Cycling Downhill With The Chain Gang

Beautiful downhills in Tuscany, Dordogne, Bordeaux, all over.

Yesterday, faced with unexpected sunshine, I set off on my bike. I followed part of the route we took on a CTC ride last Wednesday evening, except this time it was light and I could see. So I didn’t cycle through a huge pothole, I didn’t buckle my wheel in the pitch black, and I didn’t puncture.

I ended up at some crossroads with signs for Ottery St Mary, so I followed them. The plan was to slog my way up East Hill so that I could go down a brilliant downhill stretch into Sidford. It’s hard work up East Hill, with 20% stretches, and when you’re hauling my kind of weight that can be tough. It’s easy for Lance, he’s skinny, which is cheating. It’s fat boys like me who are the real heroes of cycling!

But it’s so worth it. I got an insight, yet again, into why I love cycling. On our bike tours, of course we all love the châteaux, we enjoy the wine-tastings, the exploration, the great food and meeting new people. But we all start off as people who enjoy cycling, and surely the best bits are the long, exhilarating downhill stretches where we get the chance to break speed limits.

I love arriving in little villages and looking for a cafe, and climbing long, hard hills. But nothing is like cycling 40 miles per hour (mph) for 3 miles without even pedalling, tucked in, leaning into the corners. And the ultimate, naturally, is overtaking a car. (Even better – go to the Alps, and ride downhill for 20 miles!)

It got me to thinking about my favourite stretches. There is an area in Tuscany called Le Crete where there are a series of rolling hills, some of them quite steep. I think this is the fastest bit of any Chain Gang tour – about 3 years ago I managed to get to 79 Kilometres per hour (kmh), which is the joint fastest I’ve ever been on a bike. That’s a bit maddening because it’s 49 mph, so its very likely that I will go to my death never having cycled 50 mph. Let’s hope the two events aren’t linked. But that was on a hybrid. If I ever manage to drag one of my road bikes to Tuscany, I’d fancy breaking the big five oh.
Dreadful sky, great magic glowing jacket

There’s another stretch in the Dordogne. We spend a couple of days in the ‘causses’, a limestone plateau through which the Dordogne carves its way. On Wednesday morning, having spent the night in Loubressac (which a friend of mine called ‘the most beautiful village I’ve ever seen’) we set off uphill once again, but not for long. We come to the top of the Gorge d’Autoire, a spectacular valley with towering cliffs on both sides. The ride down to the river Bavé through the village of Autoire is spectacular. There are hairpins and corners, so we can’t threaten any speed records, but it is absolutely fabulous.
Ten minutes ago we were on the top

In Bordeaux, there’s a stretch on the first day down from the Cingle de Tremolat. In Burgundy we have half a day of downhill from the summit of the Canal de Bourgogne near Chateauneuf. In Provence, of course, half the roads are downhill – because the other half are uphill. But the rush is just the same.

Spring is here, we can all live again, and I can’t wait to get out on my bike now the sun’s shining (apologies to our Southhern hemisphere brethren who might not be looking forward to our spring quite so much.).

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