) and the effort put in to riding so hard. On the contrary for me, I was comfortable with the pace in our group and was ok with the temperature too.

Now, where’s that champagne?

Cheers everyone!

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