The route towards the Arc de Triomphe would take us along the Route de Suresnes and Avenue Foch, following the blue line of the marathon I had run barely two months previously. This excited me enormously! Along the blue line, I became a little emotional, remembering my exhaustion and effort on that day in April, as well as my pride at achieving my target time!
This excitement, and the fact that the entry into Paris had turned me into a “tour guide”, probably seemed a strange development to those around me. As I have said previously, I love the city and have spent a good deal of time visiting, with the consequence that I know a reasonable amount about the place and it’s landmarks! I could hardly contain myself, pointing out this and that to those in our party, I wouldn’t have been out of place on an open-topped bus! Indeed, by the end of the brief visit to the capital, I had probably bored most of my colleagues to death!
We tried our best to stare at the Arc de Triomphe, yet remain as a tight peloton (strongly ‘encouraged’ by our Guides to “stay together”!!), whilst simultaneously blocking the traffic and occasionally flouting the laws surrounding traffic lights so as not to get separated! As we headed down the Champs Élysées, I realised that I had travelled in a bus, walked, run and now cycled down the famous avenue, yet never once driven there!
At George V, we turned right and headed for the infamous Pont de l’Alma, crossing the bridge in the midst of the early evening traffic. Negotiating the back streets on the opposite side of the Seine, we approached our final destination at approximately 6 o’clock on the warm, summery evening in June. The end was almost an anticlimax as we saw we would be welcomed in a corner of the Champs de Mars, in view of the Eiffel Tower, though not directly beneath it.
Colin had rejoined us, on a bike with no pedals (!), and as a group, poignantly led by Huw and Gavin Williams, we met our welcome party of friends, family, Jamie Roberts and of course Owen himself. There were hugs and kisses for many and the alcohol-free beers provided by PIE were more satisfactorily supplemented by the crate of champagne kindly supplied by Mr Roberts, who praised our achievements and willingly posed for photos with one and all!
Having congratulated my team: Adam, Andy, Dave, James, Jeff, Kerry, Lee and Matt and of course Richard who had set off with us, as well as many other new friends from the other groups, I tidied my bike to one side and waited. We had a few photos together before congregating and readying ourselves for the departure to the hotel, far later than scheduled.
Generally spirits were high, though deep down I felt we were all disappointed the ride was now over. Another 10 minute ride and our day was done, enough time however for Lee to pronounce his pleasure at having remained upright throughout, before promptly failing to correctly unclip on arrival at the hotel and hitting the deck! We handed our bikes to the PIE men, recovered our luggage and headed for the showers. The next time we would see our bikes would be in Cardiff on Monday, a strange feeling after spending four days attached to them!
The rooms were by far the plushest of the whole expedition, although there was no double bed for Adam to benefit from, having accorded me that honour in the Premier Inn in Frome! Showering and changing, leaving cleats and clothes trailing on the floor (in my case!), we met downstairs for the first beer of the celebration evening. Speaking with Chris and Duane, they expressed how pleased they were at having completed the ride and how they hoped some of the participants would join them at the Beddau Bike Club and continue the team spirit in the future. This was a sentiment echoed by most, and certainly Group 1 talked of meeting up again for future rides.
Far later than planned, we finally all left the (rather expensive) hotel bar and headed for the site of the evening meal, “Le Bistrot d’en Face”, an upmarket brasserie in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. Friends and family joined the meal, though our Group was supplemented only by the addition of Lee’s wife, Sarah, whose sense of humour fitted in perfectly well alongside the pre-established tone of our collective. Beer, Pastis and Wine flowed continuously as we celebrated over a similar meal to the previous evening – salad starter, chicken main, but this time with a crème brûlée pudding!
After the meal, Richard Holland gave an inspiring, and at times, comedic speech of congratulations and thanks to the participants and the families, before handing out medals and certificates to each and every cyclist who had left Cardiff three days previously. In the presence of Owen and the rest of his family, his father Huw then followed with a passionate and poignant speech of his own, touching emotions and demonstrating to us all just why we had signed up to this challenge at the outset. He, and the family are clearly thankful for the efforts, both on the bike and in the fundraising, and in turn the participants are equally glad to have made some kind of difference to the lives of this closely-knit family.
With the speeches over, a hardy group of ‘party people’ were rounded up by Jamie Roberts and whisked away in taxis for a night on the town! Group 1, of a slightly more ‘mature’ (older….) outlook, remained in the bar, with about half of the total group, who consumed liberally whilst enjoying traditional Welsh singing from Cardiff Blues very own Rhys Blumberg.
As the evening drew on, there were pangs of hunger among our cohort and I made an executive decision to twist the arm of Hervé, the bar owner to supply us with some plates of cheese, bread and more wine! Despite his insistence that the kitchen was closed, my inside knowledge that any French brasserie will always have a good stock of cheese on its premises allowed me to persist with my request, which eventually bore fruit…..or at least cheese….to the relief of our table of ravenous cyclists, who had plenty of lost calories still to replenish!
James, Matt and I finished our “soirée” at the bar, trying to coax the owner into a little English speaking, and freshening up our palates with the unmistakable minty-freshness of the alcoholic liquor which is Get 31! With the time past 3am, it was time to leave the premises and head out into the humid French night.
Before hitting the sack, I wanted to see the Paris skyline at dusk from one of my favourite vantage point in the city, the Trocadero, just opposite the Eiffel Tower. To my surprise a band of four (Matt, James, Kerry and Jeff) wanted to join me on my mini-adventure, although they soon regretted the decision after more than 5 minutes walk on tired legs in the dark, accompanied only by rats and youths smoking drugs….. Jeff also seemed unsure where we going exactly, having misheard my explanation and expecting to arrive at a chocolate factory!
Nevertheless, we made our way over the Seine and up the steps of the Trocadero to survey the scene. Paris by night is always an awesome sight, although perhaps slightly less impressive at 4 in the morning when the Eiffel Tower, along with most other monuments in the city, are no longer illuminated. Still, for me, it capped the days activities perfectly, although we were all ready for a sleep by then, some more than others!
10 minutes later, we had re-traversed the river and arrived back in the hotel lobby, eyes closing and sleep just moments away…. Cardiff to Paris on a bike. Done.