Tales from the peloton, October 24, 2004
Part of the year-long centenary celebration of the Franco-British Entente Cordiale treaty signed in 1904, the Paris-London charity bike race threatened to be a little less 'cordiale' with a 300-strong pack of amateur bike riders, evenly divided between France and Britain. Resident Gran Fondo expert Ben Atkins was flying the flag high for Cyclingnews and his mother country.
Friday, October 22
Journey to Paris
April 8, 2004 saw the Hundredth Anniversary of the signing of the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. In that time we've seen many ups and downs between our two nations, but stuck together through some pretty tough times, too.
For those of you that don't know, the Entente Cordiale was a set of three agreements signed by the British Foreign Secretary - Lord Lansdowne - and the French Ambassador - Paul Cambon - that settled long standing colonial disputes between the two nations. Symbolically though, the Entente meant more than that, it signalled an end to the era of conflict and the beginning of one of cooperation and alliance.
In the last hundred years, the relationship between us has developed, we haven't always seen eye to eye with the French over a variety of matters; we still call them "froggies"; they still call us "rosbifs"; but the Centenary Celebrations this year have been designed to illustrate and emphasise that the things that unite us are far more numerous and important than the things that divide us.
The latest of the 300 events in the centenary celebrations is a charity bike race between Paris and London. The field is made up of a 300 strong pack of amateur riders, 150 from France and 150 from Britain, mostly drawn from people who rode l'Etape du Tour last July, but with a sprinkling of celebrities from both sides of the Channel thrown in.
The intrepid band of British riders met up this morning in Whitehall, London, a stone's throw from Downing Street, to be coached to Paris for tomorrow's French leg of the race. I should point out at this point that the event - as well as being a joint effort between the French and British governments - is being organised by ASO (them of the Tour de France), so we're expecting it to all be pretty slick. On our coach therefore, we have Alan Rushton, of the Events Group - responsible for organising the Tour's last visit to Britain, Pat McQuaid - a very big cheese from the UCI, and Eurosport's inimitable commentator David Duffield, sadly not racing, but brought in as our very own travelling Master of Ceremonies.
I was pleased to find out pretty early on that these are not the first 150 British finishers from l'Etape, but a pretty mixed group of abilities. Speculation is already rife that this means that the French are going to field the best that they've got against us, but that wouldn't be very "cordiale" of them, would it?
Once everybody was present and correct, we began the interminably long, seemingly endless journey to Paris, via a cross Channel ferry to arrive here at our hotel in the Clichy area of Paris in time for dinner. Well, when I say "in time", I neglect to mention the small detour as we headed to the wrong hotel (how many Ibises are there in Paris???) and our driver managed to get his coach stuck in some really narrow backstreets. Anyway, I hope the French didn't mind waiting a bit for us. Sadly, the food wasn't really worth waiting for... someone must have heard that we were pros or something because the food consisted of a small salad, plain pasta and grilled chicken breast (no chicken for me, the only vegetarian here!) and natural yoghurt. The motorcycle cops from Kent and Sussex (whose presence here is greatly fuelling speculation that this is a practice run for the Tour's proposed start in London in 2007) were not impressed and went out to eat after dinner.
Anyway, I must go to bed. This is going to be no picnic, ahead of me I have two days of hard riding. Tomorrow we ride from under the Eiffel Tower to Amiens to the north (neutralised for the first 70km), then Sunday has the small matter of Dover to London to finish at the Tower of London (see how the symmetry works there? From Tower to Tower.), the last 70km of which will be neutralised. No one here knows what to expect, as hardly anybody knows any body else or how good they are. The only thing we know for sure is that we're not going to drop Olympic medallist Yvonne MacGregor, or Nicole Cooke, or Bernard Hinault, who all seem to be riding this weekend. The question really is when they are going to drop us.