3 days in France

Searching for Napoleon.

Whilst the French are keen on revolutions, the fixie is not a French cultural phenomenon. Track bikes are for the velodrome to be powered by monsters such as Gregory Bauge, bulging legs crushing huge gears, not spinning and bobbing on the descents of Normandy.

Passing motorists eye me with fear on the descents and suspicion on the climbs aware, by instinct, of my non Gallic ancestry.

This is day 3 of our journey between St Malo and Cherbourg. A journey that will total 215 miles and almost 240,000 revolutions of my gear, and a hunt for the famous statue of Napoleon that overlooks La Manche towards his nemesis.

The overnight ferry from Portsmouth delivered us, bright and early, on the waterfront at St Malo. Ship to breakfast involved a not promising diversion in the wrong direction. Once the internal compass had been reset by a combination of butter and coffee, and some consultation of the map, it was off onto the coast roads of Northern France.

The route may as well have been signposted in Chinese symbols, resulting in multiple diversions, laps of small French towns and general confusion and navigational mayhem.

This was a good distraction from wildly spinning legs on the slight descents as those with gears yo-yo’d back and forth in time with rolling road. Looking down I could see the bike spinning my legs and magically producing forward motion, the beauty of a shortish gear!

As the road flattened and the scenery absorbed the attention my mind drifted from the perpetual motion. Day 1 no sign of Napoleon, but the word is that he’s further north.

Day 2 opened with rolling hills to Granville. North. The group had a gung ho approach, quick down, quick up to an early coffee stop. One day’s pedalling had hypnotised us into a false sense of riding ability.

Joining the busy coast road brought the wind on to our faces. A passing tractor promised shelter, the knowing driver slowing to let me into the slipstream. Oh yes, the fixed gear, sudden acceleration to jump to the tractor left me spinning too fast to put my bottle back into its cage. Pedalling with the knees out didn’t help, bottle between teeth, precariously balancing free speed with involuntary instability!

As the road stretched on and on the sun burnt off our early enthusiasm, lunch was constantly rolling away from us over the horizon. Like the bunch chasing the day’s breakaway we struggled to bring it to heel. All this work left us with but a short roll through the lanes after lunch to finish the day. Still no sign of the short man.

Day 3 was hot before the start, and featured an early detour to the local lighthouse, up the steepest climb of the day. With a healthy respect instilled we worked our way to the most northerly point of the ride. Dropping down to the sea and a taste of fresh sea mist.

Left to Cherbourg, 30km. This unleashed us, this, and a handful of Haribo with the resultant sugar rush. Up and down, along the coast, through villages, up shaded climbs, the sea mist over our left shoulders, the hot sun on our right.

All too soon the less picturesque suburbs of Cherbourg were upon us. We rolled into town on the cyclepath with a quiet pride, conquering our challenge with a cheerful ease. The Garmin beeps and surrenders, and we round the corner to see Napoleon astride his trusty mount… “This isn’t the right one,” says Matthew.

Small bloke on a horse