Goin' round an' around - Mid-winter across Europe - CycleBlaze

January 10, 2007

Goin' round an' around

Lamotte-Beuron, St-Viâtre, Selles-St Denis, Châtres-sur-Cher, Genouilly, Gracay, Vatan, Ménétréols, La Champenoise, Céré, Châteauroux

D'you ever have that feeling, when you ride down a road, that you've been that way before? Sometimes years before. And then you get out your maps and you prod at your memory and, yes, you went that way on a youth-hostelling trip back when you were at school.

It's happened to me plenty of times. It can't be that nothing about the road has changed in all that time. And it's certainly not that there's anything memorable, like a distinctive building or a view. It's simply that that bit of road - maybe you stopped for a puncture there, or to take your gloves off - has locked into your self-conscious.

Well, I didn't have to hunt back too far today. I knew I had been to Châteauroux before and I knew exactly when: four months earlier.

Every year, the French cycle-touring federation organises a national rally, a week long, with organised rides of different lengths and in different directions every day. It's held in a different region each summer and in August 2006 it was in Châteauroux.

It's a great event, the Semaine Fédérale, and I recommend it thoroughly. I have been every year since I moved to France. There are usually 15,000 cyclists from all over the country and from abroad and a further 5,000 camp-followers. In Châteauroux there were fewer than that because, unlike the previous few years, the Semaine wasn't in the mountains. For all people complain about climbing, in the end they like it for the views.

Once there was sunshine: there are daily rides of all lengths at the Semaine Fédérale, heldin 2006 at Châteauroux
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And not just rides every day but, much more important, lots of chances to stop for sticky buns
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Châteauroux in the summer was awash with cyclists. There were arrows everywhere to direct them. There was a central headquarters and a bike show and an impromptu restaurant. Cyclists took over the town. Riding into it in midwinter was quite different, of course, and the only cyclists I saw were four pals who caught me after an afternoon's ride of their own.

I can't pretend there's much to see there. Except for one thing. On the northern edge of the town is an airfield. It's owned by, or at least one of the biggest companies there is, a firm which will take an old Boeing or Airbus off your hands when you're finished with it. It is an aeroplane graveyard. More planes land there than ever take off, although some do take off because it's also one of the airfields from which France flies home those who have overstayed their welcome or entered illegally.

But... and this is what intrigued me... many of the planes there land and then, without stopping, take off again. And round and round they go, landing, taking off, just now and then stopping for a few minutes before going off round again. Foir an hour or more.

Today there were two of them at it, a blue job from an airline whose name I couldn't read, and a big four-jet Air France plane. Round and round and round, taking turns to land and whizz straight off again.


The odd thing is that when I asked in the town, nobody knew. You'd think it would be common knowledge, wouldn't you? My guess is that the planes are taken down to Châteauroux with enough fuel to make sure they get there and then the pilots go round and round to burn it off. Not because they have anything against landing with half-full tanks (I suppose it could be siphoned off) but because that way the second pilot actually flying the thing can chalk up a lot more takeoffs and landings in a day than he'd get in a month.

It's the only explanation I've got. If you can think of another one, please do send me a message.

Today's ride: 113 km (70 miles)
Total: 1,043 km (648 miles)

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