In observance of the D-Day, over 250 cyclists rode the Normandy Liberty Trail 1-3 June 2012. The ride is a challenging 400km recreational road cycling trip through some of the most beautiful countryside and militarily significant regions of France’s Cotentin Peninsula. The ride coincides with other D-Day memorial observances in the Normandy area and is a biennial pilgrimage for cyclists. The liberty ride normally rotates annually between Normandy and Bastogne. This year’s ride had a record 70 American cyclists. Most were members of the U.S. Armed Forces—soldiers, sailors, airmen, civilians—currently stationed in Europe. Though not a competitive event, the ride required participants to be fit, as cycling routes average 130K per day. The cycling clubs of some military communities throughout Europe had several training rides leading up to this event. Each day’s ride began and ended in Périers with commemorative ceremonies along the way. This also included a midday meal, mid-morning, and mid-afternoon snacks; therefore, the full daily distance was broken up into four segments.
As my blog description states, I am the kind of girl that likes to get dirty…literally. So when I run, I trail run. When I ride, I ride a mountain bike. I love feeling the earth under my feet. You get the picture. As a cyclist, I identify as a mountain biker. Most mountain bikers own road bikes for the training value. When I was rehabbing from three consecutive knee surgeries in 2007, I rode a lot of road. MTB was off limits. I trained and completed two centuries (100 miles) and a 150 miler. As soon as I was well, I bought a full suspension mountain bike and never looked back. Last year in hopes of getting stronger and faster, I traded my steel road bike for a beautiful carbon road bike that weighs 15lbs. It was an investment in me. Every time I have the intention to train on road, I get bored and jump back on my MTB because it’s so much more fun! It’s quite sad that my carbon Specialized S-Works is used mostly as my commuting bike. I signed up for the three day 400K road ride around Normandy as an American veteran, patriot and cyclist. With my upcoming move, I figured this was going to be a once in the lifetime experience for me. As a mountain biker, this is my account of the Liberty Trail (Road) Ride:
Day Zero. With this impending ride looming over my head, I was quite nervous. I was afraid I’d be over my head! I resided in an apartment (gite) in Lessay which looks like a regular American suburb. I even went grocery shopping at a Super Marche. Except for 13euro towel, it looks and feels just like Wal-Mart! I met several Americans that are all staying in the gite complex as well. My gite-mates were two American ladies who live in Heidelberg, Germany. They both just started riding several months prior and have been training up for this event. I was quite impressed by them.
Day 1: My day started off with a 9km ride from Lessay to Périers. We rode from the gites to the start and back every day. The event began with a traditional Catholic Church service in Périers. The service was in French but I was able to happy to be able to receive communion. The children sang mass. It was quite moving. The ride departure was from the city hall. The group of 200 plus riders had to stay in a peloton with a four cyclist front. It felt like a military formation run but with fancy bicycles. The average speed was 14mph. If you were an avid cyclist, you can throw out everything you knew about keeping pace and cadence. Ultimately, all you wanted to do was stay behind the guy in front of you and move up if there was an open spot. Initially it was quite difficult to keep a slow pace with no cadence but I soon got a hang of it and spent most of my time chatting with the fellow American cyclists around me. The total ride was 94km with 30km splits. First stop was lunch at St Lo. As you approach the town, you see the walls that surround the village. We approached the town square for a ceremony at the resistance memorial at the remnants of the old Porte de la Prison which was destroyed by the Allied bombing during the night of 6 and June 7. Many of the prisoners were members of the resistance who died. Near the door of the old prison is an urn containing the ashes of the dead prisoners. It was a sit down 1.5 hour lunch with bottles of wine. Unisex toilets were an interesting experience for me. The second stop was at a modern church in where we were treated with homemade alcoholic apple cider. Then ride back into Périers.
Day 2. We rode 70 km in the morning as we head north in the direction of Cherbourg and were treated with a nice long climb to the mid-day stop in Beaumont-Hague Eglise Notre-Dame for a memorial service. This was followed by lunch where we enjoyed more wine. We rode another 80 km that afternoon in hilly terrain with a ceremony at Camp Patton (location of the Third Army field HQ). I was asked to hold the Canadian flag. Return to Périers at 1730 for a ceremony at the Memorial for the Four (US) Soldiers (in the liberation of Périers). This time I insisted on carrying American flag
Day3. 0800 start time. We rode 80km in the morning on a long stretch to Avranches in the south. The climb into Avranches was a nice 9% climb with a switch back. A great chance to test the legs! In the town of Avranches we had the honor of meeting an older lady who was a child during the Nazi occupation. Her father and brother were French resistance members who were killed in the St. Lo prison. She was so happy to meet the Americans on this ride and we were honored by her presence. Living history! The 70km on the return leg to Périers went over rolling hills. After which we participated in the final closing ceremony. Each rider was given a commemorative plaque at the end of the tour.
Americans died on the very ground on which cycled and we were asked to play a central role in the commemorations along the way. The cycling event was a wonderful and fitting way to honor D-Day and its legacy. Riding side-by-side with French and Belgium cyclists, we navigated through the very countryside and towns that had once been devastated by war and joined together in commemorating the many that fought and fell here. Throughout the three-day, we were constantly reminded of the gratitude and affection of the French for the American sacrifices of WWII. We were greeted with enthusiastic cheers of the many people who lined the route into towns, the warm reception by local officials, moving commemorative ceremonies, and the American flags displayed everywhere. Nowhere in the world are GIs as honored as they are here and by people who were caught in the cross fires and whose towns were reduced to rubble. Many of the older locals were young kids at D-Day. This was unique opportunity to get close to France feel the warmness and enduring gratitude of its people for their liberty and their continuing affection for those who fought to regain it. The Liberty Trail event is also a wonderful opportunity to traverse the small towns and villages, the beautiful countryside, and the simple warmth of the country people.
For those of your interested in next year’s event in Bastogne, download a registration form from www.voiedelaliberte.fr. The registration cost of 100 euros includes an event jersey, tickets for three lunches (plus mid-route snacks), and covers the motorcycle escort, emergency medical and roadside repair services, and a sag bus.