Tue 06 Apr 2010 18:15 BST
There's no friendlier atmosphere to ride in over here than at a 'cylo-randonnee' event. There's no better value either at around EUR 7 for your ride, feed stations and post-ride food and drink (which is usually wine!).
The event that we went to yesterday was hosted by the 'Cyclo Club Gillonnay', a small village a little north of Grenoble airport. As usual the welcome for the 200 or so participants was warm and enthusiastic.
Guy had a mechanical problem before we set off (a loose crank arm) and within seconds of asking one of the hosting club members for a tool or two, he was surrounded by lots of incredibly helpful people one of whom was a qualified bike mechanic. Despite their enthusiasm and desire to help, it was pretty obvious that the problem was terminal and could not be fixed on the spot, they were so downhearted that they could not help Guy that they urged him to take down their mobile numbers and call if he needed rescuing en-route! So kind.
We had planned to ride the 90km circuit but in light of the crank arm wobbles, only rode 70km. These are totally non-competitive events so fortunately there is no mass start, you roll off whenever you fancy between the designated times (yesterday was 7:30 to 9:00am), we were pretty much the last to leave!
The route was mainly on a low, plain but with some short, sharp, typically English climbs, a perfect season opener. The plain was nearly all agricultural land; arable, fruit trees, some vines and livestock. It's basically what you see as you come into land at Grenoble airport. A good proportion of the route was on agricultural lanes and back roads. It was a lovely sight to see so many animals out in the fields enjoying the sun as much as us, particularly the spring lambs that had us and all the riders around us cooing!
There was an Easter fair in the village when we returned and the Gillonnay club had set up a beer tent as well as food and refreshments for us randonnee riders in the town hall. After this the serious cycling started; a kermesse, road race, a circuit of 17km x 5 which made us feel very pedestrian indeed!
A great cyclo-randonnee to kick off our season and a reminder of just how friendly and warm the world of French cycling is.