Friday 3rd August, just a short drive to get to Epinal for this years event and after registering we were given our plot number and directed to the camp site on the Airfield at Dogneville. It was massive with space for 6000 caravans, campervans and tents and a mile from end to end, unfortunately we were sent to the wrong end and had to track across the cut corn field to our plot. The field was laid out in a grid that must have taken an age to set out with painted markers designating each plot. After setting out our pitch lunch was followed by a bit of sunbathing while watching the equivalent of parking boats in a marina. Parking and manoeuvering a van in an empty field should not be that difficult but one guy ended up moving his marker to suit his parking effort. After guiding in a couple of our fellow club members we all enjoyed a few beers and an evening meal, it seemed all the Brits had been kept together at the far end of the site, probably a punishment for Brexit !!
Saturday 4th was very warm 22c to start and very humid, the event does not start until Sunday but we thought we would ease ourselves in with the short P1 30 mile ride from Sunday. First problem of the day was that Bob had forgotten to pack his cycling shoes so it was a ride into the “Permanence” to find a bike shop to get a set of pedals and toe clips. After a later than planned start we had only ridden 4 miles when the lure of pan-au-raisin and the smell of fresh coffee distracted the group again. The route took us to a halfway point at Xertigny where a stop at the local bar for liquid refreshments in the shade maintained the holiday atmosphere. The ride back through Epinal saw the thermometer outside the Pharmacy reading 40c, back at the camp site the other members of our club party had arrived and we enjoyed a communal beer and meal in a balmy evening 28c.
Sunday 5th The group consensus was we start at 08-30 but we couldn’t agree what length route to do, I opted for the 110k route with John as it was already warming up. Once again this was a circular route that came back through Xertigny which is an extraordinary village south of Epinal, not only does it have an aircraft museum with a large Caravelle in what looks like somebodys front garden there is also a diesel locomotive at the other end of the village parked on the road side, the fascinating question for me is how they managed to get them to a small village in France and at what cost. The village certainly turned out for the cyclists with refreshments and entertainment. The route back to Epinal passed the pharmacy with the temperature up a notch at 41c and at the finish line a large ice cream was followed rather swiftly by a cold beer. An easy evening followed with the group intent on rehydration discussing the day and of course what ride to do tomorrow.
Monday 6th I had decided to ride with Kaye and the group every other day so today I opted for the long route at 146km and as I was solo an 06-30 start before it warmed up. The furthest point of the ride was to the monument at Sion which was of Roman origin, it was at the top of a long steep climb at 540m but as I had left early I had the hill to myself. As I rolled down the hill the other side the monument was still visible and I had it in my sight for the next hour as the route circumnavigated the hill to make a second ascent, by this time the masses had arrived and were spread across the climb, many walking and weaving to tame the gradient. The feed station by the monument was by this time very crowded so I decided to press on for an ice cream at the finish only to find it was lunch time when I got back and even the ice cream van stops for lunch….
Tuesday 7th I joined the boys for a leisurely ride which involved an early coffee stop at Gerardmer after which I accompanied Bob for the route that went through the hill-top village of Champdray where Bob had stayed earlier in the year with his colleagues from West Surrey CTC. The local shop/bar was open and Bob insisted on buying coffee as when he visited it was always closed. The bar was situated in what looked like the front room of the house with 1950 decoration and furniture and in the window a very tacky solar-powered model of HM Queen dancing… I think they were rather proud of it….. A very fast run back with Bob ensured he would need a beer at the finish before we rolled back to the camp site. A nice evening with the group eating, drinking and sharing the days experiences. There was a possibility of storms overnight and we had only been in bed for about an hour when I was woken by the increasing winds rocking the motor home, I rolled our awning away and then the distant roll of thunder signalled the start of an hour of rain, gale force winds and fork lightning, unfortunately one of our party did not get up until his van awning was ripped away by the violent winds as the camp site fought to secure awnings and tents.
Wednesday 8th, The days rides were all to South and an area we had previously cycled so I went solo to Val d’Ajol, some big climbs and descents. The maps and signage for the routes are very good but the GPX files for following the route on a Garmin GPS do not seem to be updated to include late alterations… how hard can it be. On getting back an afternoon of chores and updating supplies before an evening with the group to sort out the world’s problems.
Thursday 9th and it is party day for Semaine Federale, well The Picnic Ride to the BBQ at Thaon les-Vosges. We decided as a a group to take the longer route as the sun was shining and we were in no hurry. As we approached Ortoncourt we could see clouds gathering and before long a dark lowering cloud base suggested rain was not far away, stopping to look at the rainfall radar on the i-phone suggested it would be touch and go as to whether we would make the picnic before the rain. Ed and Margaret on the tandem were keen to stop for refreshment so at Chatel-sur-Moselle it seemed everybody had the same idea. We found a boulangerie that was doing a roaring trade and as the sky darkened even more the thunder started. Armed with a drink, baguette and a delicious looking French tart we all took shelter as the heavens opened. Suitably fed and watered the rain jackets came out for the first time on this trip and like naughty schoolchildren cycling in the rain seemed quite appealing. The rain and thunder continued and we decided to ride straight back to the camp site. Back at the van one of our neighbours had just returned from the Picnic telling us that they had all been evacuated from the marquee at the height of the storm, we were also advised that the police had issued a warning to campers of another approaching storm and to make sure tents and awnings were secure. The winds duly arrived but this time no rain, an interesting day.
Friday 10th I’d targeted this day for my 100 mile ride so with GPX file loaded on my Garmin I left at 06-30 and a chilly 12c to beat the crowds…. It was certainly traffic free at that time and as I got to the first feed stop at Lerrain they were still setting up and putting out signs. The roads signs and Garmin track did not agree and after a couple of miles I missed a turn and a not very helpful marshal had pointed me in the wrong direction. I carried on but the road he had put me on was the return to Epinal, I finally realised the error after 13 miles, I retraced the route and then modified it to return through Vitel as this would still give me my overall mileage. I phoned Kaye to let her know of my change of plan and suggested we could now meet for lunch back at the feed station at Lerrain. After a slap up lunch of a baguette and fruit salad with Kaye I followed a rather large group of French club cyclists to get back at a very steady pace to complete 107 miles and 6300ft of climbing.
Saturday 11th and the last day of a great week of cycling, the group opted for the 85k route and a social ride which turned out to be a tour of all the cafe stops. One sobering moment as an ambulance appeared and a cyclist was stretched out as a result of a fall on a twisting descent. An unofficial feed station set up at La Baffe was an enterprising addition and was very busy, a very nice restored Citroen van grabbed my attention along with a delicious ice cream. Back to the permanence and a bit of retail therapy followed by a visit to the supermarket for supplies for our final evening of BBQ and beer and wine tasting.
A really enjoyable week with every combination of bicycle and rider you can imagine and superbly organised. by FFCT. With 12,000 cyclists in the area the co-operation and patience of motorists was exemplary, looking forward to our participation next year in the Cognac region.