Ride to Meet Monty

Gem and Col ride through France to meet cycling legend Mark Beaumont as he completes his world-record circumnavigation of the globe...


Our friend Mark Beaumont - "Monty" had been cycling round the world since 5th August 2007. On Feb the 10th, we realised that he was guaranteed to arrive back in Paris by Friday the 15th. We hastily bought ferry tickets, booked a hotel between Dieppe and Paris, got in touch with a friend in Paris, looked at Google maps and ripped three pages from our French road atlas [we'll come back to that].

On Thursday 14th of February we set out from Bristol around 5:30am to catch the 11am ferry from Newhaven (near Brighton) to Dieppe [170km from Paris]. We arrived into Dieppe at 4pm local time and had two hours of sunlight to get to our hotel for the night, in Forges les Eaux, 120km North of Paris.

It was chilly in Dieppe. Very chilly. I’d managed to leave my lycra knee warmers behind in Cambridge and so the first hour and a half I was dying from the cold. The locals thought I looked hilarious, with most people turning and laughing or pointing. It was so cold we stopped and bought a second pair of gloves each at a hyper market. This was a good plan! Whilst Gem was inside buying gloves, I put on all of my remaining clothes to try and retain some heat as the sun had gone down by this point. It was so cold we struggled to keep our average speed above 25kph [we normally cycle at 28 for this sort of distance!]

We made it to our hotel soon after and relished the opportunity to change into non-cycling clothes and warm up with a nice Leffe in the bar. Unfortunately [in a way] it was Valentines night – Saint Valentin – and so all the restaurants were booked out except from the most expensive. So we had to endure a marathon seven course meal lasting three and a half hours with a lot more wine than we had planned – great meal, shame we had to get up at 6am the next day and ride!

We were on the road by 7am, after paying the hotelier and staring in amazement at the locals in the bar sipping their Leffe’s!! Needless to say, it was even colder than the previous night as the sun had not yet risen and we had to battle to keep our temperature up let alone our speed. We were now struggling to break 24k!

We stopped in a nice village around 9am for the first croissants of the trip and they were very very tasty. We continued on getting slightly warmer, but not by much – freezing fog is horrible to ride through. The riding at this stage was lovely, through very agricultural areas with beautiful rolling hills which helped to keep us warm.

We were getting reports by this stage that Monty was nearing the finish line and one [false] report told us that we were likely to miss him! We eventually got through to Bobby Burt who was in Paris and he told us we were still on target to get there before Monty, as long as we kept our pace up.

And then we crashed! Gem slipped on an icy/muddy, off camber roundabout and I had to ditch my bike to avoid a pile up. We were both unhurt, but my gears suffered a battering and skipped a bit for the rest of the journey. Battle scars!

Our navigation had been going really well until we got to the outskirts of Paris. Then it became apparent that I should really have ripped out the “centre of Paris” part of the road atlas. I’m not going to go into detail about this part of the journey, but the gist is as follows:

·         We know roughly the direction to go but there isn’t a road going that way.

·         We take a dual carriageway because the only other option is a motorway.

·         We ask directions. Man says straight, straight, right.

·         This takes us onto another, faster, more dangerous dual carriageway.

·         We ask directions. Man says, straight, straight left.

·         This gets us onto the fast lane of a 6 lane [Parisian] motorway.

·         I find this hilarious. Gem is less impressed.

·         We see the Arc de Triomphe.

·         I say “it looks about 2 minutes away.”

·         15 minutes later we roll up to the band of Monty supporters.

And so we arrived! We were told Monty would be along in about 15 minutes. 15 later we are told 20 minutes. Monty arrives at 3:30pm and an idiot scooter driver gets in the road. 18,000miles just to get stuck behind a scooter!

It’s quite a media frenzy/emotional moment but the main man still has time to thank everyone and gave us respect for our “impressive” cycle – what a guy!

We left Mark to get on with the formalities and met our rocket scientist friend Kevin, who Gem studied with at ENSICA. We all enjoyed some hot chocolate to warm up, and some mussels and club sandwich to fill our tummies.

Back to Kev’s for a quick wash and then out to the Radisson SAS in the west of Paris. We met all the team of race support who had been helping Monty around the globe. Toasts are said, glasses are raised and pats on the back are delivered.

The evening was a very special event. Many kind words and in general a really warm and happy feel to the night. I should mention Una, Mark’s mum at this point. She was a real inspiration, masterminding a lot of the logistics from the family home in Fife. In her own words, this was truly a “parallel journey”.

Some lovely food was served by the Radisson and some excellent speeches were made. A letter of congratulations from Prince William was read out, bringing a regal air to the night.

We enjoyed the evening as long as we could until we had to run to catch the last tube back to Kev’s 5 star pad to catch the best night’s sleep I have had in years. We awoke to some beautiful sunshine and yummy croissants, pain au chocolat and pain au raisin. Kevin then took us for a leisurely stroll along the Seine towards the station. Thanks for everything Kev!

We got the train to Rouen and had a nice lunch in the sun before setting out for the final 60k back to Dieppe. It turns out there is a massive hill on the road out of Rouen and also Dieppe is not sign posted from there. Luckily, when Gem went to ask for directions in a small shop, not only did the shopkeeper photocopy a map for us, but one of the customers jumped into their shiny Audi and escorted us to the best road. What excellent service the French provide!

This leg gave us some of the best riding of the trip, with excellent sunshine, lovely green countryside and the end in sight! Unfortunately I made one final navigational booboo and we took an unnecessary 6km detour over a huge hill. Sorry gem! We enjoyed one more Leffe and then scooted back to the ferry port to get back to Newhaven and then arrive into Bristol for 3am. What an excellent trip!

Fastest circumnavigation of the globe by bicycle, covering a distance of 18,297 miles in 194 days and 17 hours. Well done Mark!

Whilst cycling, Mark was raising money for the following charities:

CHICKS, Cyrenians, Rainer, Tusk and Community Action Nepal. To donate to these charities, please visit Mark’s Justgiving page.