Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Cycling in the Charente

I have had a few people ask if I could expand on my cycling experiences following my post about joining the Velo Club de Jarnac.

As you may know I joined the cycling club during the winter and was a little apprehensive about a) my ability, b) riding in a group and c) my bike.

Well, it turns out that my fears were unfounded and I've really enjoyed being a member of the "poissons rouge" as they are known.

We went out on each Sunday morning throughout the winter and there would usually be 20-30 of us.  We would set off as a group and then after half an hour or so the peloton would split into two with the "racers" (cyclosportifs) going off the front and the "non racers" (cyclotouristes) dropping behind.

I would do my best to stay with the racers and usually managed to do so - simply because the season hadn't started and we were going on flat courses and they were taking it easy.  I have a hybrid bike rather than a road bike which didn't help and a couple of times I found myself drafting behind the support car to take a bit of a rest.

Once the season began the racers would go off each week-end to compete and I have been seeking out local events for each Sunday morning.  We tend to choose the longest routes of between 80-90 km's and these have been a great way of seeing areas & roads you wouldn't normally visit. Some of the scenery around Angouleme can be spectacular and I particularly loved the event that rode through my own village!

We tend to check in at 8.00am and this is a chance to meet riders from other clubs.  The ride itself tends to take around three hours and we don't stop at the "casse croute" or halfway house where the local club will offer coffee, cake and usually a glass of red!

Sometimes we'll join forces with riders of a similar standard from other clubs but the one thing each ride in common has is that I struggle on the hills - the course around Blanzac was particularly tough as it took in the rolling hills and valleys of southern Charente.

This Sunday we're going to Royan & back which will be flatter and is a round trip of 180 km's - by far the longest ride I have ever taken on.  Who knows if we'll make it but I'm really looking forward to it as it will take us through some lovely towns like Pons, Gemozac and Cozes as well as perhaps enjoying an ice cream on the beach in Royan itself.

For any keen cyclists who want a bit of technical info I ride a flat bar Boardman Hybrid Comp and usually average around 28/29 km/h when riding alone.  When in a group this rises to well over 30 km/h.  The club runs with the non racers usually average out at around 25 km/h so are fairly leisurely.  The fact I ride a flat barred bike causes interest with my fellow poissons rouges but there's certainly no snobbery in the club.  They do have some fantastic machines though and it's a little like having a beaten up Peugeot in a garage full of Ferraris.

If you're thinking of cycling in the Charente and want some advice on routes (long or short) then please just ask - my favourite is still the 28 km circuit that follows the river and takes in Bassac, Vibrac, Jarnac and the beautiful bridges and locks that make this area so special.

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