North London Bike Tour: Tour De North Four
Written by: Tom Williams
So this July, 198 cyclists head over to Germany to start the Tour de France. If you think that is weird, wait till I tell you it started in Yorkshire a few years ago. Anyway after the three days of the Grand Depart, the spectacle of the world’s biggest sporting event heads back to France and the action really begins.
And what action it is. 21 days, 2200 miles and 23 mountain climbs. So to pay tribute to this celebration of suffering, North Four went on a little bike ride of their own. Exploring some of the more French highlights of the area and one of the toughest climbs in London.
But first things first. Coffee. Coffee and breakfast, to be precise and it just so happens that North Four HQ happens to be within rolling distance of Boulangerie Bon Matin: a modern french bakery, nestled in Finsbury Park.
So the obvious choice for a French themed breakfast would be coffee and croissants, but here at North Four we try and shake things up. (Don’t worry they have croissants too and the word in our little peloton is they are damn good). Embracing our millennial lifestyle we went for poached eggs and avocado on toast. Pretty much everywhere does avocado and eggs now, but not everyone does them this well.
I might not be able to own a house thanks to spending all my money on avocados, but who needs to when they are this good. And lets be honest, I would’ve spent the money on bikes anyway. Fortunately they also happen to be a great source of carbs and protein, the touch of chilli perfect for firing us up for the day ahead.
Speaking of fired up, you can’t go on a bike ride without fuel, I mean coffee. Being a delightful summer day we paired breakfast with their new Vietnamese style iced coffee. How is that French you say?
Well Vietnam was colonised by the French so I say that counts. Also the coffee was that good I just don’t care. Full and fuelled up we headed out on our ride, armed with fresh legs and an even fresher baguette.
Bike races like the Tour de France are made up of many different types of terrain. The person with the fastest time over the whole tour gets to wear the yellow jersey or maillot jaune and walk away the winner.
We have long flat days; solo hell time trial days; lumpy up and down days; crotch destroying gravel and cobble days all of these combine to make up a grand tour.
But quite often the most important days in the race are the nosebleed inducing mountain top days.
These aren’t the days where you can win the race, a grand tour is too complicated for that but they are the days where you can lose it all. They are the days where riders push themselves to the absolute limit and beyond all for a chance to wear that yellow jersey.
Arguably the biggest and baddest of these mountain top finishes is Mont Ventoux, coming in at 5,200ft of climbing over 14 miles and an average gradient of 7.5% this mountain is a true test, worthy of respect from even the best riders. The steep mountain road leads a weather station and it’s iconic aerial. To honour this particular climb, we decided to recreate it on a climb up to the equally as iconic Alexandra Palace and it’s very own aerial.
Clocking in at 137ft of climbing and just over a third of a mile with an average gradient of 6% the climb to Alley Pally is accessible to everyone but still challenging enough to be a test without the risk of altitude sickness.
Whether you spin up it in your lowest gears or go on a big ring attack (I recommend the latter) the views from the top are completely worth it. They are however best enjoyed after some kind of victory dance. We incorporated a rather sweaty baguette into ours after my rather successful big ring attack.
With the majority of London sprawling out in front of you and providing an ideal back drop to Alley Pally itself, you will soon forget the pain your legs are in. Once you’ve recovered the ability to walk you have a surprisingly peaceful park and gardens to explore. They also happen to make a fantastic instagram backgrounds for those #humblebrag posts you’re entitled to make now that you’re up here. Because remember, if you don’t post it, you never did it. Oh and incase you completely cooked yourself going up, there is a cafe at the top to restock at.
When you get sick of the views, you then have the luxury of bombing back down the other side into London. If you do it fast enough you can make it to Salut! to try their brand new lunch menu like we did.
Based in Islington, Salut! with it’s friendly and modern take on French cuisine is definitely worth those extra pedal strokes. With an open kitchen and a comfy rustic vibe it’s an ideal place to rest those tired legs and take care of the appetite you’ve built up. We started with roasted asparagus and 72 day matured lamb ham. I have no idea what or how you get a lamb ham but however you do it is delicious. Oh it also had a poached egg and a Hollandaise sauce with it. But seriously that lamb ham.
While gearing up for the main course, a quick history lesson on the recent Tour de France’s. While the race is of course very very French, it’s been a very long time since we have had a French winner. In fact the Tour de France has had a very anglo based problem. Us Brits have won 4 out of the last 5 of them, thanks to Sir Wiggo and Froome. And we even have Mark Cavendish sprinting for the most Tour stage wins. So it only seemed natural for us to go for a very British brunch for our Tour de France lunch.
R Owtons Pork and Bacon Sausage, Smoked White and Black Beans with Fried Egg and Chives. To give it it’s full menu name. Or sausage, bacon and egg when you translate it from delicious to hungry. But don’t let this simplification fool you. This was a truly magnificent meal.
Sat next to the equally delicious Salt Hake in Sorrel Bianco Butter sauce and you quickly had two very excited cyclists swapping food like kids on a school trip. Soon after eating our fill and with long lingering glances at the dessert menu, no one needs to see food babies in lycra, we were on our bikes heading back to the office to taunt our co workers with the wonders of lamb ham.
If any of the food has tickled your fancy you can find Boulangerie Bon Matin online and over on twitter and facebook. Or if you are up for the lamb ham you can find that at Salut! and on twitter and instagtram. If you or anyone you know have been effected by lycra you can talk to me about it @lycrabore.
Read more North Four bike tours here.
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