Saturday, 4 February 2012

#090 - 1970 - Tour of Annaba

The East and West German, Italian, French, Swiss teams all flew home. We left for Annaba on a coach for the long drive. We stopped at Constantine for lunch, then on to Annaba where a good dinner was awaiting us. Accommodation was in a motel with meals taken in a restaurant about two miles away. A taxi with an Arab driver was provided as team car. He could not speak French or of course English, but we got on really well. The French and Poles flew in brand new teams, which had us thinking at the time that they would beat us easily, but our team achieved good results with Phil winning a stage and Doug winning 2 stages which included a Mountain Time trial, prize money was being won daily by the rest of the team - Alan Mellor, Pete Matthews, Graham Moore, Gary Crewe and John Suttcliffe.

When the events in Annaba finished we thought of the dreaded trip back in the coach to Algiers. I suddenly had a brainwave, our return air tickets were in my brief case, (I had not handed them over to our interpreter as requested, preferring to keep them in my possession). Why not go to the ‘Air France’ office in Annaba and request that our tickets be altered to allow us to fly direct to Paris from there? Air France agreed and altered the tickets to read Annaba-Paris-Heathrow. We did not tell any of the other teams, but we went to say goodbye to them as they boarded the coach, for once we had ‘one over’ the Poles, French, Dutch and Belgians, the look on their faces was worth pounds to us. We left them and went for a ride in the sun along the coast where we met two English couples in a Bedford ‘Caravette’ and they made us a lovely cup of tea. These people were originally civil servants in the Inland Revenue office, in their early 40’s they decided to pack up work, and travel through France, Spain cross the Mediterranean to Morocco and so into Algeria, we all thought they had got the right idea!

That same evening Doug Dailey and I got our Arab driver to take us up to a British War Graves Memorial which stood out as the only green spot on the mountain side, we climbed up a steep road then visited the immaculate cemetery and signed the visitors book, we also visited the Mary Magdalene Cathedral which was built on a hill opposite. There was a priest in the Cathedral who seemingly had been abandoned, he had had no congregation for a number of years. (After the civil war in Algeria all the French people went back to their homeland). The priest still had the idea his flock would return one day, this was the third Mary Magdalene Cathedral we had visited, the other two being in Montreal and of course Paris. With the prize money, which unfortunately was not negotiable in England, we all bought expensive watches, Doug Dailey purchasing I remember an “Omega”, I bought a stop watch, which like a fool I left in a washroom at Castle Donington Motor Museum a couple of years later! We left Annaba the following day for Paris, our Arab driver helping us with bikes and baggage, we tipped him well and he was overjoyed, but sad to see us go.

We landed in Paris where we met all the other teams; they looked shattered after their long bus trip from Annaba to Algiers the previous day. We again said our goodbyes then loaded bikes and baggage on the plane for our short trip to London Heathrow.Airport. On arrival in the Air Terminus I went to check our bikes, unfortunately Graham Moores bike had the front forks crushed. Whilst I was checking the rest of the equipment, a noticeable hush fell over the crowded terminus; I looked up and saw coming through the entrance an ‘Arab’ at least 9 foot tall! Suddenly everyone erupted in laughter. This apparition was none other than Pete Matthews with Alan Mellor sitting on his shoulders wearing sunglasses and a turban and, draped in a bolt of Arab cloth that we had won, they sailed serenely into the Terminus, they fetched the house down!

Apart from the damaged bike we had had a very successful trip taking part in two major North African tours, but little did I know that this would be my last Amateur Tour.

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