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Building in Castres.

Cycling, unless you are going around in circles in a velodrome, is all about weight and power. We met a couple of touring cyclists that are off around the world. They were in a good mood, having just notched up their first 1,000k. They plan to combine their twin passions of cycling and kite surfing as they go. To this end, they are pulling a 40 kg trailer, with all the kite surfing toys in it, and then the bikes have the usual touring stuff.

Buildings on the River Agout in Castres.

Every time I buy a new bar of soap, I worry about the weight, and if it coincides with us replenishing the shampoo, then I am a bag of nerves about the detrimental effect on power to weight ratio. Weight or perhaps more correctly, mass is the enemy.

Castres.

As the slogan of ‘backpacking light’  ( one of our gear suppliers ) goes ” less weight, more fun “. I would love to be lighter believe me. As it is, the bike and I weigh more than last years Tour de France podium and the Schleck brothers combined weigh less than my panniers, and they are really worrying about weight.

Municipal gardens, Castres.

The Tour last visited Castres in 2007, and we were last here in 2,000, and in the years since, much like the rest of France, it has fallen in love with road furniture and the art of the one way systems. It is a near perfect day and Castres looks stunning and rather prosperous.

We camp in the Municipal Campground and would be clicking the ‘like’ button on any blog that was lobbying the Vatican for beatification of whoever conceived of such a wonderful system. It is very nice indeed and perhaps the most perfect example of Socialism. Less nice is waking to rumbles of thunder and falling rain of the big cold drops variety.

Bike path to Albi – well worth a ride.

We turn on the gps to track down the start of a cycle path that should take us all the way to Albi. The surface is good, it has stopped raining and all is well when we eventually find the path having done two and a bit sides of a triangle.

Strom clouds and bike path.

The village of Lautrec.

There are fields of Onions, and we pass through a farm where the smell is so strong they must have difficulty sleeping. There are more Jays flying here than I have ever seen. They pop out, dart along the path in front of us, and then head into the bushes with their usual screeched farewell.

French landscape.

Bike path to Albi, and approaching storm.

The weather has been putting on quite a show. Lightning and dramatic storm clouds have kept us focused on covering the ground. With just 10k to go our luck fails us and we are drenched with much bigger and even colder drops than the morning.

Voie Verte – French for bike path.

Less than totally happy.

The ‘kitty liter’ of the track surface now trys to get into and onto every rotating surface and grind it to alloy mush. It sounds terrible. We descend the evolutionary tree from smart to gutter tramps in a matter of minutes. We hide out in a Lidl store eating crap food. Parents are pointing at us and whispering to their children ” see what happens if you do not try hard at school “. We are getting colder and starting to shake, so we press on. Road grime and snot cover our faces as we hand over the credit card at an Ibis hotel.

It turns out to be money well spent, as it rains for a solid 12 hours. We brave the rain to go to the Toulouse Lautrec museum. Esther, who is not normally vindictive, has never forgiven me for not letting her go last time. So, bring on the culture. I gave her the choice of Cathedral or gallery last time, so now she has done both.

Albi and a flooded river Tarn.

Fog first thing, which is fine as it means no wind. By the time we throw right legs over and clip into the pedals, it is glorious. May the 1st, and within meters of our starting we are blocked by one of the functions of democracy that France does so well. People have taken to the streets to complain.

We are detoured around by Police who are enjoying the sun every bit as much as the protesters. We use the gps to hunt out a crossing point over the River Tarn and as a bit of a bonus find some quiet roads running parallel on the other side. Our luck continues as we drop onto a well marked bike route running just where we want to go. Oh gps, how I love you.

The Tarn is running fast and brown and staying just inside of its banks. It appears and then drifts away as we go through beautiful villages. Albi and the area around it is just about perfection. We could live here.

Coffee stop umbrella.

Just about one of the best day rides ever was unfolding quite by accident. The first Primroses of our journey turn up and then in such quantities that we must have missed them yesterday. Violets are next and then tall Orchids. This could I guess be called a holiday today and I usually hate to use that word to describe what we are doing.

Bike routes out of Albi south – you know you want to live here.

Lichen on a road sign.

Above the Tarn.

Roadside Orchids.

The perfect road.

We have only done 50 k but Esther wants to go no further. Finding a Municipal Campground all to our selves and with prices lower than we have ever seen clinches it. Villeneuve sur Tarn on the D53 is wonderful, and for an evening we have all.

Happy boy.

Cowslips by the dozen.

Well I have no reliable statistics to prove that this may be our best day ever on the bike. So I am just going to guess, and say ” yes”. I would give it a 10, in a sort of a Olga Korbut sort of way, so there.

Villeneuve sur Tarn.

Martins are flying in noisy mobs over the church as we make our final tea. In the morning things get serious as our road ahead is speckled with chevrons, which is never a nice thing.

Villeneuve  sur Tarn.

Municipal Campground to ourselves.

Evening in the village.

We turn away from the Tarn within the first 500m and onto the D76 to Requista. It climbs steeply and it does not have a chevron so heaven help us. 300m of climb and yes even the sprinters could get over this in the peloton, but it is hard work on cold legs.

Breakfast egg boiling.

Across the Tarn.

There are so many Cowslips here that the banks are carpeted yellow. It is 25’c and again we are climbing. Sheep have already been sheared and the grass is high and an intense ‘ Fuji ‘ green, not normally found in nature.

Climbing away from the river.

On the ridge, 500m up.

There in the road is a dead hedgehog. It got the evolution sorted very early on and even lived alongside the dinosaurs but is no match for a Peugeot on the D902. Early afternoon and our first Bluebells of our journey, just South of Pont de Grandfuel, so spring is well on here.

Happy sheep.

We keep on going up and now are amongst Oaks that are sparsely in leaf. This is hard climbing and paint on the road from the Paris Nice stage race that was here in March emphasises this. We get a cheer and applause from a lady walking her dogs and again from a driver who slows coming the opposite way. This is so special.

Road markings from Paris Nice.

Another great day on the touring bikes.

Bradley Wiggins was already in Yellow when he entered Rodez, back in March. We had already met him in January in Portugal and again here our cycling paths cross. He looks very pleased on the photos of him on the podium shortly after he got here. We were less so, finding the Campground ‘ Ferme!’. Rodez, you have let us down, so it is about turn to Ibis again.

Rodez Ibis by default.