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La Route des Monts

Two rides over the August Bank Holiday – part two, the La Route des Monts

A weekend of rides based in the Nord de Calais region of Northern France featuring
the third edition of the Laurent Desbiens Sportif (Ch’Ti Bike Tour) and La Route
des Mont, located in Armentieres close to the Belgium border.

La Route des Monts
Organiser Didier Soenen told us after we had completed the Laurent
Desbiens Sportif
that the ‘La Route des Monts’ ‘would be a completely different
day’. Our tired legs at the time hoped that by ‘different’ he meant less hard.

A lion for the day? More like a
moggy to be honest

Our LondonCycleSport team saw Andrea and Emma deciding to sit out this ride, (And to take pictures of the cycle festival) whilst Neil Simpson and myself
decided on an easy day in the saddle.

As before we arrived late (After a leisurely breakfast) and set off 30 minutes
behind the rest. With Neil spinning on the small chainring we purred along following
the way marked route. There is something wonderful to be on unknown roads and
to be directed so well, although we did miss one arrow and did a small detour.
You soon know when you are off course when event signage stops!

Unlike the Laurent
Desbiens Sportif
there were no marshals to stop the traffic and we had to
be careful. The local drivers we did come across on the quiet roads gave
us plenty of room.

Neil did most of the work on the front and I occasionally went through so that
I could play at being a ‘Lion of Flanders’ too. It was easy to imagine the Spring
Classics being played out over these very same roads and that added to the pleasure.
When we reached the junction for the 77, 110 and 145k rides we did have a quick
debate whether to do the longer one as we were enjoying ourselves so much. Finally
we decided to stick to our plan of riding the 77km and continued onto the feed
station where friendly cries of ‘Anglais’ went up as soon as they saw us. One
ride official told us that he had ridden cyclo-cross at the Gemini Christmas
Cross in the past. (It’s a wonderful small world)

Neil was our motor

We passed so many war cemeteries that the ride could have been called the
Tour of the ‘WW1 Monuments’, the area being the bloody Ypres Salient, a stretch
of flat countryside held by the British and their allies that jutted out
into the German lines. Many of the cemeteries were small, men buried where they
fell, and oddly named, such as ‘Railway’ or ‘Motor Car Corner’.

We wondered where the ‘Monts’ were, and found out later that they were grouped
together on the longer rides. With over 40 kilometres to go, Neil slipped onto
the big chainring and we sped past the flat countryside for what was to be kilometres
of thrilling riding.

With both of us seemingly possessed by Flandrian cycling folklore we maintained
a fast pace and caught rider after rider; soon a French rider joined our train
and, with increased firepower, we steamed along, flying through corners as we took
it in turns to act as look out and then to slip to the back of the train.

Our ‘train’ collected over 15 riders, some of whom were passengers, and if you waited
too long for them to go through and fill the gap the lead wheels were lost and
you fell back. I must have jumped across covering for a ‘passenger’ more times
than I could remember. It was hard work and a thrill to be able to do it.

We saw plenty of Meher bikes out on
the road, also Wilier seemed popular as were Pinarellos.
But it is interesting to note how many local brands there were in this hotbed
of cycling. My ‘Spesh’ was one of only two I saw all weekend,
so unlike the case in the UK

We had orginally made the decision to take it easy on this ride, but I guess
we just got caught up in the moment.When we did catch those out for a gentle
ride they cheered us on, we were all out to enjoy ourselves and no would seemed
to begrudge our day as ‘Lions of Flanders’. Our group lost members until there
was just four of us left and I do believe we all began to eye each other over
seemingly for the finish in Armentieres. One rider jumped on a motorway bridge,
but with a grimace and plenty of pain, I jumped on his wheel and then attacked,
only for a set of traffic lights a few hundred metres ahead to pull us up.

Now only three of us remained and Neil said he would lead me out, I nodded,
we really were playing Tour of Flanders, but… as we entered the finish location
at Armentieres we had to brake, and ride gently through the crowds out enjoying
the festival atmosphere and swarming over the finish line. We smiled and yes,
Didier had been right, ‘it was different’.

Whilst the Laurent
Desbiens Sportif
had been all but in name a race, La Route des Monts
offered a relaxed day that you could ride at your true chosen pace. We had
decided to play ‘Lions of Flanders’, but we would have probably have enjoyed
it just as much if we had pootled round.

I have the notion that the Ch’Ti Tour weekend could see people riding the Laurent
Desbiens Sportif
and then next day joining those with a different type of
Sportif in mind and with a less intense feel. The countryside isn’t breathtaking,
but it has enough cycling and historic folklore to make up for the endless cabbage
fields.

Information
The Ch’Ti Bike Tour weekend, featuring the Laurent Desbiens and La Route des
Monts, is based in Armentieres and is accessible by Eurostar or plane to Lille.
We chose to drive there via Dover/Calais and it took about two and half hours.

Websitewww.lechtibiketour.org

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