After all the excitement and massive personal challenges of the previous few days I thought that the Marseille stage would be a bit of an anti-climax. The stage is just over 20km and frankly I just wanted to get to Paris and get it all done without any further incident.
Another coach transfer in to Marseille for a start at the impressive Stade Velodrome. The sun was out again and the journey included our first sighting of the sea. The Mistral was still blowing hard and the turquoise sea was covered in white horses – I love the sea and I really wanted to get going and enjoy some sea air.
Much of the coastline around the area has been heavily industrialised and I assumed that Marseille itself would be the same. It wasn’t – the French have a brilliant ability to creatively preserve historical sites. I loved the way they have preserved the Old Port area (previously seen on TV as a battleground for warring football suppporters). The vast array of boats from Gin Palaces to traditional wooden sailing boats all bobbing away in the swell coming in from the sea reminded me of my sailing days. It felt very weird being amongst boats on a bike!
As for the bike ride itself, it was a gentle ride along the Corniche past the beaches, into the Old Port area where most riders stopped for a coffee and croissant in the sunshine. Then we moved into the streets slightly inland before cycling up a very steep hill to the Basilica. Psychologically I was miles away from being ready for this climb which must have been 400m at most. I have to confess I walked up the last 100m or so. There is no question it was one of the steeper hills of the Tour but it rankles with me now that I did not show a bit more mental fortitude and complete the climb.
An easy ride through the streets back to the Velodrome and then to the Metro and station for the TGV to Paris. Standing around the busy station for an hour or so on a hot day was not my idea of fun and I was very happy to take my seat on the train for the impressively quick journey to Paris.
I was reminded that France is still in a state of emergency following the terrorist atrocities – four heavily armed and threatening looking soldiers walked slowly in formation through the station – no-one dared make eye contact with them or got in their way. I had no doubt they were ready to use the guns they were carrying at the ready. I wish they had been much closer when I was walking up the platform to my seat. The ugly side of Marseille suddenly surfaced – much too close by for comfort someone had a broken bottle in his hand and was trying to shove it into the face of a train employee. I have no idea what caused the incident but the assailant was quickly overpowered and no harm done.
We arrived in Paris with no further incident and were taken by bus out to a suburb called Evry. It started to dawn on me that this relentless existence was coming to an end and in just over 24 hours I would return back to a ‘normal’ existence.
I was also very excited that Rosie (my wife) and my incredibly supportive Mum and Dad were already in Paris and that I would see them tomorrow. I was particularly keen to give Rosie a huge hug as her Dad had been taken ill and passed away while I had been away. We had discussed whether I should come home early and agreed that I should stay on as in reality everything was pretty much under control. This was not an easy decision and I struggled to work out if I was being a bit selfish and should have made the decision myself to come home and support Rosie through a very difficult time. I knew that friends and family had rallied round to help out but there is nothing like a big hug when life gets tough. Thank you Rosie – you never cease to amaze me!