We pass through a succession of tiny villages, each identical to the last. Mass times are displayed on entry to the village and we stop to rest under the trees in the central square, watched over by the mairie. The war memorial displays the red, white and blue: fierce nationalism not often seen in Britain, and a lone dog barks. We catch the waft of fresh baguette from the ubiquitous boulangerie, but the flakes of croissant nestled in my cycling jersey are a sign that we’ve already stopped once this morning, and we reluctantly stand and carry on.
We roll through endless fields of rippling corn and thousands of acres of sunflowers, all with their heads bowed, as if paying homage to the passing season. The cycling is fast and there are signposts on every corner, no matter how small the junction. We often find ourselves on smooth, traffic free routes, along canals and rivers which weave across the landscape, providing welcome relief from hills. Regular shouts of ‘bon courage!’ lift our spirits, as do the drivers who give us plenty of space and beep their horns in encouragement.
Meal times are a joy: cheese so strong it makes our eyes water, fresh bread and juicy tomatoes. Beads of water on ripe plums glisten in the sun and pastries provide a final sweet note to carry us through the afternoon. We resist the urge to snooze and with full bellies, we press on.
The tarmac reflects the heat back at us and we keep our heads down, pedalling harder to create a cooling wind. We alternate between quiet contemplation and loud singing as we spin through the countryside.
Finally, as the odometer ticks over, our shadows begin to lengthen and we seek out that perfect field, wood or village green to settle for the night. Peace reigns and we sit back with a cup of tea, our aching muscles relaxed as we watch the stars gradually appear.
This is cycling in France. This is our life.