The French Resistance Sportive is uniquely awesome. ‘Why?’ you ask. Because you start in England in the morning, spend a day enjoying the scenery of Nord-Pas-de-Calais in France, and finish back in Blighty by nighttime. What could be more fun?
In order to fit all the travelling in the day, though, riders needed to assemble at Dover for 6.15, meaning a stupid-o’clock start to allow time to get from Horsham to the Docks.
Once assembled in a municipal car park we were herded together and escorted to embarkation and spread around the internal edges of what seemed a cyclist-only ferry. With bikes safely lashed to the walls in case of a turbulent crossing, we were directed to a reserved lounge at the front of the ship for complimentary breakfast of coffee and croissants, and to register and collect our timing chips at our leisure.
Ninety minutes later we were docking at Calais and efficiently escorted to the bag-drop and start gate on the outside of the Calais port complex. I love cycling in France and the start of our day did not disappoint, with locals in the town happy to yield to the peloton of sweaty Brits intruding on their Sunday morning and the roads smooth and ‘furniture’ free.
Once out of Calais, we headed along the coast to Sangatte where we swung inland and encountered the first of what was to be a feature of the day — rolling terrain with blustery head and side-winds. Still, it was a pleasantly sunny morning, I felt good despite my perceived lack of form from my previous ride and I even had the constant encouragement of catching and passing some of my fellow sportivistes.
The further we went inland, the bumpier the topography became, but nothing was too long or too severe — I saw no walking in the first three hours. My gears were playing up a bit, so I availed myself of the excellent mechanical assistance at the first feed station, and while I filled my face with banana brioche and jellybeans, my cables were tickled, my rear derailleur straightened and various adjusters adjusted.
We’d noticed a few guys wandering through the hedgeless fields and, as we climbed towards the wind turbines that dominated the view away from our pit stop, we started to hear muffled bangs. Sunday morning, it seems, is the day the people around Calais shoot things in fields with rifles and have them fetched by boisterous bouncy dogs.
Thankfully, bagging a brace of cyclists is not a sport in France, so we carried on safe in the knowledge that all we needed to worry about was occasional traffic and potholes. Mostly the drivers in France are courteous and patient, and the roads are smooth and well maintained. The real shock comes when you encounter a bad example of either. What made that first climb away from the feed station special, though, was the two French boys at the top high-fiving all the cyclists as they went past. I have never seen that in all the rides I have done in the UK.
Pretty soon we were enjoying feed stop two then heading back to Calais. At last the wind that had been in our faces all day turned and was pushing us along like a giant hand. Either with climate was being benevolent or the French wind wanted us out of the country and back to eating our rosbif in Blighty. Either way the twisty climb at Escalles over the Cap Blanc Nez was made slightly more bearable, and the descent through Sangatte and back along the coast was stupendous, many chalking up speeds in excess of 75kmh and maintaining 40kmh plus into the outskirts of Calais. Quite how strong the wind was was fully revealed when we turned back towards the finish line and directly into it as speeds went from ‘blistering’ to ‘dehydrated’.
The return on the ferry was pretty ad-hoc — you took the first available seat and shared facilities with the other passengers. The lounges were full of hi-viz, cleated shoes and helmets but everyone, though exhausted, was content. Except those in direct sight of the on-board film, in which six cartoon chipmunks were ‘chipwrecked’. Not a pleasant ordeal at the best of times, even less so as the weather got increasingly blustery and the crossing more sick-able and turbulent by the minute.
By the time we got back in sight of the White Cliffs, the reflected sunrise of the morning had been replaced with horizontal rain and gale force winds. The perilous return journey to the rendezvous point was made safer by safety in numbers and the day ended as smoothly as it had begun. All that remained was to collect our goody bags, thank the event staff and tackle the increasingly filthy road conditions.
The idea of a day-trip sportive is an immensely clever one, and one of UK Cycling Events’ cracking innovations over the years. From kick-start sportives like the No Excuses (where you forfeit your entry fee to charity for a no-show), hill-centric events like the Haywards Heath Howler or genius ones like the French Revolution/Resistance, there are some interesting events happening in the UK now. Why not sign up for something truly original and groundbreaking yourself next year?