Truly, great voyages (tgv)

There’s something rather restful about travelling by train, particularly when your companion is in another part of the train. Actually, my beloved is on another train which, until we reach Lille, is attached to mine, thereafter it speeds to Brussels. However, there’s no easy way of moving between the two. This situation has arisen because we initially didn’t anticipate travelling together and would have started our journeys in different places. However, changes to travel plans were made at the last moment and my carriage was allegedly full.

I’m not, you understand, complaining. I’m in the quiet carriage, no mobile phones, which would be impossible for my beloved who I’m quite sure has already annoyed the hell out of his fellow travellers by loudly chatting, in several different languages, on his mobile. I have my picnic lunch, I’m next to the buffet car for my regular infusions of strong coffee, I have a pile of newspapers and magazines, my really difficult Sudoku book and, of course, my notepad. Really, what else does a girl need?

The first part of the journey is largely along the coast and affords great views of some of my favourite places to cycle. The sun is shining, the sky is bright azure blue, the grass is lush and the foliage is every shade of green from citrus bright lime through to British racing green interrupted very so often by splodges of pale pink, almond white or puce blossom. Even when we head inland, and the surroundings are less salubrious, the clear bright Mediterranean light gilds everything be it industrial estates or graffiti strewn, railway sidings and derelict farmhouses. As we journey further north, away from the urban sprawl, there’s a few fluffy clouds in the sky, herds of sheep gambolling on the gently rolling countryside, and the crops are just starting to sprout.

Of course, I’m excited to be heading to Roubaix to see the Hell of the North. I’ve noted that a number of people have gotten on the train with cycling bags, no doubt planning to ride tomorrow’s cyclosportif. I did entertain brief thoughts about aping them until one of the pros I know told me what riding over the cobbles was really like. I have heeded his words of wisdom.

Hard as it may be to believe but I have already started planning my trips for next year. I have so enjoyed watching this week’s Tour of the Basque Country that I simply have to go and watch it in person next year. The stages are all based around a small geographic area, meaning you can easily stay in the same place all week and ride to and from the start and finish of each day’s stage. Additionally, it’s a race which features some of my favourite riders. Two have already won stages (Alexandre Vinokourov and Sammy Sanchez) and another (Amael Moinard) is gracing the spotted jersey. For succinct summaries of each day’s stages, go and read www.thearmchairsportsfan.com.

According to my training programme, this is a rest week: just a couple of hours of gentle cycling, stretching and gym work. However, the weather’s been so fabulous that I’ve been out riding most days, mindful that during this 4-day trip I won’t be able to ride at all. I could tell from yesterday’s ride that my form is back to where it was before the cold. So, I’m now about a month behind in my preparation. The real tests will be my times in the forthcoming sportives. I’m going to be crushed if I don’t show an improvement on last year.

The journey takes a total of 7 hours with no change of trains. I used the train infrequently when I lived in the UK, really only out of necessity, and always first-class, for the trip to an occasional football match and work-related trips to Cheltenham. Travelling by train in Europe is enjoyable. It’s quick, timely, spotlessly clean, inexpensive, and comfortable, standing is not permitted and travelling first-class is a pleasure, not a necessity.

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