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Day 4: Tour de l’Oc

Our final day of the Tour de l’Oc started slowly, but featured a more competitive spirit among the riders, who knew that the end was near.

Our last day of the Tour de l’Oc saw the most pre-ride faffing. Photo credit: John Franklin

Beginning in a large car park in Rousillon’s d’Agly Valley – an increasingly renowned source of serious Sud de France reds – the last leg saw the most pre-ride faffing of the entire trip.

Some of that was explained by the arrival of a new cyclist: former support crew member, Mentzendorff’s Mattieu Barrère, who decided to risk a recurring knee injury to join us for the remaining 100km.

But it was also due to much strapping of legs and moving of seat posts – the peloton had woken up in pain, and need careful preparation before hoisting themselves back onto seat and pedals.

Then we were off, and straight into a demanding climb in extreme heat. Despite the temptation to take it easy and to stare across the magnificent view of weathered rocks, pines and vines, we raced upwards, eyes focused on tarmac and tyres.

Forty minutes later we were parked again, this time for a coffee break as everyone regrouped. However, it was almost an hour before we were pedaling once more.

You have to remember that such is the isolation of these southern French villages that their sole café isn’t able to handle an order for 14 espressos at once – especially when some riders want doubles, others a splash of milk, and so on.

However, our next break wouldn’t be granted until lunchtime, or at least another 40km, ensuring that when we did make our second stop, we gorged aggressively on bread, salami, and chocolate.

All serrated implements were locked away this time – Ian Harris’s hand-slicing exploit the day before had taught the team a lesson: when hungry and exhausted, break bread with bare hands.

Cycling through the Agly Valley. Photo credit: Andrew Wilkins

Post-lunch cycling in a Pyrenean shadow was hard work, mainly because we were bloated, but also because we had now racked up around 500km since Monday.

Suddenly the sea was within view, inviting us to pedal faster along the sort of road, which, with its short steep ascents and sharp turns, would be thrilling in a car. But it was also fun on our bikes, encouraging short battles between riders, who were fully warmed up after three and a half day’s pedaling.

Signs for Coillure – our final stop – soon appeared, and then a short steep descent deposited us at the front of our hotel. It was over.

What does one do following the completion of a 500km cycling challenge?

If you work in the drinks trade, drink beer, but also, on this occasion, launch a new wine label.

It’s over: the rider pose outside the end point at Coillioure near the Spanish border. Together, we’ve covered almost 500km in four days. Photo credit: John Franklin

So, after a shower and a few lagers, Tour de l’Oc leader Andrew Hawes marched us down to the beach to unveil Michel Chapoutier’s latest product: a pale pink 12% bone dry and rather delicious rosé.

He then revealed that it wasn’t from the environs – but, aptly, another Pyranees: the range in Australia’s Victoria. The wine, called Mathilda after Michel’s daughter, was from Chapoutier’s Tournon brand, meaning that we had both started and finished the Tour de l’Oc drinking wine from this famous figure.

Refreshed, dinner ensued, with more wine, Scotch – a gift from Benevolent CEO David Cox – and speeches.

Many tales from the Tour de l’Oc were discussed, and embellished, but they are not for repeating here.

Rather, such stories are to be stored, and cheerfully recalled if the same riders ever share the road again – and let’s hope they will.

Before signing off, great thanks must be expressed to our reliable and remarkably good-natured support team:

• Andy: the physio-cum-nurse.
• Mentzendorff’s Lucy, John and Matthieu: drivers, photographers, and purveyors of first-rate roadside lunches along with much vocal encouragement.
• Graham: van man, bag loader, bike organiser and generally good bloke.

Finally, you can read about day one here, day two here, and day three here, while should you want to sponsor me, please visit my Just Giving page here.

Having arrived in Coillioure, leader of the peloton, Andrew Hawes, took us down to the beach to launch the final night’s drinking: a rosé from the Australian Pyranees, made by Michel Chapoutier. Photo credit: John Franklin


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