So, it’s Wednesday afternoon, and I’m on my way to meet Eric and Max at St Brice, then we’re gonna ride the 25km up to Couzeix to either ‘kick ass’, or ‘get ass kicked’ on the Limoges clubs training bash. Yep, every Wednesday afternoon riders from clubs on the North side of Limoges get together to ‘get it on’. Mostly riders who race FFC. These guys are serious!
I’m not feeling too confident today, and on the way there I’m happy to let young Max do most of the work while I save myself. My confidence sinks even lower when we arrive at the meeting place. There must be at least 60 riders, easily enough to make a race. There’s a few old duffers like me, but some of them look like pro’s, young guys with highlights in their perfect hair, on the latest bikes, full team kit. They look fast standing still.
We set off at 2pm sharp. I automatically shift into survival mode, and get right down near the front, it’ll be easier and safer there. The pace is easy, I’m OK. I see a few riders I know, manoeuvre alongside, shake hands, exchange greetings, enquire about form. Nobody admits to having any. 😉
Right on the front I spot Stephane from the Nieul. Seen him in action loads of times, a stylish courageous rider who’ll never give in. Saw him win the Departmentals last year. Attacked almost from the gun in the poring rain. Rode the whole race off the front. Almost collapsed when he crossed the line. He’s tough, and serious. Recently back from a training camp in Spain. He’s also an expert crashmeister like me. Can’t understand why he doesn’t wear a helmet.
I don’t know where we’re going to day, but we start off through Veyrac, then Oradour sur Glane. Maybe we’re going over the Monts de Blond. I hope so, and I hope not in equal amounts. I hope so because it’s beautiful, and I hope not because there’s some climbs that will blow the group apart.
We don’t turn for the Monts, instead we go straight on for Montrollet. The pace has been very sensible up to now, but after we cross the St Junien – Bellac road someone flicks a switch, and now we’re flying. I’m so glad I stayed near the front. We’re really motoring along, there’s a group of six driving.
Things calm down a little, and we settle into brisk rather than balls out. Through Bussiere-Boffy, Nouic, then back towards Mortemart. Now, we’re on our way home, direction Blond, but whichever way we go there’s gonna be some climbing. There’s some new faces at the front, and they’re starting to push the pace.
There’s a long drag on the road to Vaulry, we’re on it, it’s tough, riders are going backwards. Over the top, a quick glance around, the once tight bunch has been stretched out. There’s some regrouping on the descent. On to the next climb, this one is a bit steeper, as it starts to bite I get as close to the front as I can. The pressure goes on, perceived effort rating where I’m sat is 9/10. It’s tough. Last 100metres to the top, there’s a bit of a surge, ouch…….. and there’s no let up! Double ouch!
A quick glance around, there’s only about 15 riders here, and so it continues, and each drag, climb, or slight rise in the road the screw is turned a little tighter. I’ve gone from knowing roughly where we are to not having a clue. I’m too busy surviving. Another climb, the pressure goes on, not far to the top, almost there, we turn a corner, and the road goes up again. Cracks are starting to appear, I’m fourth in line on the wheel of Stephane. The leading rider kicks and takes number two with him, a small gap appears. 50metres to the top Stephane lifts the pace to join them, I’m 10 metres off his wheel. Behind me, there’s nobody. I really, really, don’t want to be dropped here. Over the crest and onto the downhill I get the bike moving. The three in front freewheel on the descent, I keep pedaling, and I just get onto the back as we hit the next ramp. Luckily for me this one is short.
I know where we are now. We’re on the road from Thouron towards Limoges. I’ve ridden this road a few times. I should be OK, there’s just one more climb to make. We’re hammering along, I’m hanging in there, still on the wheel of Stephane. Assuming he’s on normal gearing he’s shoving 52*12. This is the hardest I’ve ridden for a long time. On to the last climb, it’s not as steep as I remember it, which is good, but we hardly even change gear or tempo, which is bad. C’mon legs don’t desert me now. The leading rider jumps out of the saddle, and as if synchronized we all do. One last effort, it’s agony!
They sit up. That’s it. Job done. I made it. Yeah, I know it’s not a race, and I know that even if it had of been I wouldn’t have made the podium, but I’m ecstatic mate. All those riders who set out, and just four left, and I’m one of them. Yeah, I know I didn’t do any work, and just hung on, but don’t spoil it for me!!! As we roll back towards Limoges in the late afternoon sun I’m feeling pleased. All I gotta do now is ride home.
Almost home, I’m running on empty, and I’ve got more than 5 hours in the saddle. It crosses my mind to text Carla to come and rescue me. Nah, that’d be soft. 🙂