The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain, and in France, sorry La France, it falls on the Dordogne. All of it. Almost all day long. As you might have inferred from my opening gambit, today it has been mostly wet. The signs were there this morning, as the so far clear sky was filled with menacing clouds, but on the horizon, there was hope, with the atmosphere looking much friendlier, but any optimism was sadly short lived.
At first it was a miserable mizzle, the kind of rain that is neither hither nor dither but the kind of weather that seems to suck the colour from all of the surroundings. Even the incredible château at La Rochefoucald, the location for the morning’s coffee, was lacking some of the sparkle of the examples that had been on display the previous day. Coffee would be vital for the competitors today, as it was another long stint behind the wheel in an effort to pull the mountains of Andorra closer, but despite the worsening weather the day got better the farther we travelled into it.
Two regularities split the morning mileage and by lunchtime not much had changed between the top three, although the plucky Baines Mini had closed a second on the first placed Healey. There was some conjecture that Dick and Harry had made an error, spotted on the road charging through part of the second regularity, but if they had it made little difference to an excellent morning for the pair.
The hardest chargers of the am session were Stephen Owens and Pete Johnson, clearly keen to repent for the error of the previous day they had managed to catapult themselves back up the leader board into fourth place, and within seconds of Graham Platts and Neil Ripley in third.
For anyone who was suffering rain induced blues they would surely have been cheered up by the sumptuous surroundings of the Michelin starred lunch halt in the shadow of the magnificent Abbaye de Brantome, and with an extra long break awarded to take in the grandeur of the place, there was half a chance of recharging before the long afternoon. The sun even made an appearance, but as the Benedictine Monks of the Abbaye may once have taught, beware false profits. Sadly, the precipitation would return before too long, and it would come back in force.
The run to the post lunch regularity was a long one, and the rain sought to heap misery on what was a wonderful drive and it continued to increase in intensity as the competition section began and sadly the now heavy precipitation would be bedfellows with the route for the entire afternoon. In contrast to the morning though, there seemed to be more colour about the land as the lush green of the vegetation fought back against the grey, and the forest roads resembled something closer to Borneo than France.
The rain increased the levels of concentration needed by the drivers ten-fold and some even claimed that they were working as hard as the navigators, although the jury is out on that one. Either way, it required an effort from both parties and the afternoon pit-stop would have perhaps felt like it was never going to come as regularity number three came and went. They say one Swallow doth not a summer make, but at the impressive double bridged crossing of the Dordogne at Limeuil there were hundreds in the air, scooping up the insects from the surface of the water and poking fun at the less than summer like weather, offering encouragement to the soggy crews, who were now so close to refreshment.
The coffee took place in the grounds of the colossal Château de Biron, standing like a beacon of hope over the rain drenched land, so conspicuous that even the most talent challenged navigators (or more likely, cloth-eared drivers) couldn’t miss it on the horizon. It loomed large, like Castle Grayskull, guiding weary competitors towards the energy inducing coffee offered in its sanctuary.
Just one regularity to go then, and what a task it was at the end of a long day. 26 km’s through some of the tightest roads yet, it was a thrilling roller-coaster from start to finish, followed by a wonderful run in to the final time control along tree lined roads so typical of the French countryside, not even rain could spoil the timber soldiers stoically flanking the final few miles.
At the close of play the top two had not changed, although there was now some daylight between them. Third place however belonged to SO and Pete Johnson again, after a storming leg, equalled by John Evans and Tristan Judge in the Alfa 1600 GT Zagato, who had also climbed an impressive 6 places during the day. Tomorrow the finish location is Andorra, and the promise of that will no doubt spur everyone on, but before the terminus of the day is located there are more miles to cover and, for the first time this trip, many metres of altitude to climb.
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