Cycle France, the easy way

OAG publisher Dickie Fincher honours Le Tour with a celebratory lap of France in, err, the East Midlands

Ah, the semi-organised weekend cycle ride. A life on the open road, with just the sight of your compadre’s lightly-clad rear end and the scent of man-made-fibre-tainted sweat for company. How could we have let the French keep group cycling to themselves for so long?

Using all the assets of the online world to form groups, plan rides and record one’s efforts has somehow triggered mass participation – it’s as though all we needed was a strange, geeky spur to connect desktop to bike.

Just like the Pyrenees, right? |Photo NR TOONE

Just like the Pyrenees, right? |Photo NR TOONE

Nearish to OAG headquarters, in the attractively aged town of Oundle is a vigorous new cycling shop with the unlikely name of The Gorilla Firm. Sitting on a quay next to the River Nene alongside a brewery, it’s finely placed to be the base for local rides, and in a fit of genius, one of their routemasters put together a celebratory lap of France to honour Le Tour. After 104km of the East Midlands’  and East Anglian country roads you can download and look at your track and, hilariously, you’ve just ‘cycled around France’ – or rather the outline of it – in a lot less than three weeks.

The Midlands side of the tour starts rolling gently, making riders work hard enough if they want to put in decent average speeds. I’ll admit to being caught out when heading almost anywhere else for a sportive and finding a hill that manages to be both long and steep, but most mates who head up for a ride seem to like the landscape. Me? I’m the one bimbling at the back, attempting to spot day-flying owls to justify a lack of pace.

For those who care about the quality of the workout, this takes in a bit of rolling hills and some classic East Anglian flat, straight hauls. If you want the full Fenland experience, make sure you get the wind full in the face for the 15-mile straight on the eastern part of the loop. A brisk easterly out here is enough to sap the strength of most.

A map of France, very well disguised amongst the flatlands of East Anglia

A map of France, very well disguised amongst the flatlands of East Anglia

If you want some dramatic times on your Strava app, set the wind in your favour and punch out a steady 30mph on the flat to startle your followers. Once back in the real world of normal-sized skies, roads with bends and landscape with relief (that’ll be anywhere west of the A1), there are villages and towns to stop for a quick drink. Or indeed a nice pub lunch, if you’re following the OAG method of adventure racing, cycle touring or indeed any sort of activity whatsoever. Let the record state that we might not win, but we are inevitably the best fed, despite sometimes adding miles to find a particularly highly recommended local pie.

We’d suggest the Noel Arms in Stamford for a pizza, or the fine chip shop in Market Deeping. Forgive me for not being all nuts and energy drinks, but I’ve had most of my long rides fuelled by tea and bacon sandwiches. I remember them more fondly than those punctuated with sticky goop spillages attracting flies to my inner thighs.

As you approach Oundle from either direction, there are constant rolling hills (or maybe hillocks, depending where you normally ride) to keep the breathing going. The essence of this part of the ride is to get back in time for the Nene Valley Brewery, next door to the cycle shop, to be open (4-7pm on a Friday, and 10am-6pm on Saturday). No bike ride around France is complete without a celebratory pint, after all.