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Boulogne sur Mer

Ben Spurrier writes:

Watching todays stage from Orchies to Boulogne-Sur-Mur brought back good and some bad memories of cycling as a teenager in Boulogne.

We used to travel to Boulogne every September to take part in a large Randonee. We went as part of the then Southern Velo (RIP). Everyone would go for a little spin on the Saturday afternoon followed by dinner in the evening, youngsters and grown-ups all together. As we got older, we'd go exploring the town of Boulogne. One year we discovered Cafe Leffe in the Old Town. We settled in at about 3pm, and after that, the night at Cafe Leffe is a bit hazy.

The day of the ride rolls around and we had signed on for the 100km, me, my brother and three other pals. In those days I used to suffer terrible hangovers. I remember being sick after breakfast, before dragging myself onto my bike. Out of our group of five, three were accomplished riders (though one was massivley overweight), while the others had nothing really to rely on.

20k off course
20k off course

At about 20k in you reach a cross-roads and take on the first climb of the day. We followed the arrows which diverted us off what I knew to be the route of previous years. We reached the first check point, handing in our ride cards only to be received by chuckles from the French organisers. Deciphering the French we were told we were 20k off our actual randonee route. As it turns out, there was another randonee running that day, and who knew, they were also using yellow arrows on the road.

So there was our predicament. Hungover, 20km away from our course, not to mention the scheduled lunch stop, down on supplies as we were expecting to stuff ourselves at lunch. Using a rather useless map we tried to trace our way cross country to the strategically chosen lunch spot.

Back on our route, we realised we were down two riders but being young, we left them for dead. When we finally arrived at the first feed stop, everyone had packed up and gone home. Food less and virtually penniless, running on empty we scraped together enough money to buy a single Mars bar. Carefully we divided it up into three and gobbled it up.

We knew we weren't going to make the lunch stop at this rate, let alone complete the prescribed route, so we got our ratty little map and tried to plot a route straight back to Boulogne. Within about 40mins, one third of our group was in dire straights. We took to pushing him on the flat, climbs and even descents.

The bridge
The bridge on today's stage we should have ridden over, not under

After about four hours of riding we cruised through the familiar forest section, and took a turn (we thought) we knew. Down a fast rolling descent happy to be heading home. Before long a road loomed beside us and then began to stretch up above us. But then we arrived at an unfamiliar cross road.

Several things happened at once here; we looked around aimlessly to try and get our bearings; we realised about 200m above us was the enormous road bridge we should have been on; a French lady started shouting at us from the balcony of her house.

We were distraught and delirious, lost, with no food or water. We shouted back and explained our situation. The French woman disappeared back inside. Appearing moments later from her front door with a scrap of paper in hand. She'd written a list of all the town we needed to go through to get back to Boulonge.

We got back on our bikes to crawl back up the long descent, my stomach ached with hunger, my head thumping from Leffe.

I heard a dull thud from behind from behind me, and we all turned to see a giant cooking apple plod off down the road. We rushed to it like savages trying not to let it get away. Nothing has ever tasted as good as that usually inedible fruit.

Walking up climbs and eating cooking apples

It pretty much kept all three of us going back to the finish. Eight hours of riding on a cooking apple and a Mars bar. Must have been the carbs from the night before that got us all through it.

I haven't been cycling Boulonge since.

Ben Spurrier is the designer at Condor Cycles.

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