Newtown Twinning Association visit to Les Herbiers for the 20th Anniversary and HCC at the Chrono
On the 22nd of October, the pretty town of Les Herbiers, in the French Vendée, celebrated 20 years of twinning with Newtown. At a time when many towns and villages across Europe are allowing their twinning activities to be wound down, owing to a lack of new blood and a dearth of funding, the liaison between Les Herbiers and Newtown is getting stronger, optimistically expanding its horizons beyond the near death experience it had a couple of years ago.
Four committee members from Newtown, Andrew and Alwena Gentle and Liz and Jon Bushell, made a self funded journey to Les Herbiers last weekend, to help celebrate the inauguration of the twinning association there, twenty years ago in 1996.
A cheerful exhibition of photographs had been put on display for the public, which selected many highlights of events not only between the two towns, but also Coria in Spain and Leibertwolkwitz in Germany, which signed their twinning charters with Les Herbiers at later dates. Two of the visiting committee members, Andrew and Alwena Gentle, had a great time picking out their own favourite moments from the visits that they had made over the years. In particular, there were photographs of the ‘Olympiad’, which took place between the four countries in Wales in 2007, when Newtown carried off the trophy. There will be many people who will remember taking part!
During the same weekend, Les Herbiers hosted its Fête du Chrono, linking a huge trade fair with the now famous cycle race, Le Chrono des Nations, where all participants race against the clock. Steve Taylor, Alun Roberts and Steve Coldicotte, veteran cyclists from Newtown Hafren cycling club, were in Les Herbiers, having made contact through the twinning association with the local cycling club. They had three exceptional days of cycling in the area, including taking part in the Walter Beneteau Race on the Saturday, over 120 kilometres. The icing on the cake came on Sunday, when they followed the main race in VIP style, on the back of an official vehicle. Steve, Alun and Steve were very enthusiastic in their response to the welcome they had received and the experiences they had enjoyed over the few days’ trip. They are already planning to take more club members on a similar visit next year.
The present emphasis is now on the exchange to Les Herbiers next June. Crafts people from the town will be taking their produce over to the craft fair in Les Herbiers, hoping for a similar success to that of the food producers last year, when £4000 worth of goods was sold. A group of walkers will be going, as well as many people who will be entertained ‘en famille’, which has been so well enjoyed over the years. Anyone may apply to take part. Please contact the Newtown Twinning Association, care of the Town Council at The Cross, Newtown, for more details.
Talks are now on for the Male Voice Choir in Newtown to pay a visit in 2018 and, for next autumn, a team of rugby players could well be meeting up in Les Herbiers for some friendly matches. We are also hoping for new links to be made between the younger members of our communities. We are interested in any useful comments or enquiries and are keen to welcome new members.
Les Trois Cyclistes Vont a Les Herbiers
Hafren CC’s Secretary and Chairman (Steve Colidicott and Steve Taylor) had been asked to meet Les Herbier Twinning Committee members when they attended the Newtown Food Festival to discuss how Cycling could be used to promote Twining.
During the brief discussions at Newtown it was apparent that a fact finding visit to Les Herbiers while town’s world famous Chrono des Nations was running would be productive, informative and enjoyable. Maybe we could enter a rider next year or send a group to ride the associated Randonees? Knowing the history of this prestigious event the club was most pleased to accept this invitation.
Hafren CC added Alun Roberts to the delegation as rider representative and the visit was eagerly anticipated. (Also Alun has a “bike van”, perfect for such a jaunt, and is a commercial sponsor of Twinning)
A break in the drive from Roscoff to change into lycra, unstow bikes and explore 40km of the Morbihan set the scene for the following week.
We were met by eight or nine twinning representatives, their friendly and joyous welcome set the scene for our stay. Our host, Daniel Bousseau was there to take us to his home and to meet his wife, Jeanine (and three granddaughters). Daniel and Jeanine are incomparable hosts, generous and attentive in all things, not just their home, but their companionship, humour and intellect.
In addition to hosting three strangers with limited French, Daniel was involved in the Chrono andd the Randos on Saturday while Jeanine had her granddaughters to look after. Nothing was too much for them, but as all was so freely given and shared it did not feel that we imposed on their generosity. Certainly the comradeship common to cyclists was a major factor, we all understood a deep, shared, underlying passion.
Saturday morning was a visit to the Chrono Exhibition, where “Ce sont les Gallois, ici pour le Chrono” opened smiles, conversations, welcomes from town Police to volunteers, from Exhibitors to the Mayor. For the rest of our stay “Nous Sommes les Gallois” would be the key at the Chrono. “We are the Cyclist” seemed to work nearly as well with the Twining Hosts
Although the Expo was still setting up, it was impossible not be impressed by the breadth of commerce on display. A ten euro, four course lunch later and we were heading back to Daniel’s for a bike ride. Daniel’s friend and fellow club member, Francois, joined us and we were treated to 80 km of Vendee, passing the house where Jeanine was born, visiting the church of her childhood, then past Daniel’s home, where cousins and uncles live before an Abbey and Le Tombe Clemenceau (a moving tribute to great French Hero) before a chain gang back as we all enjoyed pushing the pace and being boys on bikes (despite our advancing years)
Dinner with various representatives of Twining was a good opportunity to meet more people, who showed the same sincere interest and friendliness we had encountered at the Chrono. This would be repeated at the commemorative dinner on Saturday, where this world, divorced to some extent from the hubbub of the Chrono and its Expo, showed its own virility and we were again welcomed as if among old friends
Saturday was the Rando that is the curtain raiser for the Chrono. A very cold start meant we were all pleased to see the 3km climb early in the day, a chance to warm up as temperatures dropped to 3 degrees). This event was a great pleasure to ride. Less “corporate” in its feel than the equivalent UK Sportives, it was exceptionally well organized and signed. Groups of riders formed readily on the road, with all instinctively knowing how to follow and lead a wheel, skills often missing in our domestic events. New friends made with the camaraderie of the road. The unstoppable Daniel made an appearance as motorcycle photographer capturing the event from the pillion seat
Sunday was a cold damp start for the Cadet and Cadette classifications at the Chrono, but the damp conditions did not deter these impressive young riders as they raised the curtain for the Chrono. With the weather worsening we took advantage of our VIP badges to shelter in the VIP lounge for coffee, champagne and oysters. A ride was organized for us to follow local hero and hopeful Florien Mazeret in a VIP car. His strong performance was fast enough for the driver to struggle to keep up, bouncing of kerbs and squealing tyres. A great ride from the son of the Vendee was good enough for 7th overall and high up among the non World Tour Riders (Chapeau, Florien as we say in Cycle speak)
The Chrono hosts a post race dinner to honour the 500 or so volunteers who work on this event/ Hard to say why we too were honoured, except perhaps “vous etes les Galois”; confusing as we humbly took our ovation in turn, while everyone else in the room had worked so hard to make the event a success. A shared love of the sport was enough
Monday saw us give our hosts a break as we headed for St Giles Croix de Vie. Jeanine had been keen for us to visit Les Sables (a special place for her) and hosting the Globe Vendee. St Giles to Le Sables on the back roads, a roulette along the sea front and a chain gang back, a perfect day on the bike with 80 km of the Vendee
Tuesday and Daniel and Jeanine joined us for a route, taking in 100km of country familiar to them: Mouchamps, the Cotes du Moulin de Bois and Ouillette, St Michel (with its 199 steps in stocking feet as cycling shoes are not good here worth the climb for the stunning vista) Coffee and sandwiches in autumn sunshine, motorists allowing plenty of room and gangs of kids on bikes rings bells and shouting “allez! allez!” the French passion and understanding for cycling seems undimmed
Our early start for the ferry port was tinged with sadness at leaving new friends, but all things must pass. Lunch in Roscoff and an angry, bewildered and incredibly polite book seller in the market offering the British a present (the jungle) as a parting gift on leaving Europe was a reminder that the world has more to do than treat us like long lost brothers (for a week it really seemed as if it didn’t)
The future? The club will now look at how it can support a performance programme to try and get a rider in the Chrono for next year and also look at participation in the Rondos. We are also thinking how we might host events to attract riders from the Clubs of Les Herbiers. Daniel, a great planner, is already plotting a ride from Les Herbier to Newtown in 2018, Gabby and Francois may well join them, but, in Daniel’s word “much water has to flow under the bridge before”
On a personal level we have enjoyed a life affirming time, made new friends and ridden over 400km of some of the world’s finest cycling roads. Would we go again? At a drop of the proverbial chapeau.
“The Cyclists” and Hafren CC would like thank all who made their visit so enjoyable and fruitful. Our host Daniel and Jeanine, the Chrono committee, Guy and Gabbi, and all the Newtown ad Les Herbiers Twining Committees. We hope to have repaid this in some way by establishing a new link between the town