It’s a ‘full on’ race. One big 42km lap with around 400 riders, all starting together. There are category prizes. I’ve trained very hard, and I’m ‘up for it’. I know it’s gonig to be tough, I’m after a top 10 finish, and a category win.
Checkout the Start – I look at the first couple of kilometers while I warm up. A nightmare! A wide bumpy grassy start, 200m into a bottleneck of a ditch crossing where they’ve put some wood covered in carpet. Another 200m to the next bottleneck before we go 90 left onto the road for a half kilometer dash to the single file chemin. The first climb is a rockstrewn granny ring affair that you’d be lucky to ride up on your own, on a good day. It’s gonna hurt!
My Plan – Give it everything out of the field and down the road. I’m not even gonna try and ride the first climb, I’ve sussed a good running line, and I’ll drop to the granny and dismount as soon as we get there.
The Off – With just over 5mins to go I ride backwards along the course to the start line. I’ve had a good warm-up, and I’m sweating a little. The line is already full with riders 4 or 5 deep in places. As the course bends right almost all the way to the road, that’s the side that most riders have chosen. I’m thinking that’s the side with the biggest potential for chaos. I find a place right on the front, but right out to the far side away from trouble. I’ve already made up my mind that if there’s chaos at the ditch crossing I’m ducking under the tapes and going the long way around.
The commissaire is giving the usual spiel on the microphone, everyone is getting a bit twitchy. The tape is taken down, there’s some creeping forward, the commissaire counts us down from 5, were gone by two! I get my foot in first time and I’m away. While all the riders on the inside are busy banging elbows and getting in each others way I get a clear run. Through the ditch, there’s a rider leaning on me trying to take my line, I lean back, only harder, he gives in. Onto the road in the top 10. My legs are stinging, but I throw the bike in a big gear, lock the forks out, and kick. I hold my place along the road, a couple of fast starting young lads go backwards. Into the chemin singlefile. I wobble about a bit ‘track stylee’ to deter anyone from trying to pass. Onto the climb, and off the bike, here comes the serious pain.
Progress – My running line on the right hand side is working well. It keeps my bike out of the way. There’s bikes and riders everywhere as some try to ride, then slip, then dismount. Back on the bike and into unseen territory. More rocky climbing, more running. No one’s come past me, and I’ve picked up a few places. It’s hard to tell, but I reckon I’m in the top 6.
For the next hour and a half we race on some of the hardest, fastest, unforgiving, fabulous trails in the Limousin. There’s lots of action as riders come and go. I’m climbing well enough, and I’m fine on the technical stuff, but on some of the fast descents I’m just hanging on. In places there are boulders under the leaves. I’ve given up covering my brakes with one finger, I’m happier with my whole hand holding the bars. It’s scary fast as we rattle across the rocky sections.
Over the last few kilometers I’m in a three way battle. There’s one smooth stylish rider, one animal of a man, and me. I’ve attacked them a couple of times, even got a gap at one point, but they catch me again on the descents. The animal descends like a complete nutter, and he has a nice buckle in his back wheel to prove it. I don’t rate my chances against him in the downhill finish. He has a habit of hacking along in a massive gear, then being caught in the wrong gear when there’s a sudden switch or climb. He’s mashed his chain across the whole block at least 6 times.His luck runs out, there’s a sudden left-hander into a steep chemin. His chain disintegrates under the abuse it recieves. He’s gone.
The smooth rider seems to be slowing a little, but there’s no place to get past anyway. We get caught by one other just before the run-up to the ‘Frederick Mistral’ memorial. The smooth rider has had bottles handed up along the way, and his helper is there at the top of the run-up with another bottle. He shouts something to his rider, but I can’t catch what it is. Whatever it is, the pace suddenly lifts.
On the downhill run into the finish I’m just about hanging on. I dare not run the risk of moving off line even if I had the speed to try and pass, and that’s how we finish. Smoothie crosses the line about 10 meters ahead of me.
Confusion, a result – I’m trying to ask the finish marshals how many vets in the over 50s category have finished. He tells me “only three, you’re third”, spoken in French of course. Then I realise that he means there’s only three riders in, I’m third! This is my best result in a long time, I am well pleased, and you know how it is when you do well…. I don’t feel tired at all. It gives me great pleasure to climb onto the podiums with the young guns.
Choise of weapon – I rode my Specialized Stumpjumper Comp with Rock Shox SID World Cups. I ran Hutchinson Piranha Tubeless tires at 2.5bar (35psi). I carried a tube and CO2 cannister just in case, also a SRAM quick link, and a small micro tool. I used a bottle and cage with a 500ml bottle of water with gear mixed in. I carried no food. I knew from previous years results that the race was about two hours long.
You can find out more about this great race at GuidonBellchon.