ALTERNATIVE TOUR DE FRANCE

With the Tour de France in full swing and 2017 marking the 200th anniversary of the mighty bicycle, Rough Guides’ Greg Dickinson embarked on his own two-wheeled adventure through the country – and he discovered some things about the power of pedalling along the way.

I click down through the gears and stand up. To my left a half-man, half-bicycle overtakes me with his right arm raised and fingers splayed. The soft whistling noise his bike makes sounds expensive.

Then, a glitch in the matrix and an identical cyclist follows, wearing the same red and white lycra outfit. Arm raised, fingers splayed. Within seconds a peloton of a dozen cyclists has left me in its slipstream, each “bonjour” loading another brick into my already overloaded panniers.

I try to go down one more gear but can’t. I’m at rock bottom, on a stretch that my France en Velo guidebook promised would be the easiest of the entire Channel to the Mediterranean cycle. In eight days and five hundred miles’ time, my calves and knees will have broken and repaired, and the Massif Central will feel much easier than this.

But right now I can’t see over this hill. I dig my hand into my saddle bag for an astronaut-style energy gel sachet and rip it open with my front teeth.

Once I’ve sucked out the gloop, I chew the plastic for any sugary remnants. This, I think, is not fun. At least, not “type one” fun.