Cycling across the River Seine on one of the longest bridges in the world, the Pont de Normandie

(#08 – Top 10 Highlights from 2016 Tour de Travoy) Today’s photo shows a view of one of the cable stay support towers on the Pont de Normandie. The Pont de Normandie was the longest cable stay bridge in the world when it opened in 1998 and is probably the only motorway bridge in the world with a cycle lane. With it being a Sunday evening, traffic was light and there was hardly any wind so it was the perfect opportunity to cross the bridge. There are probably only about a dozen bridges in the world longer than the Pont de Normandie and most of them are in remote locations. So with a span length of 864m, this bridge is probably the longest I will ever cycle across.

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Total cycled today 105 km. Total cycled so far – 1715 km. You can see from the map above that I had to make a 20 km de-tour into Le Harve so as to reach the Pont de Normandie. While cyclists are allowed on the bridge, they are not allowed on the motorway approaching the bridge. There is a road along the estuary but this is restricted to authorized personnel. There is a swing bridge called the Pont Rouge or Red Bridge on the outskirts of Le Havre but this was closed for repairs. So what should have been a 70 km cycle today ended up with me traveling over 100 km.

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The Pont de Brotonne crosses the Seine at Retival. This was the first of 3 huge bridges across the Seine I would come across today. The Pont de Brotonne opened in 1977 and was one of the first major cable stay bridges built anywhere in the world. Its main span is 320m and it crosses the river about 50 m above the Seine. It was a toll bridge up until 2005 when tolls were abolished and the crossing became free.

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Camel grazing in front of the Pont de Tancarville. I have no idea what a camel was doing in this part of France but there he was chewing away at the grass alongside one of the longest bridges in France. The Pont de Tancarville suspension bridge has a main span of 608m and was completed in 1959 at a cost of 9 billion francs. In the 1990’s, it was realized that the cables had corroded and the shoulders were crumbling . Between 1996 and 1999. both the cables and shoulders were successfully replaced.

Pont de Tancarville. The Pont de Tancarville with it’s sandy colored girders is probably the nearest equivalent in Europe to the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco.

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Sign at Route de l’Estuaire. I had hoped to make my way along the Route de l’Estuaire to the Pont de Normandie but after reading this sign was forced to go a different route. The sign says “From 18th  June 2009, traffic is forbidden without authorization from the local prefect”. I had never come across such a sign anywhere else in France and wasn’t sure if it applied to cyclists or to just motor vehicles. I could have chanced it but when I looked at my map I realized I could cross the Pont Rouge near Le Havre and get to the Pont de Normandie bridge that way. It would mean a 5 km detour but it was a small price to pay to avoid being stopped or even arrested by the French police for cycling on an unauthorized road.

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Unbelievably, the Pont Rouge was shut for repairs. I was raging when I saw this sign. I couldn’t even chance crossing the bridge as the Pont Rouge was sitting in the swing-open position. I had no choice but to follow the 10 km long deviation into the center of Le Havre. The deviation signs were for cars and kept directing traffic onto the motorway through Le Havre. I got lost loads of times before eventually making my way to Le Havre harbour. It was now near 7 and i still had about 10 km to cycle to reach the Pont de Normandie. If only I had taken the Route de l’Estuaire, I would have been at the campsite in Honfleur 2 hours earlier.

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Pont de Normandie in the distance. This was the third bridge I had come across on this year’s Tour de Travoy that had been designed by Michel Virlogeux. The other two were at Seyssel in the Rhone Alpes and Chalons sur Saone in Burgundy. However, the Pont de Normandie is much bigger than both those cable stay bridges. The bridge took 7 years to build and cost about €400 million. When the bridge was opened in January 1995, it was both the longest cable-stayed bridge in the world. This record was lost in 1999 to the Tatara Bridge in Japan.. The cable-stayed design was chosen because it was both cheaper and more resistant to high winds than a suspension bridge. However, shortly after opening, the longest cables exhibited excessive vibrations, so several damping systems were quickly retrofitted.

Approaching the Pont de Normandie. The toll to cross the Pont de Normandie varies from €5 for a car to €13 for a truck. Fortunately, with it being a Sunday evening there were hardly any trucks crossing the bridge though there were a few big campervans. For pedestrians and cyclists, there is no toll and there is a clearly marked footpath and seperate cycle path around the toll booths for both to use. There is no toll for motorbikes but I assume they just pull up behind the cars and are then waved through.

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Bumblebee from Transformer’s parked up on the quay in Honfleur. This car has a French number-plate so is unlikely to be the Camaro used by Michael Bay in the Transformer movies but it certainly looks like Bumblebee. The Tour de France was ending this evening in Paris and I tweeted that if Chris Froome wanted a car to go with his yellow jersey, then here in Honfleur was the perfect car.

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View of the Pont de Normandie from Honfleur harbour. I had cycled over the Pont de Normandie at the same time as Chris Froome and all the other cyclists in the Tour de France were cycling around the Champs Elysses in Paris just 200 kms or so away. Crossing the bridge had been my key objective during the last week of the 2016 Tour de Travoy. For many of the cyclists on the Champs Elysses that evening, just getting to Paris and completing the Tour was their main objective. As I gazed at the bridge from Honfleur harbour, I couldn’t believe that I had just crossed over the Pont de Normandie. I am sure that many of the Tour de France cyclists in Paris would have experienced the same mixture of joy and disbelief at what they had just achieved as well.

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