Chateau de Vouilly – Vimoutier
Max Speed: 50kph
Average Speed: 16.2kph
Originally a fortress dating from the 12th century, Chateau de Voilly was rebuilt in 1450 and again in 1750 and has a colourful history. The Chateau played a significant part in the Second World War. In June 1944 it became the first press office for the American army. During the months of June and July of that year all of the American press set up in the chateau. They placed a transmitter at the end of the garden. The transmissions were carried to the U.S. with a relay in England. Some of the press that worked in the house included Ernie Pyle, Robert Capa, John Thompson, Andy, Rooney, John Morris and most notable of all was the great writer Ernest Hemingway.
With our maps sprawled out in front of us on the breakfast table I couldn’t but help feel like one of the press that occupied that very room so many years ago. It was hard not to with the large photos of the room being used by the press on every wall.
James took great interest in our trip and was eager to find us the fastest route to Vimoutier. We sat contemplating a sea of maps for ages before finally settling on a plan. While James went off to print some more detailed maps for us we tucked into breakfast. It was a full on French feast of local bread, croissants, local cheese, yogurts and sliced meats. Of course, I did what anyone does in times like those. I crammed as much stuff in my pockets as I could for the lunch later.
After breakfast, we took a stroll around the garden to try and digest our breakfast before getting back on the bikes. There’s always a delicate balance between being full but still capable of cycling and being stuffed. We were stuffed. We had gone well past the point of being able to cycle. The chateau wasn’t a bad place to put down the time until we were bike ready again. The gardens were simple but suited the building. There was no need for extravagance when it came to the planting. The moat and large lawn were more than enough to give the chateau that extra air of grandeur. The horticulturist in me was highly impressed!
Before leaving James took a photo of us and wished us luck. We felt like celebrities posing with the bikes. It was a good laugh and a bit of a boost for the morning. Our good mood continued until 30km down the road. The rolling roads of the morning made a sudden tilt towards the sky. Sitting on the top of the steep road was the town of Balleroy. Despite the steepness of the road, it seemed doable. Even the sign signalling a 10% gradient didn’t deter us. We built up as much speed as possible before hitting the hill. I was determined not to get off the bike. The speed helped propel me up the first few hundred meters. Before long I found myself up out of the saddle. I was now pushing my lowest gear and making no progress. I looked back to see how Ruth was going. I could tell by the look on her face that she was feeling the strain as much as me. I kept on pushing until my knees ached and the sweat coated me. I took a quick glance back and saw that Ruth was now off the bike and pushing. I decided enough was enough and joined her. It was my first time ever to push my bike up a hill. One thing that always stuck with me from growing up was my dad saying you never, ever walk your bike no matter how hard the hill. I was disgusted with myself that I had given up. I could already picture my dad telling me about ‘the time he cycled up a steeper hill on a High Nelly with two flat tires and a bag of spuds on the back’. The usual shite he’d come up with so not to say that he would have done the same.
Annoyed, I sat on a wall at the top of the hill and waited for Ruth. We sat for a bit to get our breath back and cool down a little. I was just about to tell Ruth about what my dad used to say to us when we were younger when she turned and said, “when we were younger, dad used to tell us never, ever to get off a bike when going up a hill”. I broke down laughing.
The road into Balleroy was the turning point in the day. From there on, the roads consisted of hill, hills and more fucking hills. We had some great moments of Tour de France supporters beeping and shouting at us as they passed in their cars. I’m presuming they were cheering us on. Maybe they were just laughing at us in all our hill-climbing misery. Either way, it made us feel good. It really built up our excitement as the closer we got to Vimoutier as more supporters there seemed to be cheering us on.
The plan was to reach Vimoutier for around 6pm. Alas, the hills meant that it took us much longer. We ended up eating our dinner on a street bench in the middle of some random town. It was a right classy affair, with our cold, leftover dinner from the night before in lunch boxes. Eating dinner was becoming a nice full-stop in our cycling day. It meant we had reached camp, had settled in for the night and all that was left to do was chill out and eat. This street-side dinner was not a full stop, more of a comma. The end of the day for us was still up some more cruel French hills.
We were never as glad to see a road sign as we were when we spotted the first one for Vimoutier. At 9pm we slowly free wheeled into the campsite. After 12 hours out on the bikes and some 128km travelled, we absolutely revelled in our awesomeness. We really wanted to make it to see the Tour de France but as the time passed and the miles got slower we were anxious that we’d been too optimistic…. But no! We were bloody awesome.
To treat ourselves for said awesomeness, we headed into Vimoutier for a sneaky cider and chips. There wasn’t exactly a whole lot going on, which surprised us. Not a single inkling could be found to suggest that the Tour de France would be passing right through the middle of the town the next day. It was very strange. After snooping around for a bit we took a seat outside one of the only two places still open. There were a few people around which gave the restaurant a nice vibe. I’m presuming most were cycling fans due to the congregation of bikes against the wall across the street.
Everyone around us tucked into platters of fish, meats and other glorious looking feasts. Mindful of our budget, we ordered a bowl of chips and a big bottle of local cider between us. I’m not going to lie, it was fantastic! We slowly nibbled, to savour the moment and about halfway through, a guy sat at the table beside us. He caught our attention due to the bright yellow Tour de France pass around his neck. We could see him sifting through folders and replying to emails in between each bite of dinner. Curious about the race, since we hadn’t heard anything since arriving in France, we leaned over to ask how it was going.
“You haven’t heard?”
“No. What happened?”
“Tony Martin crashed in the last kilometre of yesterday’s stage. Broken shoulder, they think.”
He paused. We could see him looking at us as we were still dressed in our cycling gear from the day.
“It changes everything. Not sure if he will be able to return.”
He went back to his dinner for a little bit before turning to us again.
“Are you planning on going to see the start in Livarot tomorrow?”
“No, we think we will just watch it pass through here. It goes right by our campsite”
We had passed through Livarot en route to Vimoutier, about 10km back the road, and decided that it’d be more exciting to see the race fly past us than to be among the hoards at the start line.
He leaned in a bit. “You know, we sponsor on of the teams and I might have two passes I can give you for the VIP village, if you’re interested?”
We couldn’t believe it. “Eh, YEAH we would.”
“OK, I must wait for my colleague to arrive to make sure its ok.”
Myself and Ruth gave each other that look you give when you’re trying to give a subtle “Oh my god!!”, but you end up just looking like a pair of psychopaths. When the guy’s colleague finally turned up he gave him the nod of approval. We were in! We couldn’t believe our luck as he handed us the yellow wristbands. I could barely contain my excitement. It more than made up for the scandalous price of the cider and chips.
So, we were burnt to a crisp, shattered and smelly but with cider in our bellies and yellow VIP passes on our wrists, I would all in all call this day a success.
ar an rothar
endurance cyclist, adventurer and usually hungry