I suppose this is about cycling, but it's probably more about the French and their attitude to life, eating and drinking, cycling and a pride in their own area.
Right, to start with, I've found out why France is in the state it's in. It's their young people.
There's something wrong with them !
The boys, for example ( and I mean Club 18-30 candidates) don't get pished and rip off their tops at the drop of a hat or the blink of sunshine. Hardly any of them are tatt'ed up to the eyes and I've yet to hear them talking to their buddies 200 meters away without a phone. The black boys are French and black and the white kids are French and white. They do drink, I've seen them ! But they don't seem to be able to start fights with anyone. Probably because they can't give out abuse to all and sundry at all times.
What they need is a good dose of paranoid self-hatred like our honest British kids.
And the girls ? Do none of them know what a right slapper is ? Because I've yet to see one. Like the boys, they're peculiarly unmarked with obscene tattoos. And they definitely have no fashion sense. The silly besoms wear clothes that fit them, for Christ's sake ! They're all skinny bitches anyway. Even the fat ones must be on something because they look happy and get lots of attention and seem to be enjoying themselves. I don't think any of them would know how to walk with one broken 9 inch heel and vomit into the street at the same time. Poor things !
And the eejits think they're having a good time just because they have a joke with old people and talk about food and drink and sports and ask them questions and nonsense like that.
Xenophobia's probably all Greek to them. And they're just showing off by speaking English !
You know what else is wrong with them ? They're intelligent, educated, polite, confident and independent. And they do have a sense of humour.....Weirdos !!
There you are then, that's 40% of the participants in the 2013 Anjou Velo Vintage dealt with. The rest were just French with some English, Dutch, Italians and a few Yorkshire renegades.
The whole thing is apparently well funded by the Bureau of Tourism and it shows in the slick organisation. I booked on-line months ago( to get a good discount ! ) but you could actually book yourself in on the day. You get a musette with some goodies in it and a bracelet to wear ( I still can't get mine off ) which you present at the feeding stops where you get offered wines, drinks and lots of food. And a plaque d'immatriculation to put on the bike. I took my 1947 Flying Scot.
And a copy of the email exempting me from the "no handlebar mounted gearchange" regulation. Sure enough, the bike attracted a fair bit of attention, the Sturmey Archer system being a good conversation piece. Although curiously enough, on some of the stalls offering new "city bikes" a lot of them are now using modern Sturmey Archer components which is considered to be "tres chic".
It felt pretty odd for me to have someone wheeling an immaculately chromed Rene Herse past and stopping to talk about my Flying Scot. Quite a few times it was just a case of nodding approvingly and giving the handlebars a wee clap.
There was everything from Penny Farthings to triplets and everything else. Here's a shot of some of the bikes parked up the night before.
Here's a selection of some of the other machines...
The flying bottle, I admit, was only seen cruising round the village.
But some of the other machines I saw being ridden would have given certain VCC members serious envy attacks.
And no French cycling event is complete without a "Caravane Publicitaire" of some sort. Here's some....
Then of course, the riders...
Yes, that is a rifle over his shoulder !
Good to see Tommy Simpson remembered, even if he was riding a Flying Gate.
The guy in the striped shirt and false side whiskers is the Maire of Saumur, who completed the 46km run. Can you imagine a Lord Provost of Glasgow doing something like this. Perhaps senses of dignity and humanity are incompatible. A Lord Provost actually mixing with people ? And not a freebie in sight ? Highly unlikely !
And there's got to be music, hasn't there ? And if there's going to be music, there's got to be dancing. This is Elle and the Pocket Belles giving us some serious Swing ! Check out a member of the Purple Gang doing the Bunny Hug. The next time I saw him, he was bowling along on what looked like a butcher's bike with a smoked ham and a couple of bottles of wine in the front basket. If I had any shame, I wouldn't admit to the fact that he overtook me.
The longer runs were flagged off a 10am by Raymond Poulidor and leading the peleton was Joop Zoetemelk a Tour de France winner. It's not everyday you sign a start sheet with someone like that, is it ?
The run was "neutralised" for the first few kilometers and we had to stay behind the lead cars like these...
We followed the left bank of the Loire for a bit where I came upon Peter Stray from the VCC who along with a few others was making a weekend of it.
The Loire at Saumur, makes the Clyde look like a burn, doesn't it ? Mind you, the Clyde knocks it into a cocked hat when it gets to the Firth. Still one of my all time favourite views.
And how about this for a place to rest your head ?....
Christ's Cock ! These Lords of the Loire were no small beer !
There are loads of them too. After 10 kilometers or so we were all funnelled into a kind of hole in the ground. The French seem to have a thing about holes in the ground. We build houses over them and deny that they were ever there when the houses start falling down. The French turn them into houses, dungeons, secret fortresses ( the one at Chateau Brézé is the biggest in Europe apparently) wineries and places to grow mushrooms. They also store cheeses and wines....and who knows what else ?
In this one they were dishing out all manner of drinks, Coke, Fanta, fruit juices, water and a selection of local wines. Then there was various breads, biscuits and fruits. They even had a wood fired oven going, turning out foueés which are a kind of local delicacy. They're actually a form of ancient flat bread like pitta bread, but straight out the oven, stuffed with pork rillettes and cornichons, they could be addictive !
I certainly restrained myself as I correctly figured out we were now heading away from the Loire and into hills. Not killer hills, but definitely hills !
I snatched this photo hoping to show the glasses of wine being offered but such was the good-natured scrum I failed miserably. But believe me, wine was consumed in large quantities !
This was lunch, served up "sur l'herbe" at Chateau Brézé where we were entertained by a kind of brass band who were playing a version of "Dock of the Bay" when I turned up.
This is maybe, maybe not, a wee video clip of the band knocking out an interesting version of "Amazing Grace" Very Pleasant !
Now, I'm not going to go on and on and describe the rest of the route and the chateaux and caves and what not. Somebody that can write will probably do that properly for you. The rest, in no particular order are just memories and impressions I took from this event. I'll put a link in at the end so that you can see the official site and see much more expressive photos than mine.
I did originally intend to just do the 46km run, but by good chance I managed to miss the turn for the shorter route and ended up doing the full 87 km. This, I think, happened when I got into company with a Yorkshire couple who had spent the previous week cycling along the Loire on a sort of package holiday with hired bikes and luggage moved on from hotel to hotel for them. Very civilised ! We were blethering away and they told me that they hadn't actually officially entered the event and were just out for a wee last run before they went back home the next day. They'd been doing a maximum of about 50km a day and were getting a bit anxious about the length of the run they were on. "Not at all" I assured them, "just follow the arrows at the roadside and you'll be back in Saumur in no time" However, a feed stop turned up where I wasn't expecting it and when I asked, I found out that we were on the 87km route and had still about 40km to the Arrivee ! They weren't in any real distress so I didn't feel too guilty about sneaking off and leaving them to find their own way back. They did have satnav with them. I'm sure that they'll really thank me someday.
I'll never forget the welcome everyone got in even the tiniest of villages. Several times I was riding through a hamlet and the kids were lining up at the sides of the road holding out their hands for high fives. In parts of the UK they would be lobbing bricks at you !
And every cross road and junction was manned by volunteers with red flags to stop other traffic to give you priority. And nobody threw nails on the road as they've done recently in Scotland on a cycling event.
Just as a shower set in I started climbing the two hardest climbs of the whole route and I started thinking "Just like Scotland !" But halfway up there were a bunch of kids sitting on a wall cheering me on and a guy, probably their father, offering me a glass of wine or a drink of water.
"No, this isn't Scotland !" I realised.
Almost at the end we were drawn into the estate of Maison Bouvet-Ladubay a highly prestigious sparkling wine producer. I was carefully walking my bike through the almost completely dark cave when I started to hear organ music. You know, Phantom of the Opera type organ music, and as I went on it got louder and louder until as I emerged into a vast underground chamber an incredible female voice burst into song. You had to have been there. It was an unearthly experience. I don't think I'll ever forget it. And the glass of sparkling white never tasted so good !
So I was thinking that was a grand day out, I'll soon be back at the start and I'll just get packed up and make my way back to the hotel. Not at all !!
We were directed along this avenue that had been covered in a red carpet and before we went under the Arrivee arch we had to pass crowds of people sitting in a spectator area or leaning over the barriers cheering and clapping. No wonder the ancient Romans had a slave in the chariot constantly whispering in the Victor's ear when the Senate had granted a Triumphant parade through the city of Rome, " Remember, Master, you are only mortal !"
The CTC York Rally should have taken place over this weekend, but was cancelled at short notice because of funding.
People will ask how the Anjou Velo Vintage compares to the York Rally.
The similarities were, there were lots of people on bikes, it rained a bit, and you could spend money !
York Rally has lost direction for me for a long time now. I agree that there's more to cycling than riding a bike but for me York Rally has just turned into a boozy weekend that you take a bike to. Nothing really wrong with that. But York Rally doesn't involve the people of York like the Anjou Velo Vintage does The people of Saumur. The Anjou Velo Vintage is a genuinely heartfelt Celebration of Cycling in all forms whereas the impressions I get from York are that we are only grudgingly tolerated because we're there in a sizeable number and pay out a lot of money for the privilege. There's absolutely no love for the bike in York nowadays....was there ever ? I didn't detect a hint of hostility at all during the Anjou event. I couldn't say that about York !
Anjou Velo Vintage is for The People, York Rally is for cyclists, and is on it's last legs.
Despite what the media says about cycling in UK becoming popular, it's at the moment fashionable and the bubble will bust pretty quickly. Mark my words.
The UK has too many problems within itself as a nation. It'll take many generations before the British can discover the qualities that could have made it a Great nation rather than just a rich one.
I said I would put in a link for the official Anjou Velo Vintage site so just click here and you'll see.