DAY 2, 23 July 2010: Caen to Evreux, France

9:45 – Because the idea is for the whole team to make its triumphal entrance into Paris together, the departures are staggered such that the fastest group leaves last. That gives us a chance to sleep in and enjoy our delicious breakfast at a leisurely pace, but it also means we’re impatient to hit the road some time before it’s our turn. I think Barrie is impatient too, because he leads us out of the parking lot about fifteen minutes early.

10:30 – With Paris in our sights, we’re all in high spirits, and the red-and-white-checkered jerseys we all got the night before have transformed us from a motley crew into… a slightly less motley crew! (No, really, we did look pretty sharp.)

11:00 – The scenery is once again beautiful, with lots of idyllic valleys, small villages and gracefully curving roads devoid of traffic. Ahead, we can see what looks to be the Tall Stories van parked a little ways off the road. As we come level with it, we observe two of the logistics crew standing by a rider from one of the other groups who’s sitting on the grass next to the road. Doesn’t occur to me at the time, but there’s been an accident, and this unfortunate rider will soon be on her way to the hospital for stitches. Luckily, neither she nor any of the riders who crashed with her is seriously hurt. I pay extra-close attention to the cyclists around me for the rest of the day.

12:30 – We eat lunch next to the moat and ruins of a mediaeval castle just 20km from Versailles. This time, for special it seems, we get slices of orange, and boy are they tasty! By this point, with our destination so close at hand, everyone is completely relaxed and ready to take it down a notch – which is a change from the past two days, when the pace sometimes hit the mid-30-kilometres-per-hour as one or another of the group felt the need to hit the gas and everyone else followed like hounds after a rabbit. I’ve enjoyed riding at speed these last few days, but I’m ready to unwind too.

Before we head off, I spend a little time chatting with Adrian Cox, the team photographer. I remember reading about Adrian in a Big Issue magazine last year; he was a vendor at one time, but with some support from the Big Issue Foundation, he was able to pursue his love of photography and eventually make a living out of it. Now he’s here taking photos of us and documenting the trip, so I decide to snap a couple shots of him. Like other photographers I’ve met, he shies away, preferring to stay out of sight, but I think I snag a few decent ones. Adrian is proof that the Big Issue can make a real difference. But he doesn’t like to be singled out for special recognition. I think I can understand.

14:00 – Just three or four kilometres outside Versailles, the surroundings start to look familiar. The newly-tarmacked road with the wide cycle lanes gives me a feeling I’ve had before. The road starts to curve and I bet there’s a hill coming up – with bike lanes and a bridge further on. There they are! Sure enough, we’re entering the city by the same route I used when I was passing through en route to Istanbul last summer.

14:30 – Now ahead of the other groups, we permit ourselves a pause in the gardens of the Palace, take a few photos and stretch out with some ice cream cones.

15:15 – At last, everyone’s together at the staging point, next to the Paris hippodrome on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. Clumped closely together, but still stretching out for a good 50 yards, we cruise along until the Arc de Triomphe comes into view and we reach the edge of the Etoile, the massive giratoire with avenues radiating out from it, of which the most famous is the Champs-Elysees. The mass of us is sufficiently big that we don’t have to worry about cars as we enter the roundabout, but if anyone were to mishandle a bike, this would the perfect time for a massive pile-up.

15:30 – The end! We’ve made it down the Champs-Elysees without incident and reached the official finish line, the Eiffel Tower soaring into the clear blue sky above us. Adrian is there with his camera, recording it all for posterity, and we all grab a celebratory (alcohol-free) beer and savour the moment. That’s 370 kilometres in three days, done and dusted!

16:15 – After a group photo and some time spent taking it all in, we get back on the bikes and ride to our hotel, an Ibis in the seventeenth arrondissement. Looking forward to a warm shower and dinner.

20:00 – Dinner takes place at the hotel, against the backdrop provided by Adrian’s unedited photos. I think everyone appears at least once, and probably several times. After dinner, Jay and Anthony preside over thank-yous, awards and a short video that helps show how money raised from events like this one is used to help those in tough situations. To his evident dismay, Adrian is the focus of the video, but having downed a few glasses of red wine, he manages to get up and give a pretty good introductory speech!

During the awards segment, the Yellow Jersey goes to the ride’s most successful fundraiser (over 2500 pounds!); the Green Jersey goes to the Brazilian on the single-speed; and the Polka-dot Jersey – awarded to the best young rider – goes to the light-footed 68-year-old who’s just completed her third London-to-Paris charity ride with the BIF!

22:30 – At this point, some of the guys are gearing up again, for a night on the town, but I’m gearing up for bed. Tomorrow is the conclusion of the Tour, and I want a good night’s sleep!