By Michael Blann
It only seems like yesterday that a handful of cyclists lead by Sven Thiele embarked on the inaugural ride from London to Paris. The route, crossing the channel and finishing on hallowed ground of bike racing, Paris, inspired 450 cyclists (the max given the logistics) to take the stage this year. Its appeal is widespread and drew together in Group 1 past winners of the Tour de France, World RR Championships, Paris Roubaix, Trans Alp, Cape Epic as well as a Para Olympian. At the other end of the spectrum it appealed to the everyman, the club cyclists, and to some who had only taken up cycling recently.
So despite the leaden skies, which have been a permanent fixture this summer, the show rolled off on it's way to Paris with the same sense of adventure that the first L2P embarked on 9 years ago. The nature of the event has changed somewhat over that time and the seriousness which riders approach the event is evident in their comments about training regimes, diets and power outputs.
Stage 1 comprised of a tough morning through the Weald of Kent and a particularly hair raising yellow section just before lunch which gave Greg Mansell, backed up by a strong UK Youth team the opening lead. In the afternoon most riders happy to take shelter in the bunch allowing Flash Jackson to control the pace making on the front. There was a distinct feeling some riders were playing the tactical game they aware that there was still some 500km to go. The dreaded Capel Le Ferne at the end of the day proved, as always to be a sting in the tail with MTB pro, Karl Platt romping over the climb with plenty of time to do a Forest Gump victory run.
Karl Platt on the Red Climb Section of Stage 1
Waking up in France on day 2 the riders were treated to a howling south-easterly wind and driving rain showers for their route across northern France and the area of the Somme which seemed appropriately apocalyptic. With bikes leaning over at 45 degrees into the cross wind it wasn't long before the rain capes came out as torrential rain hit the peloton and by the time the 20km race section got underway, it was every man for himself. By the end of the section I think most had a taste of France in their mouth and so lunch proved to be a most welcome respite to the palette. By now a few riders were having second thoughts of going all the way in Group 1 and quietly slipped to Group 2 for the afternoon roll to Amiens. The remaining survivors regrouped and despite a small crash involving a rain cape mixing with a rear wheel had a quiet afternoon with the exception of a few cows butting into the Ride Captain briefing.
G1 lead by Magnus Backstedt battling with the elements
With soar legs and a few soar heads the sun was a welcome sight on the final day. Mike Sinyard, founder of Specialized bikes made the jump up to Group 1 after much bravado at the bar the night before only to be deserted by Thiele who thought better of it by the morning. With the jerseys still to be decided and the first yellow section only 20km into the stage the group detonated like a small bomb going off as Jack Anderson from Endura Racing took off in pursuit of the filming motorbike. Few could stay with him and by the time they hit the climb 4 pros lead the race with amateur rider Arjan Planting doing well to hang in there. Behind two former World Champions, Roche and Fondriest lead the pursuit with Shaun Pearson. On the line it was Karl Platt again who took the sprint but not enough time to take back the 7 seconds deficit he needed for yellow from Mansell.
Magnus Backstedt, Jack Anderson, Greg Mansell, Karl Platt & Arjan Planting fight it out on the GC
With the racing wrapped up and a mass regrouping of all the riders a huge bunch and all it's entourage set off at a leisurely pace for the final 40km to Paris. It was a particularly poignant trip down memory lane for Roche who had won the Tour de France some 25 years ago and was riding his 87 Battaglin which, had been recently restored. With Champagne at the finish line everyone had something to smile about. The relief of reaching Paris and the realisation of personal goals achieved gave most memories for a lifetime. Vive le Tour!