The Big Push towards the edge of the City
After a fantastic night’s sleep in the gorgeous surroundings of Les Chambres de l’Abbaye I woke up early, refreshed and raring to go – if a little nervous about the day ahead.
Heading downstairs the Italian party were up and about making final preparations so I took a look through Jean Francois’ art studio – an impressive addition at the end of the house stuffed floor to (high) ceiling with his various nudes (as was much of the rest of the house).
I had a spot of light breakfast on my own (the Italians had now finished and the others were not yet up) and then walked into the village to get some supplies for the day from the bakery. The choice was a bit limited but I got some bread and other sundry supplies then made my way back to the house. It only took a couple of minutes to pack up and load up and check the bike and was cycling out of the gates by 9am.
The Italians were taking a final look around the village so I stopped and said farewell (and pointed them in the right direction). As well as being beautiful, St Germer is also a key point on the Avenue Verte. At this point south the route splits. A longer, eastern, route takes riders on a seemingly busier journey through Beauvais and Chantilly but I was heading for the shorter, western route through a more rural landscape with few towns before hitting the outskirts of Paris where the town routes rejoin.
I had been considering the options of which route to take and had been undecided right up until my arrival in St Germer yesterday. Although I had been doing fine, the longer route would have added an extra 30 miles to the days ride and I was already having some concerns about the day ahead. Even with the shorter route I was already facing the longest day on the bike and knew there were a few hills ahead of me.
So at the sign where the route splits, and waving goodbye to the Italians who were heading the opposite way towards Dieppe, I started the process of getting lost leaving the village. A few short wrong turns later though I was on my way and approaching the next village of Neuf Marche. A fairly nondescript village it did however mark the start of the first big hill that had been concerning me. I needn’t have worried. The climb was steep enough but my legs must have strengthened up over the last few days. Compared to the climbs across the Weald on day two I actually found this easy going.
The top of the hill opened out onto a big expanse of open rolling landscape that reminded me somewhat of the Salisbury Plain – a place where I will always feel at home. The next few happy miles were spent speeding across the landscape, waving a cheery Bonjour to the large number of other cyclists out and about. Although I knew this wouldn’t last all day I made excellent time as I sang may way along and eventually down from the hills and into the town centre at Gisors for a break.
I pulled into the castle grounds hoping to have a good look around. However beyond the grounds, the castle itself was open by appointment only (and then only later in the day). After a quick wander around the grounds and a freshen up I was back on the bike. I had been hoping to find a shop in the centre of the town to finish stocking up but didn’t see anything. Leaving the town I did spot an ‘Intermarche’ supermarket but chose to continue on my way as I didn’t fancy going into a large supermarket. This was a mistake that I was to regret a number of times later in the day.
Instead I made my way straight down to the former Epte Valley railway line where once again the route takes riders along the old track bed. 13-14 easy going miles followed along the old railway line. There were lots of kids and families out enjoying the track on bikes and scooters which was excellent to see. It wasn’t hard to see why they would choose to come out here as we followed the lovely Epte river and passed through some beautiful and light wooded landscapes. Once again this section was over quickly and we soon came to the end of the old line in the village of Bray-et-Lu. Despite the claims on the guidebook maps that Bray had shops it was soon clear that this was not the case. There was a supermarket. It looked like it had shut for lunch. Three years ago. And never reopened. I was still OK for supplies at this point but could have done with some more water and I was going to be having a lunch of snack items rather than a proper meal. Not to worry though – there would be another shop soon enough on the route; for now I’d park myself on a bench by the war memorial and have a make shift lunch.
Leaving Bray it was back onto the roads and back into the hills. This was another big hill on the maps but as was the case at Neuf Marche I found it fairly easy going. Heading into the hills I bumped into another English couple I had seen briefly the day before; they were riding through St Germer whilst I was relaxing with a beer! They had gone on to Gisor that afternoon and were taking things quite leisurely. I had stopped to speak to them as they were parked up on the roadside so wanted to check that they were OK. It turned out that they were just waiting to use the roadside ‘facilities’ and had been waiting for me to pass! So leaving them to their business we wished each other a good trip and I continued up out of the valley and up on to the ‘Vexin’.
This was another section of beautiful rolling landscape and some lovely cycling on mostly quiet lanes. There were a couple of sections that were off road which the guidebook had suggested might be worth bypassing; however the surfaces were fine and were some of the nicest parts of the ride. The route across the Vexin passes through several villages. The guidebook had mentioned that this was an under populated area and this was borne out as I did not see a soul. This of course also meant no shops. Fortunately at this point the day was quite cloudy so I wasn’t getting through as much water or I might have been starting to get into trouble.
However by the village of Sagy there were still no sign of shops and my water bottles were empty. The route into Sagy had taken a final bit of rough track and this had been tough going on a very loose rocky surface. The sun had also come back out and was beating down quite intensely. I was starting to feel dry and hot and tired and hungry but all supplies were now exhausted. The climb out of Sagy was steep and this time I felt it. The climb continues for a few miles at this stage and continues into the suburbs of Cergy – where the route effectively enters the outskirts of Paris. Furthermore the directions during some of this section were a little unclear – the maps I had were not so good for the urban streets.
I was hot, hungry, thirsty, tired and a bit pissed off by now. I needed a break and I needed something to eat and drink. Seeing a sign for Cergy station, just a few yards off the route, I diverted hoping to find some shops. I soon spotted a branch of Subway. Far from ideal but beggars can’t be choosers. Oh hang on. Yes they can. A small supermarket grabbed my attention just past the station and I was soon able to get fully supplied up. Returning to the square by the station I found somewhere to sit on the edge of a raised flower bed. I was so relieved to be finally able to get some food and water that I didn’t even care when I spotted I was surrounded by assorted piles of dog muck.
Finally refreshed, and with supplies to see me through the rest of the day I got back in the saddle and re-joined the route. From here on in I had left the countryside behind me and was now starting my way through the outer Parisian suburbs. From this point on the signs also became a little more intermittent and the scale of the maps in the guidebook was not very helpful. I was OK for the first mile or so after Cergy and up to the diversion to take me to see the ‘Axe Majeur’ monument which was a mile off route uphill along another disused rail line. I took a quick wander around some of the upper sections of this rather magnificent set of sculptures set along a couple of kilometres of parkland. Unfortunately by now a haze had set over Paris and so I wasn’t able to make out the Eiffel Tower which I’m assured can be visible on some clear days.
After taking in the views I headed back to the main route and promptly got lost; heading onto some busy roads through some built up areas however I managed to keep a vague idea of the direction I was due to be taking and without any great mishap made my back down towards the River Oise where I re-joined the Avenue Verte path. A fairly simple riverside pathway led, with only minor diversions around the occasional industrial unit, towards the river’s confluence with the Seine. Ah Paris. Seeing the Seine, which is laid out in front of the cyclist here as it takes a large bend, looks magnificent and it was good to feel as though I might be getting towards the final leg. However I still had some miles to do today.
Before long the route takes it first crossing of the grand old river and then, to avoid a long dog leg around one of the rivers many big meanderings detoured ‘inland’. After a short section across some busy roads and along a path lined deep with nettles the track opened out into a nice track through the Foret St Germain.
The route here was pretty but, with loose surfaces, quite slow going until coming out the other side of the forest at Maisons Lafitte. Here the route re-joins some roads and cycle lanes to circumnavigate around the Chateau and back across the river and onto the riverside pathway once more.
The route from here was easy going but once again I was starting to get low on water and was getting tired now. I’d already done more miles than of the previous three days. The four days cycling was starting to take its toll and I still had a six or seven mile stretch along the river here before I could think about the final hill up to my hotel for the night. Despite the weariness the miles passed OK but I was tired and pretty much done for the day by the time I got to the bridge that would lead me back over the river away from the Avenue Verte route but towards my hotel for the night.
As I crossed the Seine for the third time I knew I was in for a climb, but blimey I had not realised how much of a climb. I had to follow a busy main road up towards Verseille. Therefore keeping on the pavement to the side I made my way up. And up.
And then up a bit more. In the end the hill turned out to be a three and a half mile solid climb and although not actually being a part of the actual Avenue Verte route, this was definitely the toughest climb of the tour being at least as tough as the climb up to Heathfield on day two but with the added difficulty of being at the end of the longest day’s ride.
Eventually however the hill plateaued out and indeed a short downhill stretch allowed me to largely free wheel my way to the Verseilles Mercure hotel where I checked in, showered and crashed out.
Day Four Stats:
- Distance: 80.32 Miles
- Ride Time: 6 Hours 10 minutes and 2 seconds
- Maximum Speed: 32.3 mph
- Average Speed: 12.9 mph
- Average RPM: 54
- Revolutions: 19,982
- Ascent: 2,228 feet
- Strava: http://www.strava.com/activities/173206463