Farewell to the Tour de France

After what turned out to be over 80 miles (112km) of riding the day before, I was feeling pretty tired so had a good sleep in. When I did finally get up, Auntie Val was still getting ready for work. It was good to have the chance to say a final goodbye before she left. I had breakfast, a shower, then packed my things to go. I decided to go a different way back to Leeds to avoid the hills and discover something new. I found the path that runs along the canal from Leeds to Liverpool. It was a lovely morning, with many other people out riding, walking the dog, jogging or boating down the canal. The path was narrow in places, leading under bridges, winding around corners but led me all the way back into the heart of the city. From there it was simple to find my way back to Grandma’s house.

My train back to London didn’t leave until the afternoon, so once I got back to Grandma’s we caught the bus into the city so she could show me around a little and have some lunch. It’s only been 18 months since I’ve been to Leeds, but even in that time it has changed quite a bit. There is a big new shopping centre that wasn’t there before. We went inside to have a look around. It has an interesting design of an all glass roof, which was being cleaned while we were there and I wondered if they are constantly having to clean it. It is also open at the top, which was great on a summer day but could be bad in winter, then again if you’re coming into the city on a cold winter’s day, you’re probably all rugged up anyway. We sat down for some burgers and shared some chips. After lunch we wandered through the mall and the markets on our way back to the bus stop. On the way I spotted a stall selling bags similar to the one I had been using for my luggage. After tripping all over Europe, mine was getting pretty tired so I bought a shiny new blue one.

Once we got back to Grandma’s house, I gathered my things quickly, loaded up the bike and cycled back to the train station. Grandma came down shortly after to see me off. It had been really great to spend some time with her again, and she had looked after me so well. I had to walk the length of the train to find the carriage for my bike, so I’m glad I was there with plenty of time to spare. Once I was onboard, I walked back through the train to my seat, waving to Grandma all the way as she walked along on the platform outside the train.

By the time my train arrived in London the race was run and won. Despite that, I still made a beeline for the Fan Park at Trafalgar Square where I was sure there would still be some activity going on. I couldn’t get my bike on the train to St. Albans until after 7PM anyway, so it was an ideal way to kill some time. The bike ride from Kings Cross to Trafalgar Square was fun on a fully loaded touring bike with a bunch of other cycling commuters, buses, taxis, cars… When I arrived the square was decorated in yellow and a replay of the finish was playing on the big screen under Nelson’s column. Bikes weren’t allowed inside, so after cycling around the square, I took a position on the terrace outside the national gallery with a perfect view overlooking the screen. A number of fellow (banished) cyclists had gathered. We chatted about the race, team Sky’s chances, the perils of riding in London and shared some cycling tales. After watching Kittel sprint to victory (again) I hopped on the bike and pedalled back through the London traffic to St. Pancras.

I caught the express to train to St. Albans which got me there about 7:30PM. By the time I got back to Simon’s place in London Colney it was about 7:45PM. It was great to see him again. I brought him up to speed on all my news as I unloaded a bunch of my TdF souvenirs that I didn’t need to take to Poland with me. Simon had also picked up a second CrossKing tyre for me. I had mistakenly ordered only one from Wiggle, so I ordered one at the local bike shop before I left for France for Simon to pick up while I was away. I was anticipating a bit of gravel paths in Poland, so I thought it best to change the Gatorskins for something with a bigger contact patch and more grip. Even though Simon had to work the next day, he had kindly offered to take me down to a B&B near Stansted airport. I didn’t want to keep him longer than I needed to so I pulled the old tyres off, left them there and took the new ones with me to fit later.

The drive to Stansted was further than I imagined, so I was really grateful to Simon for the lift. I still hadn’t eaten dinner, so we pulled into the services near the Stansted exit for some Subway. Just in case you were wondering, a footlong Honey Oat, Steak and Cheese with Chipotle sauce and all the salads tastes pretty much the same in Australia as it does in England. So do the cookies 🙂 The B&B I had booked into was actually in Bishop’s Stortford.  At first I was skeptical as we started driving into the village, but then we came to a large house that had been converted into a B&B. As we pulled up, a lady opened the door to greet us. Simon and I started pulling everything out of the Golf. Tent, pannier bags, bike frame, wheels, tyres… The lady (Annie) seemed surprised. She suggested that the garage was the best place for the bike, so she opened the door for me. There was a vintage car parked in there, a convertible called “Milly”. To be honest there wasn’t much room with the car, but I did manage to squeeze the Surly in next to Milly without any scrapes. I mentioned that I was going to put the tyres on, but Annie convinced me to do it in the morning. I was reluctant, but decided it wouldn’t be too bad to get up a bit earlier. I said goodbye to Simon and went inside to check in. Annie was a gracious host. The room was small, but ideal for what I needed. I even had my own bathroom. Incidentally “The Armstrong Lie” was playing on TV so I watched that before going to sleep. After cheering the current professional peloton over the last few days, then seeing this documentary on what will no doubt be known as the darkest days of cycling, it made me consider the contradiction. I really hope that era is past and the athletes we see today are the honest and clean heroes we can believe in.

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