2016-07-08 (Day 22) Provins – Mary sur Marne

Today’s photo shows a battered box lying abandoned at the side of the road near to Jouarre. The box is for a catalogue company in France called Bernard.com but its dishevelled condition and empty state sort of summed up the kind of day I was after having. Today I suffered my first puncture on the 2016 Tour de Travoy and the lack of gears on my bike was really getting me down. So I felt a bit like this box looked when I came across it after cycling about 70 km today.


Mobile homes at Camping Municipal in Provins. The main difference between municipal and privately run campsites in France is that most municipal campsites don’t have mobile homes available to rent out. But here at the campsite in Provins , there were about a dozen mobile homes available to let. Most mobile homes cost around €500 a week to rent in high season but there are no prices on the campsite website for these homes. Their website does state that new management took over the campsite in April 2012 and perhaps the mobile homes were added to the campsite since then.


Campsite reception in Provins. It was about 1.30 before I got away from the campsite in Provins as I had to wait for the reception to open. I had tried to pay the evening before but only had €50 note on me and the campsite didn’t have enough change. So myself and the receptionist agreed for me to pay the fee (€7) the following day as I planned to go shopping and I could get some change then. But the reception was closed all morning and didn’t open until 1.30. So I was very late leaving Provins which meant I didn’t get as far today as I had hoped.


Total cycled today – 70 km. Total cycled so far on 2016 Tour de Travoy – 1295 km. Not too much climbing today but having only one gear plus the late start and a puncture after only 10 km made for a long day.


Roadworks near Courtacon. Roadworks are more common in France than in Ireland. Nearly every day, I would come across a crew repairing a stretch of road or installing safety features to slow the traffic down. Soon after passing this roadworks crew, I got my first and only puncture of the 2016 Tour de Travoy. The puncture was on my back wheel which had a Continental Gatorskin tyre. These tyres have a steel bead which means they are a pig to get off and back on again. It took me the best part of an hour to change the tube as  there was hardly any flex in the Gatorskin tyre.


Super U supermarket in La Ferte Gaucher. There are roughly 700 Super U stores in France including this one at the town of La Ferte Gaucher. Super U is owned by the company Systeme U who also operate approx 50 hypermarkets (Hyper U) and about 150 convenience stores (Marche U) in France.

Source : Statista.com

Grocery market share in France. You can see from the above chart that Systeme U have about 10% of the grocery market in France similar to Auchan. Worldwide, Auchan would be much bigger with hundreds of stores in China and Russia. Other French supermarket chains, such as Carrefour and Casino have a big presence in South America but Systeme U only have stores in France.


Laurent Fignon rode for System U between 1986-89. Systeme U is most famous in France for sponsoring Laurent Fignon. Fignon won the Tour de France in 1983 and 1984 and famously lost to Greg Lemond by only 8 seconds in 1989. Fignon had rode for Renault-Elf in 83-84 under Cyril Guimard but in 1986, Systeme U took over sponsership of Fignon’s team. In 1989, Fignon won the Giro d’Italia and looked set to complete the Giro-Tour double as he had a lead of 50 seconds on Greg Lemond before the final stage, a 24.5 km time trial, into Paris.

Fignon and Lemond during the final Tour de France stage in 1989. While Lemond was the better time-trialler, Fignon did not believe he could overturn his 50 second lead in such a short distance. Fignon rode the fastest time trial of his life averaging 52 kmph but it was not enough. Lemond averaged almost 55 kmph to beat Fignon by 58 seconds to claim the Yellow Jersey by just 8 seconds. Notice how Lemond is wearing an aerodynamic helmet and using tri-bars unlike Fignon. In fact, it has been calculated that the drag from Fignon’s ponytail was enough for him to lose those 8 seconds. Fignon also erred that day by having 2 disc wheels as there was a lot of cross winds on the run in to the Champs Elysee in Paris. Nowadays, most time trialists only use a disc wheel on the back with a tri-spoke or deep rim wheel at the front, in a similar set-up to Lemond, who used a normal road wheel on the front of his bike that day.


Laurent Fignon and Greg Lemond during the 1989 Tour de France. Fignon would go on to finish 6th in the 1991 Tour but was never the same cyclist after his crushing defeat in 1989. He retired from professional cycling in 1993 and worked as a race organizer. In 2009, he was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away a year later at only 50 years of age. In his autobiography, “We were Young and Carefree”, he goes into great detail about his loss to Lemond. He explains that he had a bad saddle sore that day but managed to ride through the pain barrier, by telling himself that as soon as the race was over, he could forget about the pain from his saddle sore. But he never forgot about the pain of missing out on the Tour de France by such a small margin for the rest of his life.


Tram for tourists in La Ferte Gaucher. This tram takes tourists through the medieval town centre and onto a disused train station and railway track near La Ferte Gaucher which is now used for velo-rail. The French love cycling so much they even cycle along old railway tracks.

Velorail is quite popular in France. There are about 50 locations in France where you can velorail along an old disused length of track including here at La Ferte Gaucher. I assume that people are collected when they get to the end of the track as the bogeys would be quite difficult to turn around. The popularity of velorail in France hasn’t gone un-noticed back home and plans were recently announced to open Ireland’s first velorail at Kiltimagh in County Mayo. The velorail will be 13km long along a disused section of the Sligo – Limerick railway. The good people of Kiltimagh managed to get €180k in funding for the project no doubt helped by the fact that both the Prime Minister (Taoiseach) and Minister for Tourism are both from Mayo. Mind you, if it is half as successful as the first greenway in Ireland which opened about 10 years ago also in Mayo, then it will do just fine.


Water tower with mobile phone mast near Rebais. This is arguably the ugliest looking water tower I came across in France but you can be sure the water inside it tastes sweet. No matter where I have been in France, the water has always tasted lovely. The French pride themselves on their water supply and all water and sewerage services are controlled by the local Mairie or town hall which is often also the mayor’s office. Most water in France is metered and a bill is sent out normally once or twice a year by the Mairie. Water bills normally include a standing charge, an investment charge as well as a set rate for consumption, normally around €2 per m3  for water and €2 per m3 for sewerage. About 20% of households in France have a septic tank and these houses only pay a bill for water supply. All other households pay for water and sewerage and the average bill in France is about €300 per household per year. 3/4’s of Mairie’s in France outsource the water and sewerage services to private companies, such as Veolia or Suez but the bill always comes from and is paid to the Mairie. Generally, consumers in France pay less for their water than in most other countries in Europe. Of course, France is famous for its protests, whether it is farmers opposed to lamb imports or taxi drivers blocking roads due to Uber but one thing they have never protested about is their water supply. But in Ireland, no issue in the last 10 years or so has generated more protests than the supply of water to Irish homes and businesses.

Irish Water protesters converge on the GPO in Dublin in January 2016. Irish Water was set up in 2013 to manage water supply and sewerage service in Ireland. Previously, water supply was organised by the county councils and local authorities and the only charge was a connection charge for new houses of between €2,000 – €5,000. But in 2014, Irish Water started fitting water meters to every house in the country and billing customers every 3 months. This led to considerable protests throughout 2015 and early 2016. In February 2016, there was a general election and the government lost it’s majority largely as a result of Irish Water. Consequently, the new government agreed to suspend water charges and no water bills have been issued since the general election. Instead, an Expert Commission was set up to look at the whole issue of water charges. In November 2016, they published their report recommending that households should only be charged for excessive water use. As to whether the report’s recommendations are adopted remains to be seen but because the present Irish government is a minority government, they will need to get the agreement of almost all of the Irish parliament before deciding on the future of Irish Water.


Houses being built near Rebais. I often come across signs saying “Terrains a Batir” or “Building sites for sale” while cycling through France. Normally, the sign signifies a single site for sale but here at Rebais, there were about a dozen plots for sale. A developer will put in road, water, sewage and electrical services into a site and then divide it up into “lotissement” or “allotments” and sell each site off individually. This practice is quite common in France and the USA but would be almost unheard off in the UK or Ireland.

Sites and house plans for sale at Rebais. The house on the top right can be built for €122k plus €75k for the site (411 m2) for a total cost of around €200k. The house on the bottom right with a flat roof is much cheaper at €70k plus €80k for the site (553 m2) for a total cost of €150k. The  sites here in Rebais average about €170 per m2 which is much dearer than in most of France but they they would be cheaper than than most sites in the Ile de France region. Rebais is only 60 km from the centre of Paris and the Ile de France region is by far the most expensive in France for building sites. In 2014, about 300,000 new houses and apartments were built in France of which about 60,000 were located in the Ile de France. In 2006, before the property crash of 2008-09, about 400,000 houses were built in France so the crash result in a 25% drop in the number of new houses. Compare that to Ireland where 93,000 new houses were built in 2006 but only about 10,000 in 2014 resulting in a drop of almost 90%.


Steampunk style windmill sculpture near to Jaignes. I thought this was a windmill but on closer inspection, it is just a few pieces of scrap metal welded together in the shape of a windmill. It is possible the vane rotates to indicate the direction of the wind but as it was calm this afternoon, I had no way of knowing if that was the case.


Camping des 2 Iles near Mary sur Marne. It was after 6 when I made it to my campsite for the night here at Camping des 2 Iles.


My pitch at Camping les Deux Iles. The campsite is mostly geared up for families who were staying in mobile homes and I was the only person at the campsite in a tent. There were a few campervans but unlike most campsites in France, they were outnumbered by mobile homes. The campsite is only about 30km from Disneyland and this might explain why there were so many families in mobile homes.


Plane on the flightpath for Charles de Gaulle airport. The campsite was one of the prettiest I had stayed on this year’s Tour de Travoy and the grass and the pitch was really comfortable. Unfortunately, the campsite was right beside the Marne which planes use as guide for their approach to  Charles de Gaulle airport. Every 2 minutes or so, a plane would fly overhead and the noise didn’t diminish until near midnight. Having not got any sleep on Wednesday due to mosquito bites and also on Thursday due to the fireworks and all the cars beeping in Provins after France beat Germany, the last thing I needed was another poor night’s sleep. Fortunately, the number of flights landing started to ease off as it got dark and I had no trouble nodding off to sleep.


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