And back again: Nantes - Clisson - North to the Loire, monsieur... and home again - CycleBlaze

August 9, 2013

And back again: Nantes - Clisson

Sometimes industrial architecture has a charm of its own, don't you think? Farewell, Nantes
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THE BRITISH had their big bus parked outside the campground. Most had come that way, on a service put on each summer by a company that runs regular bus-bike transport across France and into Spain, and they were trapped until it was due to head north again.

Half the population of the site was British. It always is. The French aren't great cycle-campers, preferring troglodyte camping vans. And the British weren't any more convinced than we were that this was a Sem Fed grand cru. Some who could left before the week reached its mid-point, disillusioned by hours of bike paths never designed for so many. But the rest were trapped.

Behind us, on the edge of the campground, we had two cycle-campers from the south. The older and leaner lived at Campan, on the approach to the Tourmalet. His chunkier friend, whose accent could be cut and served with a trowel, was from Montauban in the Garonne valley. They were camping in two tents, each twice the size of ours, and planned to ride 200km a day to get home.

On the other side of us, a relatively elderly, grey-haired but fit couple from Chamonix, on the edge of the Alps, packed up early to start their journey home by bike and train.

Where once we had been hugger-mugger with our neighbours, now we had a cordon sanitaire, as though we were unclean and infectious. So we had space to pack up in our own turn, and we wheeled down the grassy slope to the green gates, shaking hands with the volunteer doormen whom we sensed were aware of the disappointment with the week, and set off to skirt the city and ride south.

And then it started raining.

We rode up the hill past the event headquarters, sympathising with a confused Brit who, looking around, had ridden into one of the many dangerous concrete road dividers in Nantes and fallen off.

This is where the Count de Dion lived. And who was he? Well, he was a pioneer of the car industry and De Dion cars were the bee's knees way back when. But more significant for cyclists is that he was one of the investors who made L'Auto possible, and L'Auto was the newspaper that founded the Tour de France
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It took a while to get through the city. It took even longer to get out from the outer town where we had lunch.

"Never trust directions from anyone who doesn't ride a bike," Steph grumbled, repeating a mantra we had unwisely ignored. The map showed us the road past the restaurant was the one we wanted but the café owner was so insistent that it was the other way, going two roundabouts and then turning right, that we believed her.

And she was right. But only to the extent that that's the way any driver with no knowledge of smaller roads would have gone. Her route took us three times round a square and past every tyre-fitting depot and fast-food joint in the republic.

"Never again," we promised each other. "The map can't be wrong."

We ride on through more fields of maize, dull, uninspiring. And then through smaller fields of Muscadet grapes, finally into hillier land at the end of which lies the appealing town of Clisson.

We surrender gratefully, call at the tourist office and set anchor at a newly refurbished campground with the town on one side of us and the anonymous but brightly labelled metal sheds of a retail area on the other.

The warm wooden shapes of the old market hall at Clisson
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