Carhaix-Plouger -> Loudeac. 79km (22.4km/h) __ HR112(140)
Out into the darkness once more. I had a couple of riders on my wheel and as soon as we were out of the town you could see flashes of lightning in the distance. A couple of riders ahead of me U-turned and headed back to the control but I felt like I’d already faffed enough and wanted to press on. One of the riders with me turned out to be Martin Lucas of Willesden CC. The other was a German wheelsucker with deep section Zipp wheels. (I later found out he’d been sitting in on another Brit group on a previous stage – they’d nicknamed him “Deep”.) After about 10km we passed through a little village and the rain started to get more intense (as did the flashes of lightning ahead), so I stopped to put on a rain jacket. Martin did likewise and the German waited for us to faff about (he didn’t speak a word of English but seemed to think he could make conversation by talking to us in German, which neither of us could understand). It wasn’t long before the rain got so heavy that it was becoming ridiculous to ride in – the road was awash.
Martin and I spotted a couple of barns just off the road (here) and we made a dive for shelter, accompanied by our shadow. The barn was full of very smelly chicken feed. It stank and there wasn’t anywhere to sit down. We found a few old planks of wood and made ourselves as comfortable as we could. After about 40 minutes the German had had enough and headed out, just as the rain got really intense again! We must’ve spent about 2 hours in there. Martin got a little sleep but I couldn’t, I was too cold and damp. The rain eased and Martin decided to head out (although I think we could’ve left earlier – there was some machinery running somewhere else in the farm that sounded like rain falling – as a result in the night we didn’t realise for a long time that the rain had eased off). I tried to get a little more rest but gave up and headed out about 10 minutes after Martin. He managed to get some sleep at St-Martin-du-Pelem, but I’d perked up a bit by then and rode straight through to Loudeac, in the slight rain that was still falling.
There were masses of white lights coming towards me – the tail-end of the 90-hour group and the 84-hour starters. It was often difficult to see the edge of the road but I made it safely over the hills here, past a couple of villages with all-night parties going on and down into Loudeac where I got my next stamp and some more coffee and another sandwich + yogurt.
Loudeac -> Tinteniac. 86km (25.0km/h) __ HR112(135)
There was just a hint of dawn breaking as I left and I was perking up a bit. The wind had died completely and although it was still very damp in the air I pressed on over these flatter roads. I was surprised to still be meeting small groups of riders on their way out to Brest here – they must have been the very tail-end of the 84-hour starters, struggling against the time limits already. I was passing quite a few guys in ones and twos and quickly bounced through the secret control at Illifaut, barely stopping at all for the non-control at Quedillac, just to ask to make sure I didn’t need a stamp there. There were a few long climbs after that which took the pace off my ride somewhat and then I was rolling back down the hill into Tinteniac, under grey skies. My fingertips were starting to look like I’d been too long in the bath but fortunately after this point the weather perked up a little.
I stopped at Tinteniac to change into some clean shorts, although they were only my old Endura pair, I was sorry that I’d damaged the newer pair in the first stage accident but I packed them into my saddlebag anyway. I picked up a couple of ham “sandwiches” here, stuffed one in the saddlebag for the Fougeres stop and ate the other with a couple of coffees. There was a guy in a Wales MTB jersey here who stopped for a chat (I think it might have been Ray Robinson, who finished in 55 hours). We were both bemoaning the fact that we’d ridden so far and yet there was still 370km left to ride! We also couldn’t remember whether it was the next stage that was hilly or the one after that. As it turned out, the next stage *felt* hillier but looking at the profiles, there’s not much in it.
Tinteniac -> Fougeres. 54km (23.8km/h) __ HR110(132)
I left the control slightly before Ray but he soon caught me, inviting me to sit on his wheel for a bit but I was too wasted to hold it and had to let him go. He was pedalling quite slowly in a large gear, making it look easy. My change of shorts were feeling very uncomfortable – worse that the ones I’d just taken off – and it took most of the next two hours for me to get comfortable in them. The roads along here were quite pleasant – not too heavily trafficked and through some nice countryside. There were a couple of busy roundabouts to negotiate on the outskirts of Fougeres to cross the RN12 which I didn’t enjoy, and then I was rolling through the mid-morning traffic to the control.
Fougeres -> Villaines-la-Juhel. 88km (23.1km/h) __ HR110(134)
I was feeling knackered and knew I needed to get my head down for a bit so I munched my way through my saved sandwich, set the alarm on my phone for half-an-hour’s time and put my head down on the table. This was all the actual sleep I got in the entire ride, oops. I felt better for it though and was soon on my way out of the town, through the horrible one-way system. A Brit rider in a blue top got chatting along here. He said he was from Watford (where I was born). (Looking at the results I think he must’ve been Phil Nelson. Both he and Ray Robinson had managed a decent kip at Carhaix, where I hadn’t – that was to cost me dearly in these latter stages of the ride.) He was cruising along waiting for a pack of Germans who were riding as a team. They came past shortly after and although I was able to ride with them for a few kilometres, as soon as the road went uphill I had to bid them goodbye and settle back into my steady trundle.
There were a few kilometres of good fast rolling road before we diverged into some more rolling terrain and some more nice countryside – hills and trees and small villages. I was interviewed by a cameraman on a motorbike along here. He seemed a bit stumped that I was English, but asked me how it was going, what I was thinking about etc. I can’t say I had much to say of any great note, I was quite tired!
The sun came out briefly and my sunglasses went back on. The road surfaces started to get very tar-and-chip. There were a couple of very hard, long climbs towards the end of this stage, not helped by the heavy road surfaces, and I began to wish I’d fitted fatter tyres than the 23c ones I had on. I got caught in a little shower of rain, almost refreshing. The end of this stage had been quite testing for me and it was good to reach Villaines.
Villaines-la-Juhel -> Mortagne-au-Perche. 81km (23.8km/h) __ HR118(130)
Martin Lucas caught me as we came into the control. He was with Nick Jackson and they were going to stop for some food (in a food hall across from the control that I never discovered!). I said I’d leave before them and they’d almost certainly catch me up as I was only plodding along. I got some coffees and pastries, as I’d done on the way out, and topped up my bottles with almost the last of my carbo powder before heading out on the road. There was a very enthusiastic “announcer” here who insisted on commentating on everything going on. I’d made the mistake of parking my bike almost opposite him, so my carbo-mixing got the full French commentary. I decided to wait until I’d got out of town before downing a couple of caffeine tablets in case that got commentated on too!
There were some gently rolling roads along here. After about 10km a small group caught and passed me, just as I was, in turn passing a couple of French men, one of whom I recognised as Richard Leon, on his 8th PBP. Nick and Martin caught me on the fast straight road that followed. I couldn’t hold their wheels and let them go although I think they slowed a little for me and I got back on. We sped along some very fast roads here with quite a cross/tail wind, zooming down the hills, all tucked in, all the way to the next town where I was a bit more cautious of the traffic than them and they got the jump on me at a set of lights. There were some more nice roads towards Mortagne-au-Perche, although the town itself never felt like it would arrive! I was caught (very slowly) by another rider who was a bit crap on the descents. He was on a lightweight bike though, and made easy work of the hills, eventually gapping me on the long, long climb into the next control.
Mortagne-au-Perche -> Dreux. 75km (24.4km/h) __ HR104(132)
Martin was still here, but all for making a quick exit and said he’d be leaving at 8:30pm (I’d checked in at 8:08). I managed a quick coffee and banana and top up of my bottles before checking my lights and getting going. It was painful to watch Nick get on his bike though – he could barely lift his leg over the saddle. We rode steadily out of the town and into some heavily forested climbs. I was beginning to think we’d be stuffed for a sub-60-hour finish if it was all as hilly as this, but Martin assured me it levelled out soon enough. Nick was having problems with his lights and while I slowly winched myself up the climbs, Martin would hang back to pace Nick up to me again. Nick seemed to be having some absences – at one point as Martin was slightly ahead on the road and Nick was riding beside me by the light of my Solidlight he suddenly said he had to visit a friend and dropped off the pace. I rode up to Martin who declared he’d had enough of this nonsense and the two of us rode on into the falling night.
Martin really stepped on the pace as we hit the flat roads and we were soon shooting along. I munched another apricot Overstim bar, but that only gave me a bit of indigestion for a while and I slowly let Martin’s red tail light disappear into the distance. There was about 25km or more of fast flat road (tar and chipping mind you though – the villages en route provided relief by being smooth tarmac). I felt like I was going reasonably well, but every so often a fast German or Italian on a pure road race machine would creep past, going slightly faster still. I still realised I was making good time though and started to relax, seeing the orange glow of Dreux in the distance. At one point the ISS made a pass overhead (I had to check I wasn’t hallucinating that, but it *was* a lovely starry night). The last few km into Dreux were a bit convoluted – a taste of the stage to come – and then I was rolling down the cycle path to the control. It felt like the middle of the night but it was only just past 11:30pm.