Day 25 – In Which a Bloody Coup Takes Place (and the entire Austrian Cycling Team throws in the towel)

The most surprising event of the day occurred even before we left Blois. Staying at the same hotel as us was a group of 12 Austrian cyclists who were supposed to be doing the same ride as us. We were rather nonplussed to find them all climbing into a large tourist bus outside the hotel. To our horror/dismay/shock we learnt that, after a single day of riding, they had all decided to abandon the remainder of their ride, return their bikes and do the rest of the trip sleeping on a big bus. I had always thought that the Austrians were meant to be a hardy lot, but compared to us they were obviously a bunch of cream puffs. As we prepared our bikes for departure we could not help but giggle at how silly it would be to finish the ride after just one setback.

Following the unpleasant peletonic rebellion of the previous day, David was happy to throw the mantle of chief navigator to Ross. After all, Ross had been the chief assassin at the infamous Chambord Rebellion, and it was only fair that he should be rewarded for his efforts by being anointed leader for the next day’s ride. At the evening meal I quoted from the Ghostrider bylaws, which clearly state that any appointed leader must be obeyed completely, even when you know that they are making no sense whatsoever. In any group of rapidly ageing riders it is inevitable that everyone will have the occasional lapse of concentration, so we have to learn not to be too judgmental.

Ross proudly took up his position as the new leader of the pack, confidently looked at the map, scratched what’s left of his hair, looked around for guidance and, when he saw the little green arrow, announced “I say we go that way”. David mumbled something under his breath about a drover’s dog, then took up a station at the opposite end of the peloton.

It was a good feeling to be riding under a blue sky for once and I was hoping that maybe we might be able to finally get a fine ride all the way to Amboise. Ross set off at a snail’s pace of about 10 kph along a lovely flat and smooth bike path. Well he thought it was a bike path until he nearly got skittled by the unexpected emergence of a small car. The trouble with these narrow country roads is that they all look like bike paths, but you do need to keep an eye out for vehicles.

After wobbling along at this glacial pace for about 15 minutes we stopped to look around and noticed that 4 of the women were nowhere in sight. We waited and waited…and waited. It seemed that they were already tired and had decided to walk their bikes along the flat, instead of riding. This had the makings of another mutiny. Maggie had appointed herself spokesperson for the malcontents and announced that they wanted to form their own peloton. That way they could stop, shop, drink coffee and take pictures any time they wanted. We agreed that would be OK but thought it best that David go along with them in case they needed any assistance. The group thus split into front and rear groups.

The first opportunity for morning tea was at the little hamlet of Cande Sur Beuvren. Once again the little shop promised little and delivered even less. We did manage to negotiate several coffees and hot chocolates and I was elated when I discovered that they had some (probably medieval) Mars Bars under the counter. We sat down to enjoy our drinks and coffee until the second group arrived.

After morning tea we rode on for another relatively short distance until we reached the tourist hot spot of Chateau Chaumont Sur Loire. For the first time in days we were confronted with a selection of eateries from which to select our lunch. I quickly found a Boulangerie and bought a large meringue (cost 1 Euro) then proceeded down the street to where I purchased a delicious Doner Kebab and chips. I sat on a step and dined like the King of France. This really was quality food of the highest order.

One by one the rest saw what delight I was taking in my lunch and a succession tramped across the road to get the same fare. We had a delightful roadside picnic near the entrance to the large Chateau. It was at that point that a now familiar change took place in the weather. The sky darkened and the first few drops of rain fell – right into my precious kebab. I bundled it up and huddled under an awning, trying hard not to drop chips and kebab ingredients down the front of my jersey. I almost succeeded.

After rapidly finishing the lunch we decided it was time to move. The weather was definitely deteriorating. The first few kilometres were flat and made for very enjoyable riding. When we saw an inviting poster for icecreams, we all agreed that sounded like a good idea. It was at that time that the conditions really cracked up. The rain set in with a vengeance, the temperature dropped and the head wind increased in strength. We all added rain jackets and rigged for wet weather riding.

Up to that point there was one little detail that I had been withholding from the rest of the riders. The final section to Amboise happens to contain the worst hills of the entire ride. It was this section on our last ride in 2013 which nearly killed some of our team. At least back in 2013 it was dry, this time we would have the added misery of pouring rain.

All too soon we were confronting the first of several climbs. Gears clicked down. The puffing got louder. Faces got redder. Riders started dismounting. In situations like this each rider has to adopt their own strategy. Some start hard and then burn out part of the way up. Others like to go slow and steady to conserve their energy to the top. There is no “best way” to suit everyone.

The succession of climbs and the bad weather did make the final hour difficult and we were all very relieved when we began the final descent into Amboise. Our accommodation for the next two nights will be the magnificent Le Clos d’Amboise,  a restored 17th century mansion near the heart of the city. This was our little extravagance for the ride as we thought that it might be nice to feel a little special for a couple of nights. With its ornate antique furniture and its manicured gardens, it was an interesting insight into a long lost way of life. Maggie and I have an attic room with a lovely view of the gardens. Ross and Fran have the presidential suite of rooms, complete with multiple bathrooms and butler. I believe David and Carol have been given some space in the coal cellar, but it’s too dark for me to go down there to check it out.

As it turned out, the second group of riders arrived at Amboise only about 15 minutes behind the first group. It really does not make a huge difference what speed you ride at. I guess this further emphasizes the point that each rider needs to find their own rhythm and pace. For those in Group 1, our speed for the next 24 hours will be stationary as it’s our first rest day.