Nant - Le Triou - In Céventh Heaven - CycleBlaze

September 16, 2011

Nant - Le Triou

A small bridge on the way to a larger one.
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I WAS ASTONISHED to find there are no fewer than eight campsites in Nant. That was what the stunningly attractive girl told me in the tourist office.

"List them all slowly for me so that I can just gaze into your eyes," I groaned in her ear.

Well, I didn't, but I wanted to. And if I hadn't been 40 years older and smelly and dressed in Lycra and much the appearance of a damp sponge dragged through dust, I might have dared. I just said "thank you very much" and left. Wistfully.

There may be a copious places to sleep in Nant but there is only one feasible road to Millau. For years I wondered how you pronounced it. It stood there on the map and I resisted going there for fear I'd ask for directions and get it dreadfully wrong. Then someone built a whopping bridge that made news all over the world and ever since I've known it's Mee-yoh.

The bridge is what I wanted to see. I'd been this way once before, carefully not asking the way, but then the bridge had been no than its pylons and a surprising lack of activity. Yves said he'd seen the bridge but he wanted to go to Millau anyway, so we half-pedalled and half-freewheeled down the Dourbie canyon, talking of meditation and kidnapping.

I'd said I'd vaguely thought of riding through Iran, which isn't a country that turns up much in travel agents' brochures. I said that an acquaintance, Jacques Sirat, had just set off for seven years of cycling round the world and that he had every intention of going there again.

Jacques' view was that the people aren't their government, that they are well aware of the reputation their country has around the world and that they delight in showing the stories are undeserved.

"I've never been to a country as welcoming as Iran," he said.

"But what about all the kidnappings?" I protested.

Jacques smiled with a wheel's width of teeth.

"You're not very negotiable on a bike, are you?" he said. "If you're in a big fancy car people might assume you have a company or even a government behind you. They might see you in an air-conditioned coach and think you and the others are from rich families. But, on a bike, they wouldn't know what to do with you."

Yves could see the argument but he wasn't convinced. A friend of his had hitched a lift in one of the extremes of Pakistan, he said, when their car was stopped on the road.

"They stuck guns through the window," he said. "When they saw the driver was disabled, they let him go. But they took my friend and they held him a couple of months, I think it was, moving on every day so that he never slept twice in the same place."

"And what happened to him?"

"They let him go in the end."

"Why? Did someone pay a ransom?"

He shrugged. "The government in Paris, I suppose," he said, "but my friend never found out."

Hungry cyclists pounce...
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For the moment, then, I restricted my ambitions to buying lunch rations and a melon in Millau street market, then rode out the other side of town beside the Tarn. You think you're not going to get much of a view of the bridge at first because the road winds and what you do see is always the other side of somebody's workshop or a car breaker's yard. But then you clear the town and there it is, across the road and, yes, looking very big indeed.

It's very big, Millau viaduct, so big you can't hope to get more than a small part in a photo
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It is the biggest bridge in the world, although that depends how you measure it. It had a British architect and a French engineer and, doubtless for sound reasons not connected with publicity, they built one of the supporting pylons higher than anyone had ever built before. The roadway which hangs from it is a lot lower, naturally, and that wouldn't qualify for a record. But, to be honest, when you gaze on it, records don't matter. It has a simplicity, an elegance, a sort of half-smile of superiority.

The woman in the café at La Roque-Ste-Marguerite said it had had an odd effect. Its reason was to alleviate a bottleneck in Millau for traffic between France and Spain. "And then they built the bridge," she said, "and there was actually more traffic in Millau than ever before. People counted it and there was more."

I waited to see if a cyclist would ride under it. But you can never get a bike-rider when you want one. The tiny car will give you a sense of scale, though.
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What was happening is that drivers paid to drive the autoroute that crossed the bridge, then left it and drove back into Millau to see the bridge from beneath.

"They clogged the town, all these sightseers, and businesses like ours outside the town suffered because all the tourists were in Millau. But people have grown used to it now and the tourists are back."

The day before the bridge took its first traffic, in December 2004, they had the idea of opening it to just cyclists and walkers. If you didn't ride it then, you'll never ride it again.

This afternoon I said goodbye to the group. I got to the stopping point at St-Rome-de-Tarn too early to be worth staying and I wasn't impressed, anyway, by a campsite so bare that there was nothing but earth. I pushed on along the Tarn valley, climbing and climbing at one point, whooshing down at another, passing hydro-electric dams on the way. And this evening I am one of just three people on a municipal campsite at Le Triou.

I have just eaten the chicken in ginger that I bought in Millau market. I have a good mind to see if there's a beer to be had before the rain starts.

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