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Cycling England Europe

London to Paris sur une Bicyclette Day 1: Crystal Palace to the White Cliffs of Dover

An inauspicious start to the day when our mini cab driver arrives at our flat early, aborting my attempt to make coffee, then drops us at the wrong end of Crystal Palace park, leaving us roaming for 30 minutes looking for the starting line. Lose luggage tag and woman-from-the-future special bicycling sunglasses (later retrieved in the parking lot) in the process. When we finally do arrive at the check-in point I suggest to support staff they invest in some signage for future events in a tone verging on shouting. None of them gets hooked, which is a good sign: clearly they are well versed in dealing with drama queens, a skill that will come in handy over the next few days.

The whole thing reminds me of the time husband ran the Napa Valley marathon and we drove 26 miles from our hotel in Calistoga at 6am wondering why there was so much traffic going in the opposite direction so early in the morning. When we arrived in Napa we learned we were at the Finish line, so we stormed back up the highway to Calistoga arriving just as they were disassembling the Start line bunting. Support staff telephoned ahead to their colleagues to keep the first water stop open, and husband ran off into the morning mist like Forest Gump. He was so freaked out he finished in his fastest time ever, just over four hours.

Our late start doesn’t inspire such speed on the first day of our cycle ride. 90 miles later we arrive in Dover in the bottom 3 of our group of 70-odd, not counting the handful of people who got a lift in the van. The other laggard is someone I will come to know as smoking man thanks to his habit of lighting up at the top of hills. He and a rotund chap who wears his sweatpants tucked into his tube socks will become my frequent companions at the back of the pack on day 2.

90 minutes later we arrive by ferry in Calais and convoy the 1o or some unwelcome additional miles to the Holiday Inn on the outskirts of town. Young men with long hair and earrings step out from bars with names like Le Crypte, whistling at us and inviting us for a drink in accented English. This is the closest I will come to knowing what it feels like to ride through a French town on the Tour de France, so I savour the moment.