Free cycling

Gardens, National Trust, North Yorkshire, Weather
That's where I spent my evening, near the Temple of Piety. Can't complain at that. (

That’s where I spent my evening, near the Temple of Piety. Can’t complain at that. (

I was volunteering at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal yesterday evening.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there.  It was raining – and how – as I drove there, and the evening looked very unpromising.

A small team of us were there to make an evening’s Family Bike Ride round the Abbey and Studley Royal grounds run smoothly.  Apparently I was going to be stuck near the Temple of Piety and Moon Ponds preventing riders from disappearing up into a woodland path, with only my two-way radio for company.  I hadn’t even got an umbrella.  Anyway, who would bother to turn out with their families, and all the family bikes, to trundle round Fountains Abbey in the rain?

Baby coot (Tim Felce: Airwolfhound)

Baby coot (Tim Felce: Airwolfhound)

I was wrong.  Of course.  The rain stopped.  Families turned up, and lots of them.  At first though, I had many minutes of peace to stand and absorb the views of the very special Georgian water garden.  I spent time enjoying the company of a new family of coots: I suspect the three little spherical balls of fluff I saw with their solicitous parents had hatched that very day.

This was my view for much of teh evening. Those coots are out there somewhere.

This was my view for much of the evening. Those coots are out there somewhere.

And then the bike riders came.  There were confident teenagers relishing the chance to get up speed in this tranquil setting.  There were primary-aged children enjoying family time with their parents.  There were little ones, able to wobble along on their bikes, their parents confident that they were utterly safe from passing traffic.  Open Country, a local charity working to help people with disabilities access the countryside had brought along a team and several tandems.

Some people went round the circuit once, some twice, a few as many as five times.  I took lots of photos with lots of cameras for family souvenirs of the evening.  Sadly, I hadn’t brought my own camera.  These not-at-all impressive photos are taken with my camera phone.

I’ll volunteer again sometime for this event.  But not next time.  Next time I’ll want to be there with my own family, trundling around this very special site with my own grandchilden (first though, I’ll have to learn not to fall off a bike).

One of the last families of the evening finishes the last lap.

One of the last families of the evening finishes the last lap.


A long day: Team UK (Laroque branch) support the Tour de France

Ariège, France, Laroque d'Olmes

The Tour de France 2012 hit Laroque on the Limoux – Foix stage on Sunday 15th July. It was a long day…. and that was just for the supporters.

Thanks Sue, thanks Tom for the use of all your photos.

L’Ariégeoise & le Mountagnole: a very sticky moment

Ariège, Laroque d'Olmes

L’Ariégeoise comes to town

If you live in a small town like ours, you look for excitement where you can.  Today,  lAriégeoise passed our house.  This is a cycle race organised just before the Tour de France every year in our department.  Unlike the Tour itself, you can choose which of three races to join.  The truly serious do lAriégeoise itself: 160 km, with 3430 metres of climbing to do. The fairly serious do Le Mountagnole, 117.400 km, 2569m climb.  And the ones who are frankly playing at it do the Passejade, a mere 68.5 km, with a 745m. climb.

The two first groups were due to cycle through Laroque, and we locals were ready at 10 o’clock, lining the streets to cheer them on.  L’Ariégeoise marshals with Stop-Go batons in red and green strutted about importantly, directing the traffic, stopping and diverting cars as necessary.

The first cohort arrived, swished at speed past our house…and was gone.

Seconds later, some of them did a hasty U-turn and cycled back again, turned right across the bridge and picked up speed in a different direction.  What could be going on?

The parting of the ways

It turned out that l’Ariégeoises and the Mountagnoles, who until then had been sharing a route, parted company here.  The Mountagnoles had no special marshals, and when the time came, with heads down and intent only on completing their circuit in record time, they followed the l’Ariégeoise pack.  And some l’Ariégeoises followed the Mountagnoles pack.

Erm…..should we be here?

With nothing but their batons and booming voices to help them, l’Ariégeoise marshals tried to sort the sheep from the goats and send everyone on the correct path.  But it was hopeless.  More and more cyclists went wrong, and the area round the bridge became a clutter of wheeling tumbling bikes and their confused riders.  Some of them were amused.  Others not.  ‘Merde!’, ‘putain!’ and worse coloured the air as they saw their hard-won average speeds taking a turn for the worse.

A marshal tries to hold things together

I recorded some of the juicier moments and uploaded a short video to YouTube.  Why don’t you have a look?

Ronde de l’Isard

Ariège, Festivals, Laroque d'Olmes, Pyrénées

This is the time of year when France begins to limber up for the Tour de France, which happens this year between the 3rd and 25th July.  In truth, cycling never really goes away in France.  Out driving the car, one of the occupational hazards is overtaking largish groups of keenies togged up in bright Lycra cycling gear, with bikes that in some cases have cost more than a decent second hand family car.

I’d forgotten that this weekend is the Ronde de l’Isard.  This is a 4-day cycling event held here in the Ariège that began in the late 1970’s as a bit of a competition between local clubs.  It’s since grown to have entrants from nearly as wide a range of countries as the Tour de France itself.

Free baseball cap....

So, this morning I was strolling along to the baker’s – rather late – it was almost noon. Suddenly, I could hear hooting, sirens, tannoyed announcements, and a fleet of vehicles led by smartly polished blue gendarmerie motorcycles advanced down the street towards me.  Ronde de l’Isard, Advance Guard.  As with the Tour de France, they had gifts, and as I was the only person on my side of the street, they made sure I got the lot: a spotted baseball cap, a key ring, and a leaflet from Tourist Information.

And that as it, for half an hour.  At precisely 12.33,  as advertised, the riders themselves tore into view.  The whole of the rest of the Ariège gendarmerie were there on their motorbikes, advance vehicles of various kinds, and then – whoosh! – the cyclists, a l-o-n-g streak of them, flashed past: to be followed by support teams carrying spare bikes, ambulances, press.

Team support

Today they only had 149.1 km to do.  Just now, the thermometer at the back is reading 37 degrees.  Still, yesterday, just as hot, the distance was 175.5 km.  The winner for the day managed it in 3 hours 55.9 seconds.  Count me out