Day six for Team Tandem Ecosse and wakening up in the splendour of the Hotel Saint-Pierre in Saumur, the sad realisation dawned that today was the final stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du tandem!
The sun was shining as Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon feasted on a wonderful continental breakfast, while looking over the maps and guide for the day for the last leg from Saumur to Angers.
The “bible” – the guide and detailed directions provided by French-based cycle touring company Cyclomundo – said: “Today’s journey gives you the opportunity to fully enjoy the beauty of the Loire Valley – discovering many scenic villages, medieval churches, chateaux, forests and rivers.”
Sounds idyllic – albeit a longish tandem of around 70km – but what could possibly go wrong?! Well the little matter of crossing the Loire at the wrong place and getting totally and utterly lost by going in completely the wrong direction, that’s what! But more of that later!
You can check out the details of our route on the sixth and final stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Saumur to Angers on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full scale map and statistics! Note where we crossed the river – while the planned route was to continue along the left bank of the Loire to Bouchemaine then up the side of the Maine river to Angers. And the actual distance covered was 72 km – but some bits missing due to operator error again!
As they say it all started so well as we tandemed out of Saumur on a blissfully sunny Sunday cycling along the banks of the magnificent Loire full of the joys of life. The first section was extremely busy with cyclists all fully kitted out in team colours, and then the “old git” noticed the road had all been very recently resurfaced and all the traffic calming and pavement areas had been spruced up. It was only when we stopped a bit further on were we told that this section had been used as the start of Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de France – the longest stage of this year’s race from Saumur to Limoges.
So this “old lady” can honestly now say she has tandemed along the Tour de France route – albeit just a few kms of it! And all the lycra clad fit cyclists were all part of the huge groups who cycle the whole Tour de France route just for fun! Not sure why the “old gal” was spending so much time ogling at the cyclists – but I guess it must have been their bikes she was looking at rather than their ultra fit bodies and steel like bums!
Soon we were in the town of Gennes which traces its history back to the prehistoric period as it has several dolmens – megalithic tombs – in the vicinty. More recently during the Gallo-Roman era it was a busy crossing point of the Loire. Today it was an ideal spot for a morning coffee for my dynamic duo, marking the 20km mark!
Back on the saddles we tandemed on taking in the amazing scenery of the villages and chateaux of the Loire before heading into Le Thoureil – which is known as one of the prettiest riverside villages. It was truly beautiful.
Then just about the 30km mark we entered the village of Saint-Remy-La Varennne and had to carefully negotiate our way round some slippy cobbled areas under a bridge – taking care not to fall in. This was where we saw a most unusual sign – warning cyclists of the dangers of pedalling into the water!
Maybe that took minds and focus off the map reading – but this is the point where things went very badly wrong – or at least in the wrong direction. Looking back at the “bible” afterwards the “old git” agrees it is at best confusing! And it wasn’t helped by the fact that there are two signed Loire a Velo cycle route options into Angers – although to be fair Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon were not aware of that at the time! But a little more time discussing the directions would have helped and ensured we headed the desired way!
So despite the map clearly showing we stay on the left bank of the Loire, the majority verdict (but not including me and the “old git”) conspired to rule that we cross the Loire on a busy bridge and head into the town of Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire where there were cycle path signs for Angers. “So it must be right, then”! Wrong!
We then headed off on totally the wrong cycle route to the maps and ended up tandeming away from the Loire inland. Again to be fair the “old git” realised we were going on the wrong route to Angers at this point – but the corporate decision was taken to keep going as it was signposted for Angers anyway. The chat on my dynamic duo’s walkie-talkies was somewhat fraught, as you can imagine the “old git” was not best pleased at this point – especially as we then cycled for dull km after dull km through uninteresting farmland. So dull that the most exciting thing that we saw was a field of asparagus growing – exciting as the “old gal” had never seen that before!
But even the “old gal” agreed that even the excitement of the asparagus didn’t remotely make up for missing picture postcard villages and riverside restaurant boats – called “guinguette” – and other highlights like Les Ponts-de-Ce – a town which has the characteristic of being crossed by three rivers – the Loire in the centre, the Authion at the north and the Louet to the south.
It would need to be said that this was a low point of Le Tour! However one benefit of the “wrong” route into Angers was a first for this “old lady” and indeed a first for both Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon was a trip on a self-propelled chain ferry!
All of a sudden the path we were tandeming along came to an abrupt halt at the river’s edge with a small boat at the other side. Closer inspection revealed a chain at a small concrete jetty and a sign (all in French) which indicated it was indeed a small self-operated chain ferry.
It seems we were on the Authion river, a canalised river which is controlled by 8 dams, which flows into the nearby Loire. So once the boat was pulled over to our bank I was loaded on board along with the two solo bikes and then both crews boarded before the “old git” took command and started to heave on the chain and pull us all across the other side. I was impressed as he quickly pulled the load of bikes and passengers across the almost still water to the other bank to allow us to disembark.
The “old gal” decided that Team Tandem Ecosse’s first trip on a chain ferry was way too good an opportunity to miss and decided to film the incident in a video the “old git” has dubbed: Who Pays the Ferryman?! Watch the video by hitting the play button below, spotting the now redundant map reader on the “old git’s” back! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)
Safely across the water we continued along the “wrong” cycle path for the last 10km to our destination. This involved pedalling through the startlingly bleak landscape of the former slate mines at Trelaze. But then we came into a picturesque forest stretch complete with more tree tunnels, and therefore a quick stop was required for another selfie.
And would you believe it – just as energy levels were dropping, and frustration levels were rising – we ended up tandeming the final few kms through an industrial estate desert. We also narrowly avoided a road which would have taken us on to the city motorway – which would have been interesting to say the least – as we headed into Angers the back way, thus missing out completely on the beautiful countryside around the confluence of the Loire and Maine rivers and along the Lac du Maine.
It was at this point that John had a full scale strop and decided to head off on his own, following his sat nav on his mobile phone, to the end point – the Hotel d’Anjou in Angers. The “old git”, the “old gal” and Nancy from Team Yukon gamely stuck together, cycling through some rather dismal backstreets before emerging into the centre of Angers.
A quick pedal down one of the main thoroughfares of the city and its was time for high fives and a euphoric cheers to mark the end of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. Except that there were only three people involved in that little ceremony as John was nowhere to be seen!
About 20 minutes later John somewhat sheepishly reappeared having got even further lost! Unfortunately for him when he headed off alone, he had simply entered the name of the hotel – and not its checked its address – and ended up a similarly named, but much more downmarket property, in a completely different part of the city!
It was still early in the afternoon and it was a beautiful warm day, so my dynamic duo decided to head off and follow the map in reverse to see some of what we’d missed and to have a private moment for Team Tandem Ecosse to celebrate the end of Le Tour on their own.
We headed down past the imposing Chateau d’Angers and easily found the “correct” cycle path which took us through the massive Park Balzac and down the side of Lac de Maine. And my crew were so glad they did as it was a gorgeous area which reminded the “old git” of Central Park in New York.
We all tandemed on a few more kms to the path down the side of La Maine river near where it joined the Loire at Bouchemaine to find an ideal picnic spot. Plenty of time too for a cool celebratory drink of Cremant de Loire – with the “old git” raising a toast to the “old gal” and to the fact that it is “truly always better when we’re together” – even after 18 hours in the saddle! Awww shucks!
While enjoying the fizz and the tasty picnic the “old git” checked my trip computer – with today’s 72 km stretch taking the total to 260 km for this trip. With a moving time of 18 hours, our average speed saw us tandem along at around 15 km / hr.
For Team Tandem Ecosse the whole journey is always very much the experience – its not a race to get to the next destination as quickly as possible – so with the multiple stops for chateau, wine tastings and picnics the total journey time was well over 30 hours. And for the record, our top speed of the trip was a staggering 58 km/hr – actually achieved on not one, but two separate occasions!
For the record, all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse – otherwise known just as Team Matilda when back home – had a tremendous sense of achievement and satisfaction – mixed with general knackeredness – at completing the trip.
And this “old lady” was fair chuffed when both “old gal” and the “old git” happily did a joint toast to “Matilda as she was the star”! Fortunately I managed to complete the whole trip with not even the slightest mechanical breakdown along the way – other than the holy trinity of a triple puncture – much to the relief of the “old gal” who didn’t need to use her skills as chief engineer!
After the last fabulous picnic of the tour we cycled back along the lake and through the park and into the city – with the “old git” having to use all his “pilot” skills to guide us through the rush hour traffic back to the hotel – and a final cheer to mark journey’s end!
At the hotel I was parked in an underground car park room especially for bikes, before Team Tandem Ecosse met up with Team Yukon’s John and Nancy again for a final toast to the Le Tour – opening another bottle of fizz in a lovely sun-kissed terrace. The “old git” and the “old gal” were almost moved into singing a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” Almost!
There was even some talk of my crew visiting the remote Yukon area of Canada – though quite how they will transport me there could prove a bit of problem. I mean, surely they wouldn’t go without me … would they?!
It was then time for my crew to enjoy a most welcome shower and change for an end-of-trip dinner. As it was Sunday many places were closed so the hotel restaurant was the venue for a celebratory meal – with the dynamic duo in the mood for some wonderful food. And to add to the celebrations the “old gal” decided that some local Saumur wine was in order – purely to toast the success of the trip!
What with all the Cremant this afternoon, and then the fruity red, whisper it again, but the “old git” and the “old gal” were just a tad tipsy by the end of the meal. But I guess that’s allowed to celebrate the end of the trip! After a quick check that I was ok, my dynamic duo retired for some much-needed sleep!
And although it was officially the end of the Loire Valley part of the trip, Team Tandem Ecosse are tomorrow heading north to the Normandy coast to a lakeside mobile home park in the shadow of the WW2 landing beaches near Bayeux – to meet up with our good friends, Ann and Jack, for a week’s rest and recovery! And after the intensity of the last week, that sounds like an enticing prospect!
There will however be time for a ‘Reflections of the Tour’ Musings …. as well as a couple of more leisurely tandem rides. So stay tuned!