Punctures, u-turns - but hey, at least I'm on my way
Pedal the planet with Breifne Earley
So, after months of planning, the World Cycle Race finally kicked off on March 1. I left the Crown Moran Hotel bright and early to make the short journey down Edgware Road to Marble Arch where the riders and supporting peloton were assembling.
About 70 cyclists joined myself and two of my fellow riders, Fran and Lee – who also started from London – past most of the city's main landmarks including Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster and Tower Bridge before winding towards Greenwich Park and the Prime Meridian – the location for the official start of the race.
For the first mile or so the three of us chatted away and it wasn't long before Lee made a burst into the distance. As I mentioned before, during the build-up to the race, I'm planning on pacing myself and not getting burnt out during the first few weeks.
While Lee had chosen to get the Channel Tunnel train to the Continent, Fran and I opted to take the Dover to Calais ferry. Despite a 20-minute delay at the start, I made good time and arrived for the crossing at 5.45pm.
Fran, who had been within a few hundred metres for the first 10k or so, was nowhere to be seen. I later learnt she made the final ferry.
It was in Calais where the first mini-disaster struck; we arrived too late to pick up the support car and the office was shut until Monday, so after a bit of discussion the girls were taken under the wing of Laurie, a fantastic lady from P&O, who got them sorted with accommodation for the two nights. I set off for inner France and made it to the planned finish point in Arques on the first night, despite suffering a puncture and getting a little bit lost on the way. It was 1am before I arrived at my destination and I barely had a chance to get any sleep.
On the first morning in France, I made a rookie mistake: I headed off towards Belgium and, as I made my way around the first roundabout, I saw a car in the distance on the right-hand side of the road, one quick manoeuvre later and I had about-turned to go the proper way around the island – quite a lucky escape.
The support team of Sara and Louise not having access to a car was an issue, but I just ploughed on until Monday when they rejoined me south of Brussels.
Day two on my own was a fantastic experience. I spent 60k alongside a canal out of Roubaix and the river before turning south towards Brussels. It turned out to be carnival time across Belgium, so towns were pretty much impassible due to the festivities. I had to cut my day short 30k shy of Brussels due to the parade in Aalst.
On Monday morning, after about two miles of cycling on the brilliant cycle lanes along the motorway, my tyre went again. This time I had no spare tube and faced a three-mile hike back to find a replacement. Two hours later I was back in the same spot, with everything sorted.
The girls hit gold when choosing the cheapest option for accommodation – Château de la Poste; we jumped at it, and the tough climb into the Belgian mountains was worth it when we arrived at a hilltop mansion and awoke to stunning views.
I celebrated my 33rd birthday by climbing some of the toughest hills I've ever done, one after another. I hadn't expected southern Belgium to be quite so hilly.
But after nearly three days of cycling through its wonderful countryside, I'm already planning a return visit.
I have a few more stops to make, though.
Breifne is taking part in the World Cycle Race, in which he hopes to break the record for cycling around the planet. For updates, live tracker location or to make a donation see: www.pedaltheplanet.tv