Day 1: Home to Portsmouth and Overnight to Ouistreham - 34km
Fine weather, some sunshine
Keeping our carbon emissions down, we pedalled from our home in Lymington via the Isle of Wight to Portsmouth. (2pm ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth and 4pm ferry from Fishbourne to Portsmouth). It was the "Round the Island Randonnee" Sunday and on the way we saw cyclists taking part including a friend, Paul Whitehead who was an early finisher and was on his way home also on the Fishbourne ferry.
We drifted into Gunwharf Quay in Portsmouth and sat on bench to eat our tea before going on to the group rendezvous opposite Ship and Castle Pub. As we rolled up to the bench, Sheila our tour leader greeted us in a rather surprised "not what I expected" way. We know Sheila well and had told her that we were coming on our tandem, but she had obviously not taken in that it would be the recumbent tandem trike, not our normal 2-wheeled up right tandem bicycle. We a greeted some of party and then took ourselves on to a second Ship and Castle Pub, getting slightly lost on the cyclepath on the way. Two others,Trevor and Mike, were already in the pub. Our whole group comprised leaders Sheila and Francis and Diane, Fleur, Tom, Mike, Trevor, Ken, Ken (furry), Derek (78), Kevin, Dave, Bryan and Helen (on a proper tandem), and us. We noted their mostly fairly lightweight solo bikes with some concern. We had previously told Sheila not to worry about delaying the rest of the group for us and in anticipation of this we had already fixed a ‘lanterne rouge’ sign to the rear of the trike, as we expected its great weight and our unfitness would keep us at the back of the group.
Day 2: Ouistreham to Falaise - 66km
Calm misty start, then fine and sunny with a slight northerly tail wind.
Disembarking from the overnight ferry at Ouistreham into the dawn and quite cold early morning air, we enjoyed the run along a canal-side path into Caen, with the mist rising from the water and frequent heron sightings. We stopped for coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat at the Pegasus Bridge café, which opened for us at 7am - lots of D-Day memorabilia. Arriving at the canal basin in the centre of Caen we stopped again for "breakfast" and to do some shopping for picnic ingredients.
After threading our way out of town we continued, rolling along through quite easy terrain with lots of gather up stops. The group pace quite varied, but a couple seemed to be slower than us up the hills. Elevenses was a roadside stop on the verge beside a mill stream. Promising start to the tour - our third refreshment sop and it was not even lunch-time yet. Lots of wild garlic by the roadside and plenty of large purple orchids. Sheila was trying out a route variation that turned into a bit of "rough stuff" that really slowed us down with our small 20" wheels, but Francis hung back to guide us through the various road junction turns. Then it was time for our picnic roadside lunch, at which point Brian and Helen discovered that hey had a split rim on their tandem. Closer inspection revealed that it was worn so concave that total collapse was also imminent.
We arrived in Falaise climbing up a short steep and cobbled streetv through an arch in the old town wall , while also admiring lots of wisteria on the houses. It was only 2pm, so we adjourned to a convenient café. Sightseeing included a stroll around the town and up to the castle where there was extensive renovation and rebuilding in progress. Bryan and Helen had a lucky and easy repair to their tandem by finding a bike shop with a suitable 26" mountain bike wheel in stock.
Good first dinner in our Logis hotel, with Gertie parked for the night in an open fronted garage in the hotel backyard.
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Day 3: Wild Flowers, Butterflies, Heatstroke and a Col Too Far - Col de Prélétang
Not a very early start and the morning sun was already feeling powerful.
But for a change it was an easier start today with a fairly flat and downhill run out of town to reach Pont en Royans, where we stopped to see the old houses perched on and in the cliff and hanging out over the river below. Lots of French cyclists out – and motorcyclists – because not only was it 'le weekend' it was also the French Pentecost bank holiday.
A short way from here we turned out of the valley and began stage one of the climb of the day. Unfortunately there was no shade anywhere as we climbed the cliff face hairpins at 8%, only managing 5 or 6kph in bottom gear. At one of increasingly frequent pauses we chatted to a passing French cycle tourist sporting the typical bar bag only luggage of such cyclists. The views back to the valley and cliffs were very scenic. At the roadside there was an absolute plethora of wild flowers including orchids, mountain asphodels and many more. Also dozens of butterflies on the wild thyme.
Eventually we reached the plateau top and stopped to eat our pain au raisins, then decided on a short detour to the village of Presles to replenish our empty bottles. When we arrived we stopped in a jazz bar there for cold drinks too and John had a nut tart.
Stage two of the climb was over a forested lump of hill rising from the plateau. Despite the trees, because of the overhead sun there was still no shade and the temperature was soaring. The small road had a rather rough surface and oscillated in gradient up to 10% rather than being evenly graded. We struggled to maintain 5kph and Sheila who was running on empty (1 pain au raisin not enough for a mountain day) bonked badly and decided to give up cycling as a pastime and sit on the roadside instead.
Sometime later we did actually reach the Col de Prélétang – nothing special and no view. It should have been downhill from here. Well it was but the road deteriorated into a broken surface with lots of gravel making braking and keeping the trike under control on the steep drop both difficult and slow. Eventually the road gave out altogether into a rough track only suitable for mountain bikes. We walked the trike steeply downhill for 2km until the road was just about rideable again.
Back on tarmac we swept down to Rencourel, where we stopped at a hotel for coffee. We spoke to the hotelier who explained that when our road was being resurfaced the local authority ran out of money so they just stopped part way. He was fairly caustic about ‘Wonderful French Administration’
A fast twisting descent followed taking us into the valley where we stopped for some chewies. Then it was downhill all the way along the Gorge de la Bourne. This spectacular gorge features in all Vercors tourist information photos. We sped along between the cliffs and in and out of a succession of short tunnels and snow and rockfall shelters.
Returning back through Pont en Royans once more we continued along the valley because Sheila had worked out that although a longer route home it would cut out a nasty climb. In fact due to some not understood arithmetic curiosity, this ‘longer’ route also turned out to be shorter.
We had a shower and collapsed.
Verdict on cycling in the Vercors: Stunning scenery, as good as any in France / choose cooler weather / nothing in Britain even vaguely to compare with the climbs.
No more cycling in the Vercors, the next day we were due to pack the car and head for the high Alps.
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