So, last week we left you with a trip to la Marjolaine in prospect. On a lovely sunny day, we parked and walked alongside the river Mayenne to lunch at La Marjolaine. It is a lovely walk along the river with trees and green fields across the river and on the path side a series of steep hills up from the path. Quiet and peaceful, just enough to hone the appetite. We were able to sit outside on the terrace and enjoy the sun. The food was as ever fantastic and I was pleased to see that sea bass, my favourite fish, was the fish of the day. We had a very French lunch lasting almost three hours. 

The terrace at La Marjolaine

A kir cassis as an aperitif was a good introduction together with an amuse bouche. To start I chose the foie gras de canard, the sea bass for the main course and a lovely strawberry, cream and sorbet for dessert. This was accompanied by a very nice white wine, a Cheverny. Just a fantastic meal with good company. What better way to enjoy an afternoon. Afterwards we had another gentle riverside stroll back to the car.

We got back home to complete our backgammon tournament. Alan “magic dice” was the winner using his amazingly lucky dice to haul himself to victory. Debi and I fought hard to try to unseat Al from the leader’s position and came close to victory several times but at the last moment those dice came to his rescue. Alan now gets to take home the trophy.

The following day we said goodbye to our friends but they will soon be back at the end of September. So, for Mrs. Parish it was back to the garden where there was a lot of work to be done and much produce to be harvested. We now have a mountain of French beans in the freezer and there is now a requirement to have tomatoes with every meal and blackberries for dessert! For me it was back to 2 days ironing to catch up with the washing as we have also had guests in the gite. At least I can iron indoors and watch the Tour de France.

The weather has also turned exceedingly hot and dry. One the plus side the grass does not need to be cut so often but it is turning brown. The garden and potager needs watering every evening. It is too hot to work in the garden, to Mrs. Parish’s frustration. It is now 6pm and it is 28 degrees and the threat of thunder storms.

The 2018 Tour de France is the 105th edition of the Tour de France, one of cycling's three Grand Tours. The 3,351 km (2,082 miles) race started from Noirmoutier-en-l'Île, in the Vendée department, on 7 July and will finish with the Champs-Élysées stage in Paris, on 29 July. A total of 176 riders across 22 teams are participating in the 21-stage race.

The stages are either flat or mountains and there are 3 stages of cycling up mountains in the Alps and 3 stages in the Pyrenees. The remaining stages are either flat or a mixture of flat and hills. There is also a time trial stage where the cyclists ride against the clock to see who can complete a course the fastest.

The winner is ultimately the rider with the fastest time over the 21 stages. In 2017 Chris Froome won the race by completing the 3540 kms in 86 hours 20 minutes and 55 seconds at an average speed of 40.995 kms per hour. After all that time he was 54 seconds ahead of the rider in second place.

The leading rider throughout the three weeks of the Tour has the honour of wearing a yellow jersey and this is worn during the race and you can watch the leader being supported by his team. Each team has 8 riders who support and help the leading rider. They have differing jobs and mainly they ride in front of the leading team rider, pacing him and allowing him an easier cycle ride by using the slip stream. Some of the riders are known as “domestiques” and go back to the team cars to pick up water and food to keep the other riders supplied.

The tactics are quite complex and fascinating, making for gripping viewing. Most of the riders group together in what is known as the “peloton”. The advantage of riding in a group is that you can keep an eye on rivals and you are assisted by being protected against the elements and can also slip stream. From time to time one or more riders try to break away by accelerating and trying to keep going faster to stay in front. This can be difficult to sustain and the break away is usually caught (but not always). 

The race is often decided on the 6 mountain stages where the course involves cycling up and down very steep mountain roads. The steepness can be 1 in 10 making it seem impossible but riders attack each other with attempted break aways and some riders are literally broken by running out of energy and almost coming to a stop. To watch the top riders effectively sprinting up hill is incredible.

One of the joys of watching the race on TV is seeing some of the amazing history and scenery of France. The race is covered by mobile cameras and from helicopters and it shows some breath-taking views particularly in the mountains.

Tour de France in the mountains

It is also amazing to watch the cyclists on narrow mountain roads with a severe drop to one side. On the mountain roads there are always masses of people on the roadside watching and cheering on the riders. In some places they have to drive their camper vans up the mountain pass and park on the edge (sometimes next to the drop!). The roads are closed so you have to be able to stay for several nights and days.

Some of these fans feel the need to wear outrageous fancy dress for some unknown reason. Perhaps it is the mountain air or the French wine. Not only do they wear crazy outfits but have to run alongside the riders shouting encouragement. This is of course running up very steep hills so they don’t last too long.

Madness at the Tour!

So, this year I have been glued to the TV in the late afternoon so I can watch the last hour of the race. This afternoon in the Pyrenees and a stage won by a Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe. The French who love the tour but they have not seen a French overall winner since 1985 when Bernard Hinault won. At the moment Geraint Thomas from Wales is in the lead and a great chance to win the race. Another mountain stage tomorrow.

The Tour stage has finished and it is probably time for a nice cold beer and a sit in the garden.

Bon route