La Mandragore VTT – that’s 100kms from Confolens to Nieul, one way, racing on unseen tracks. Yes there’s shorter options, and yes there’s a road option, and yes I know it’s my last big ride before the L2P and I don’t wanna risk an injury, but I’m doin’ it anyway!
Carla drops me off at the start, there’s hundreds of riders, this looks like a popular event. I make sure I’m right near the front for the dodgy downhill through the narrow Confolens streets start. It’s quick, lots of wheel locking and squirming tyres through the tight bends. We hit the first ramp, it’s steep, a different noise now, crashing of gears. I’ve already decided to ‘spend some’ for the first few kilometres to stay near the front. My legs are stinging, and I’m breathing hard as we crest the climb, I’m in the lead group.
A few frantic kilometres fly by. I’m in a lead group of 5 riders, two I’ve seen before…..Nantiat rider (Spesh) on a Spesh Carbon hardtail (he rode the nocturne the other night, he’s very strong), and a Rochechouart ROC rider (ROC) (I saw him race at the St Sylvestre race, he goes well)….The two I haven’t seen before are…the current FFC national junior XC champion (looks like he’s hardly trying, he’s wearing his champions yellow jersey), and another tall Nantiat rider who looks OK. I stay off the front and try to conserve energy.
A pattern evolves, everytime we are off-road the pace is frantic. Even wet muddy sections are taken at full tilt. On the tarmac sections the pace is fast, but bearable. I’m doin’ OK, but I know things are gonna get tough when we start crossing the Monts de Blond.
At the second ravitalment stop there’s some confusion as we get mixed up with a bunch of roadies. The tall Nantiat rider goes missing never to be seen again, and the champion also goes missing. The three of us carry on, things are getting tough. Spesh seems untroubled, but on the steeper climbs I’m suffering, and on the steep technical climbs ROC struggles.
Spesh builds a short lead, and ROC is getting frustrated at the technical climbs. Frequent slips, and dabs, he’s cursing a lot. In my best French I ask him if he’s “Heureux?” (happy?), and give him a big smile 😉 , “Oui oui!!!”, he says through clenched teeth.
Down a technical descent, and I can hear a bike behind, it’s the young champion, he flies by and is gone, his skill is awesome. Spesh, Roc, and I are back together. I’m suffering with cramp, and yo-yo off the back. With 10km to go the cramp down the front of my left leg won’t give and I’m force to stop and stretch. Dropped on my own I make an massive effort to get back on on the tarmac sections. A stroke of good luck, Spesh and Roc miss a turn, and I’m back on.
Down the last few kilometres I’m hanging by the skin of my teeth. Champion is well clear, Spesh and Roc are sensing the end. A short steep bank, I get out of the saddle, my legs buckle, I’m gone. I nurse myself home. Champion is first with around 5minutes to spare, Spesh is second, Roc is a close third, I’m 4th home at around 45 seconds more. Total time for me is 5hrs 10minutes. It was hard, very very hard, but I’m happy with my ride, and my free T shirt!!!