The slow progress meant we decided to take the shortest available route for the rest of the days ride to Dover, which meant covering the remaining 50 miles on the A2. Morale started to drop as 70 miles of riding and 7 hours on the bike in poor weather took their toll, and as the sunlight dropped we eventually turned off the A2 - still 10 miles from our overnight hostel.
Undeterred by the low budget hostel, we were grateful for a bed and the close location to the port, which to be fair was as advertised.
Day 2 started with an unwelcome message that our selected ferry had been cancelled, with the next one an hour and 10 minutes later. The travel time was used to eat an expensive and sub-standard breakfast, but the purchase of a french OS map was invaluable, especially by mid-afternoon when we had learned how to use it. After brief showers and a lot of stop-start map checks in Calais, 10 miles of pleasant and relatively flat french countryside allowed us to settle in to our longest day.
The effects of the previous day, poor nights sleep and insufficient feeding for the day ahead combined with the challenge of the hills meant stops became more frequent and injuries more niggling, with knees and backs bearing the brunt of the strain. However, the hills kept falling away and each descent kept the mile count rolling along, and the only brief panic was when we realised last check in might be 9pm - a boundary we were close to missing.
This lead to the team splitting, with Nick time-trialing the last 8 miles to the hotel to ensure they made check in. As it turned out, this was unnecessary, with Stu and Sam rolling in only 15 minutes later and the receptionist still on duty.
A much more comfortable accommodation awaited, even if dinner was sourced from a vending machine.
There was a sense of relief on Bastille day in Amiens, even if the alarm did go off at half 7, as we knew it was the last day on the bike and Paris was within reach.
Again though, we were foiled by mechanical issues, with saddle height, tyre pressure and pannier fastenings, before a city-wide hunt for an open pharmacy, which was unsuccessful as Bastille day provided the less-than-punctual french with another reason not to open before midday.
However, we did find an open supermarket, and came away with a knee brace that would turn out to be almost as useful as the map. With more confidence in the route and an energy and excitement at the last day, we made rapid progress for almost 20 miles before our first stop to refill water bottles from a roadside bar. Carrying on almost immediately to prevent a rain cloud and a particularly persistent Belgian octogenarian on a purple bike doing the same ride from Amiens to Paris but at a much slower pace (we hoped).
The pace continued on the bike, but cutting out the breaks meant actual pace was impressive as well, with french distance markers in km rather than miles making the whole team feel like progress was much better than in the first two days, continuing a further 20 miles without a stop before arriving in Bresles. Despite an industrial appearance, persevering in to the town centre rewarded us with the best meal we had had so far - an italian diner that was clearly far too posh for us to eat in with our dirty cleats and lycra. However, the fluently English speaking staff couldn't do enough for us so we didn't feel too guilty. Once again though, lunch was the high point.
The first signs for Paris briefly picked up morale, but it was dented shortly after when the mapped road turned out to be dirt track that we couldn't follow. Yet another significant diversion meant more miles and more climbing, and as with the first day we lost patience and headed for the N1. Again, though, a missed turn led to a dead-end, but instead of turning around and going back up the hill, we climbed the stairs carrying bikes and panniers and hopped the rails during a break in traffic on to the main highway to Paris.
Crossing the Seine, seeing the Stade de France and feeling the hotel getting closer was a reminder we had almost achieved our goal. The hotel was in an amazing central location, but the plan to ride around and take celebratory pictures in club kit collapsed as quickly as we did as soon as we checked in. At this point, Stu wants it recorded that he was charged €10.60 for a pint of lager, but at that stage he would've probably paid 20.
Nick's suggestion to cycle to the Bastille day fireworks display on the Eiffel tower was aggressively rebuffed, so the team set off on foot to walk through the Parisian crowds past the Palais Garnier, through the Place Vendome, along the Place de la Concorde and to the banks of the Seine where we watched the fireworks in awe, the perfect way to announce our arrival.
Nick's desperation to be a tourist meant they did get back on the bikes, riding the same route they had last night down the Place de la Concorde and sprinting down the Champs Elysees - a dream for any keen cyclist. As much as a ride without luggage was appreciated by all 3 riders, the cobbles were not, and once the necessary photos at the l'Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower were taken, they escaped to the Eurostar as quickly as possible, to travel the return journey to London far more quickly and comfortably than the journey to Paris, stopping only in duty free to buy a bottle of champagne to commemorate the immense achievement of the last 3 days, when 3 members of UoNBC cycled from London to Paris.