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Wiggle French Revolution REVIEW

by Caven O'Hara

FR Flag

Distances: 59 & 74 miles
Participants: 450
Start: Calais, France
Transport: Russell Street car park, Dover
Feedstops: 1, 2
Timed: Yes
Signs: White arrows on orange backgrounds, including several humorous messages 
Road: A new adventurous sportive held across the water! The route included the scenic and the stunning, plenty of climbing that was amply rewarded with some cracking descents. 

The Ride:
This was a journey into the unknown, in cycling terms! Yes, I've been to France and Calais before but normally passing through en route to the Alps or the Pyrenees. When the event was first announced months ago I had no doubt this would be hugely popular. This was confirmed when it sold out in short time. When I contacted Martin at UK Cycling Events, I was intrigued as to how they would pull of the logistics of getting 450 riders from Dover to Calais en masse, and set off without hiccups.

A Seriously Early Start

The joining instructions were clear, you had a smallish window of opportunity to arrive at the designated car park in Dover before the mass ride to the ferry port. For my two riding companions and me this meant an early start. I've done early departures before but having to be on the road by 4am was a shock to the system. It was still dark outside; the one positive was that even at 05:30 the car computer showed 19 degrees celsius.

The check-in process was straightforward, with names and bookings confirmed we were given our goodie bag and shown where to park. We'd made good time so had half an hour to wait before the allotted departure time. A little bit of faffing and said time duly arrived, so we made our way to join the steadily growing throng of riders. There was a slight delay as late arrivals were ushered through, before we rolled out towards the ferry terminal. In sportives, small groups can soon swell to sizeable groups but nothing compared to the sight of almost 500 riders sweeping towards the port. We were met by the port security and guided through towards the ferry.

On The Ramp

In a short space of time we were being ushered to dismount and walk up the gangway to store our bikes. Excellent progress and with the ferry not being full we had a car deck to ourselves, luxury. More was to follow, when we emerged into the lounge area, part of this has been reserved for us cyclists - unheard of! To top it all off, tea, coffee and croissants had been laid on, as the ferry took the strain.

This event differs from others in this single process. Normally you arrive, register and head off. Here riders had the chance to mingle with others, partake of the catering and with plenty of toilets on board, get ready in relative comfort. The crossing isn't long and with registration taking place on board it was soon time to disembark. The motorists waiting to board in Calais probably couldn't believe their eyes as streams of cyclists free wheeled down the ramp. Many took pictures.

Ready For The Off

Again this event differed from others in that your belongings can't all be left in your car. Passports and other essentials needed to be carried and perhaps some items left. Again UKCyclingEvents had come up with a solution. Bring a small ruck sack, which could be left under canvas at the start. So with a quick change of shoes, it was time to roll over the timing mat and head off into new territory. The first few km through Calais itself were a little hectic. Riding on the wrong side of the road was fine, but even on a Sunday morning there was a reasonable amount of traffic. Before long, we had negotiated the central part of the port and were soon heading out on the coastal road.

The French Side

This was joyous, the weather was glorious a crucial factor given certain practicalities involved in an event of this nature, but more on that later, the roads were nice under wheel. To our right we had a smattering of houses, with the sand dunes and sea behind. Being a coastal road the nature of the terrain soon started to rise and fall. Even this was enjoyable despite the legs not having warmed up entirely! What didn't dawn on me until later was that the descent I was having a great time with on the way out, would be the testing climbs on the return. 
The feed-stops were evenly split, with one every 25 miles or so. Having set a good pace the first one kind of snuck up, appearing as it did around 20 miles in. Not too worry, plenty of drink and the usual selection of goodies on offer it was soon time to carry on.

Twisty Roads

The route carried on inland towards Landrethun-le-Nord before turning east in the direction of Fiennes. The temperature had been in the late twenties, which made for a pleasant experience, if a little warm when the ride went up. Given our summer or lack of...this was a minor inconvenience. The other distraction was the selection of villages and towns we passed through. Some looked 'picture postcard' in appearance if a little empty of people. The often-disserted roads assisted this serene atmosphere. There is nothing better for a cyclist than quiet roads and beautiful scenery to distract you. The other advantage was the climbing rewards. There were plenty of switchbacks during the day, but if you've slogged your way upwards for several minutes you like some payback for your efforts! The epic route featured several such feats with some long open and fast descents. Time to catch your breath and enjoy the exhilarating feeling of speed.

An Arrow

At times, in some of the less exposed areas it felt uncomfortably close, but soon passed. Having hit the furthest extreme of the route we turned west for the long stint back towards the coast. Passing through Sanghen marked the half way point, by now things were moving along nicely as we headed towards the second and final feed stop.

It was at this stop whilst taking on board some much-needed refreshments, I met a couple that recently married. After passing on my congratulations they then mentioned this was there first sportive! The clincher for them was the chance to ride in France but they were finding it tough and with the final climbs looming were struggling a little. All this was said with a smile and a reassurance that they were in fact 'having a ball', as were we all.

God And The Weather Was With Us

Although we skirted the coast as we turned north for the final stretch we couldn't get a decent glimpse until Wissan. With two challenging climbs in the final 20km it wasn't an easy run-in but in keeping with the ride, it was very enjoyable. The final few klicks through Calais seemed to go on endlessly, but after a furious finish the time-keeping tent hove into view. It was great to finish but the event had been a terrific ride through some new and varied terrain. The course had been hard work in parts, thoroughly enjoyable in others and generally top notch.

A Cracking Day Out

Now the part where the weather could have put a dampener on things, no pun intended! When you have to wait for ferries, and this is no fault of the organisers, if the weather turns you are left pretty exposed. Similarly we had a few delays when waiting to leave the ferry port on our return but none of this detracted from a great day out. Chatting to more riders on the return the consensus was the same, something different, somewhere different but still a top event put on by UK Cycling Events. The only minor gripe was the lack of water at the end for those who were waiting for mates, rather than catching the next available ferry.

On The Way Back

Look out for this event next year, if you haven't ridden on the continent or you did indeed ride this time - it will sell out fast! You've been warned, get in quick. Chapeau

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1 Comment

21st August 2012 10:13pm garygoude wrote:

That's me in the photo second from the bottom!!! :) Superb day out, very well organised and will definitely be back for more next year!! Thanks Wiggle and UK Cycling Events!