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soon as we were clear of the town we found ourselves belting along the country
lanes as if we were in the team time trial ourselves. This is due to another
phenomenon known only to those who ride with Barry Astral. As soon as you
set off with him, on any ride, he goes straight into what can only be described
as eye balls out mode. Nothing can slow him down this
early in the ride; you just have to wait for him to start dying. Ive
learnt over many years that shouted entreaties or insults have no effect.
The only thing to do is tuck in behind and hang on until the inevitable
slow-down. Mind you, theres not much shelter to be found behind him
due to him being half the height of a normal bike and rider when hes
on that bloody recumbent. Just as well hes a bit slower now hes
getting on a bit.
A few miles later and things calmed down enough for us to start enjoying a nice easy ride through some great French countryside. We followed the course of a river called the Canche with the road winding through villages like Beauranville and Willeman. This latter place obviously caused much ribald amusement as we are of course in reality three schoolboys still waiting to grow up, with associated levels of humour. As Mr. Astral sprinted away towards the town sign to take the prime (French word pronounced preem for intermediate sprints during bike races) he shouted Yes! I am the Willy Man! We had no argument with that.
By now Barry Astrals presence was causing some consternation among the French populace. Recumbents cant be very common in rural France judging by the pointing and shouted bemusement he was attracting as we cycled by. What are they saying? he asked. Theyre shouting Cretin and Imbecile, we replied in our best French accents. Oh very funny he said, and stopped waving at what he had thought were his adoring fans.
We stopped at a very nice medieval town called Hesdin for something to eat before pressing on to St. Pol-sur-Ternoise and the Hotel le Royal, where we were booked in for our two night stay. Fairly basic but clean and cheap, all that was needed by impoverished cyclo-touristes. Our accommodation was in a slightly odd arrangement; a large twin-bedded room with a small double-bedded room off of it alongside the bathroom. As befits his advancing years, Barry exercised his droit de seigneur and wasted no time nabbing the double room, thereafter to be known as The Astral Annexe (sounds familiar; science fiction film isnt it?).
After a wash and brush-up and a bit of lazing about, we ventured out into the town on foot to find a restaurant. This turned out to be easier said than done, as we traipsed up and down the streets in an increasingly desperate search for an eatery. We finally came across the one and only open restaurant in the town. It didnt look too promising, being virtually empty, but we werent in a position to be choosy. Luckily it wasnt too bad at all and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours there eating our fill and getting mildly sloshed. Well, apparently Barry and I did, but Andy Bandy insists he was sober as a judge as it only takes about half a pint for B. Astral or T. Tickle to be out of it. He always says that and Id deny it if I could, but funnily enough, I can never remember if hes right. Very frustrating that. Especially when I have a headache. And I was as sober as a newt.
We rolled back to
the hotel to get our heads down before the next day when wed be
riding to Arras to watch Lance Armstong et al riding Le Tours team
time trial. Our first day had been blessed with warm sunshine but that
piece of good luck was about to run out.........
Three Men on Bikes Part One...