The French connection: cyclists become ambassadors
Who would have thought being a member of a cycling club would qualify you for the ‘diplomatic service’? Well, certain members of St Ives CC can corroborate from personal experience that ‘entente cordiale’ is still alive and well. Salon-de-Provence, the French town twinned with Huntingdon & Godmanchester, dispatched a peloton of cyclists to pay their twinning partners a visit, and St Ives CC had been approached last November to see if they would be interested in meeting and accompanying the visiting party as they progressed north towards the region. The French venture entailed a 1400 km ride from the south of France, and they were no ordinary group of cyclists. First of all, their ages ranged from about 40- 74, and many of them were sporting sparkly carbon bikes with all the nice kit, two of them even riding nicely equipped TT
bikes. As is the wont of French cyclists, none of them were carrying luggage or spare parts, such stuff being consigned to the ‘sag wagon’ that followed their route and stopped at convenient meeting places. But when they hit the British shores, English
weather gave them a serious ‘wobbly’, that saw them abandon their day’s ride and catch a train to their destination. They were somewhat disillusioned and discouraged when we met them at the Lee valley Youth Hostel in Cheshunt.
Now switch to the English party. Three gallants, Pete Holt, Chris Penney and myself, set off to meet and stay with them in the Youth
Hostel, and the forecast had promised us only ‘light rain’. This promise could almost be categorised as a Michael Fish blunder (he of the 1987 hurricane denial), because what we got was absolutely torrential rain, hailstones, roads awash in inches of water……… and to cap it all, not a single café open on our route for over 55 miles (all closed on Tuesdays!).
Chris quickly decided he was heading back home. Pete and I decided unhesitatingly to continue. Poor Chris was outvoted and reluctantly accepted majority decision. What started out miserably could only get better and, sure enough, 10 miles from destination, we eventually found a pub that served the best tea and chocolate cake in the world (well, it seemed so at the time!). Which, of course, brought a smile back to Chris’ face.
The meeting with the French group was convivial, noisy, in a mixture of English, French and Franglais, and when the evening meal was over, we repaired to one of their lodges to be toasted with three bottles of champagne brought directly from the vineyard (does it get any better than that?). The following morning saw Dominic Bowles and Jackie Wren join our ranks at Broxbourne station, and our ride (with the wind now favourably on our side) headed north to Cambridge at a brisk club pace, where we did a brief tour of the town and had lunch at the pub on Midsommer Common. After lunch, awaiting our arrival at the Madingley American Cemetery, was the Mayor of Huntingdon, kitted out in lycra and waiting to join the ride through to our destination. We were also joined by two other members of St Ives CC, Terry Cooke and Daniel Rigby. By this time our numbers had swelled to a peloton of over 20, enough to create a build-up of traffic behind us along the narrow country lanes.
Our arrival at Godmanchester was greeted by a small but enthusiastic crowd, including the Mayor of Godmanchester and councillors, and by the time we had reached Huntingdon, we had a welcoming party that included a press reporter and photographers. So keep an eye out for the next edition of the Huntspost. The red kit of St Ives CC will stand out in the crowd.
Despite the adverse weather conditions, it was a real pleasure to meet up with the French party, and join them on the last day of their ride. And they were relieved that somebody else had done the route planning and were leading the way. A big ‘thank you’ to Pete Holt for that, ably abetted by Chris Penney and Dominic Bowles, and to the other members of St Ives CC who joined this happy company on their final few miles. Our ride from Cheshunt was based very loosely on the route created by the British Heart Foundation London – Cambridge ride. And it was a bit lumpy in parts ;0)