Paris-Nice not nice!

Stage 3 of the 68th “Race to the Sun” Paris-Nice was due to start at St Junien yesterday. I’d been looking forward to it. Planning on going down to see it on my bike. Hoping that I might catch my bar end in someone’s lycra and get whipped along in the excitement of it all.

Paris Nice 2010 stage 3

But it wasn’t to be. Overnight snow, overnight snow I tell ya!!! meant that the start was delayed, and moved 55 kms down the road to St Yrieix-la-Perche.

I was a little disappointed, but it was bitterly cold, and It was good that the organisers had the sense to give the lads a break. Later in the day the weather improved, and the sun came out!

Slovakia’s Peter Sagan, the youngest rider in Paris-Nice, won a shortened third stage over 153 kms in Aurillac, while the peloton’s elder, Jens Voigt, seized the yellow jersey.The race unfolded in the last climb, the Cote de La Martinie, three kilometres from the finish, when six riders revealed their ambitions in this 68th Race to the Sun. Ireland’s Nicolas Roche was the first in action, followed by Sagan, Voigt, Tony Martin, Joaquin Rodriguez, but also Alberto Contador.The 2009 Tour champion acceleration in the last climb showed that his crash in the first stage was but a memory and the Spaniard could even have done better if his pedals had not snapped in the final sprint.Yet the day belonged to the young and the old, the 20-year-old Sagan trailing the 38-year-old Voigt by a slim six seconds ahead of a potentially decisive 4th stage to Mende on Thursday…..from the official website letour.fr

On the podium in the 18th Fréderic Mistral VTT Raid

On the podium in laFrederic Mistral 2009 - I won the Vet B category

One of the best races of the season. I’ve been looking forward to this one. A ‘full on’ mass start race. One big 42km loop. Raced as seen.

I love this race. It has everything. It’s tough, technical, some of the descents are tougher than some of the climbs, there’s some super fast stuff, and the scenery is beautiful!!!

Preparation for this race started months back with extra training rides in the area. A couple of weeks ago a group of us spent a happy afternoon on the trails pre-riding what we thought was the probable circuit.
A bunch of vets pre-riding the circuit for La Freceric Mistral!

Imagine my surprise then when we’re on the start line, and Antoine of the Guidon Bellachon announces that we’re racing a completely new circuit today!

The start – Counted down from 5 we’re away on 2 ish! A dash down the start field and back before turning onto the tarmac. I’m fully expecting to turn left, we turn right!!! 50 metres then left, for the first climb. Rocky, steep, but rideable, chaos, someone slips, and we’re all off and running. I’m well back in around 30th place.

Over the top and away. I’m managing to move up a couple of places here and there, it’s very tough, and very fast. With about 3 kms done we hit a section of pavé. Jean Claude Sansonnet comes by on my right. I need to keep him in sight.

Through the tiny hamlet of Le Charlet, and onto a wall of a climb. JC is piling the pressure on. By the top of the climb he only has a few seconds on me. On fast rocky trails now, I’m chasing hard, and there’s JC with his back tyre flat! It won’t take him long to fix it, I push on.

We hook up right, a short climb, and we’re on the top of the Monts de Blond. The trail leads along a ridge here, there’s big rocky steps, two riders ahead of me are on foot. I shout to them that I’m coming past. I’m desperate.

Complètement fou! – As we drop off the ridge, I’ve opened a gap on the riders behind me, and I cannot see the riders ahead. Something doesn’t seem right. There’s lots of tyre marks on the trail, but no arrows, or tape. I ease a touch. Right at that moment a bunch of around 20 riders comes towards me. We’ve all gone the wrong way!!! I’ve only lost a few seconds, but some of these riders must have lost a lot more. I make a U turn.

Now we’re back on track, but running into the back of riders who hadn’t gone wrong. The next few kilometres are a bit fraught to say the least. I have no way of knowing what my position is now, but I feel reasonably confident that I’m leading Vet B. There’s no choice but to keep pushing on.

Some of the trails we’re riding are brutal. Some of them I’ve seen before, and some of them are new to me. I keep thinking I know where we going, and then there’s a turning that I wasn’t expecting. I’m in a group of four riders, were going quick, I’m starting to suffer. My own words come back to haunt me…

Any fool can ride a bike when they’re feeling fine fresh and funky. But when you feel like sh*t, and someone’s turning the screw, that when it counts!

With 1 hr 45 mins on my watch I’m guessing that we have about 30 mins to go. We’re on a rocky descent, I can hear a rider behind me. He comes past. I recognise him. He’s the full-sus rider that was first home in the Mandragore earlier in the year. He looks old enough to be a vet, maybe even old enough to be a Vet B, like me. Just when I thought all I had to do was hang on for the finish, now I’m gonna have to raise my game.

I’m sat just off the back of the group trying to come up with a plan. We’re heading down the road towards the Frederic Mistral monument. It’s a run up. I suss that we must pass it, then descend down the far side to get home. I dismount early for the run up and stay to the right. By the top I have a few seconds gap. I didn’t really want to be first down the descent, but I jump back on and go for it. It fast, it’s loose, it’s steep, with some big drop offs, and some tight rutty corners. I make it to the bottom in one piece, still at the front.

A tricky stream crossing, I jump off and run it. I can hear shouting and swearing behind me, I don’t look back. Now a road crossing, then a steep ramp up a trail to the right. I lock my forks out and sprint it. It’s agony. A quick glance over my shoulder. The chasers are on the ramp.

I’m committed now. No fingers covering the brakes, I hold the bars tight and go for it. My S-Works hardtail comes to life, and I rattle over the rocks like a man possessed. We’re almost home, they’re taking us down the way we came out! Down the last rocky descent going for it. Sprinting across the finish field to the dead stop turn 50 metres from the line. There’s no one there. I’ve got it. I hope!!!

Wrap up – I’m 15th scratch, but first Vet B. Turns out that the late arrival was a Vet B. I managed to put one minute into him in that last dash. Not much, but enough.

JC fixed his puncture, but punctured again and had to abandon.

Many many thanks to all at Guidon Bellechon for another superb Fréderic Mistral.

Copy of the results here.

18éme Sentiers des Etangs – Nantiat

Specialized Stumpjumper S-Works HT I’ve been looking forward to this one…. It’s one big loop of 50 kms from Nantiat, up around Lac St Pardoux, and back. Ridden as seen, all I know is that there’s a tough climb around 3 kms from the finish. Marcel Buisson who set the circuit explained it to me, adding, “if you get to the top of that climb 10 seconds ahead that’s how you’ll finish!”.

I’ve put in a lot of hard work for this one. I know I’m going quite well. I’d like a little bit of luck – no punctures or mechanicals, and I’d like to get on terms with Jean Claude Sansonnet. Maybe I won’t beat him, but I’d like to let him know I was there.

The start – I’m suprisingly calm on the start line, and get away with no problems. Into the first chemin and the pace is frantic. There’s lots of young guns hammering past, as we hit the first climb there’s a lot of them coming backwards. I’m feeling pretty good, I can see JC about 5 places up in front. Out onto the tarmac I move up a couple of places. Onto the next chemin, another climb I move up another couple of places. Now I’m right on the wheel of JC. This is good.

The climb hardens up, there’s some loose rocks, JC misses a gear, now I’m in front of him. This isn’t quite so good. I try to move up a few more places. As the pressure goes on gaps start to appear. I manage to scramble onto the back of a group of riders on a tarmac section. We’re moving quick. I glance over my shoulder, there’s a good gap to the chasing group. The pace is tough, but manageable. The trails are bone dry, and fast.

Tour of Lac St Pardoux – In what seems like no time at all we’re firing down the super-fast trails to Lac St Pardoux. I’m still in more or less the same group, and I’m still clear of JC. In fact looking back on the long straightaways there’s no one in sight. The group is down to six now, and it’s Stéphane Bernard (Ambazac Sprinter Club) who’s doing the lion’s share of the work. Every now and then Fabien Souchaud (Guidon Bellachon) goes to the front and tries to ride away. I make the occasional contribution when I can. The trails around the lake are root strewn, rocky, twisty, total concentration is required so as not to catch a pedal, or clip a tree.

The run for home – As we make the run for home Fabien Souchaud has opened up a gap, Pierre Flauraud (Bonnac VTT) is trying to get across. Stéphane is still working hard. Tight on his wheel is Thierry Germaneau (Oradour su Glane AC), then me. We pass the 10 kms to go sign. Not far now. The pace quickens a little. On some of the wide open tracks I go through and make a contribution. Then Stéphane comes firing back through as if to say, “stay out of the way you daft old bugger!!!”.

There’s a sharp right, Thierry touches Stéphane’s wheel and goes down. I ease a touch to make sure he’s OK. He remounts and we chase Stéphane.

The last climb – There’s a short tarmac climb to a road crossing. I lock my forks out and climb roadie style. By the time I cross the road Thierry has dropped off. I’m wondering if maybe he’s a bit shaken from his crash. I cross the road, and onto the climb proper. The first section is incredibly steep. I get off and run. Big rocks, big roots, big steps. The gradient eases a little and I get back on. I can see Stéphane up ahead and I’m gaining on him slowly.

I pass Stéphane, and catch Pierre. By the top of the climb I’ve passed Pierre as well. It’s pretty much downhill all the way from here. Pierre comes past on the descent. That’s OK, I’m thinking I’m first Vet. Just before the last road crossing we catch Davy Baborier. He looks cooked, and makes no effort to hold us off.

We’re racing across the finish field like madmen. Suddenly Pierre brakes hard and puts his bike sideways. There’s a drainage ditch that can’t be seen until you’re almost on it. I brake hard as well. I’m glad I wasn’t on the front for that one.

I cross the line 8th scratch, and 1st Vet B, in fact 1st Vet. I’m very pleased with my ride. One of the first things I do is thank Stéphane Bernard for all his hard work. I owe him.

Stephane Bernard Ambazac Sprinter Club - Tireless engine!

The tireless Stéphane on his S-Works HT.

Wrap up – It turns out that today’s Vet podium is 40 yrs and over. Lucky for me then that Thierry dropped off the pace, as he’s 41. Meanwhile JC was well down. I spoke to him after, and he told me that almost from the start he felt rough. He’s had well over twenty victories this season, so he can afford an ‘off day’.

Many thanks to all at the U S Nantiat club for a totally superb event.

Here’s a copy of the results.

St Junien – St Junien, on the bike, on the floor, on the podium…

On the bike – last weekend I rode one of the biggest and best road races of the Haute Vienne racing calendar. The St Junien – St Junien is one big loop of 86 kms starting just outside St Junien. A record 144 riders started this year. All categories race together, at the same time.

So, as you can imagine, with 144 riders, plus race vehicles including no less than 21 motorcycle marshals, the first few kilometres are gonna be tense. I’m sitting in the top thirty, though I can hardly see the front, and as for moving up, no chance. By the time we get to the main road that runs up towards Javerdat a small group has jumped away and the chase is on. We’re going quick, and there’s no let up.

St Junien neutralised depart Sept 2009 - click picture for more

The first climb of the day is taken in the big ring! No let up! I dunno who’s driving it, but they’re driving it hard, and it’s made harder by the concertina effect, and having to jump hard out of every corner and over every crest just to hang on. On the long climb from Cieux to Blond riders start to struggle, and I manage to move up. I can actually see the front of the peloton now.

From Blond to Vaulry then along the roller-coaster road towards Chamboret. We can see the group ahead. The pressure is on. I’m riding in the first 10-15 riders now. It’s much better here. Every now and then a rider tries to jump across the gap on their own. They don’t make it.

On the floor – The climb out of Nieul isn’t steep, but it’s long, and the pressure is on. Almost at the top, the rider in front of me touches a wheel and goes down. There’s nowhere for me to go apart from over the handlebars. I’m up in a flash, I check my bike, just one brake lever twisted. I straighten it, jump on and I’m away. I spectator gives me a good shove.

The bunch aren’t that far ahead. I chase to get back on. A motorcycle marshal who’s seen what happened signals for me to get his wheel so that he can tow me. The next 5 kms are agony. I’m topped out in 50*12 on the back of the motorbike and it takes 5 kms to rejoin the bunch! I thank the marshal and disappear into the heart of the peloton to recover.

From La Barre to St Victurnien is mostly down hill. I know these roads quite well, so I’m able to relax a little on the descents. Along the valley road now. There’s about 10 kms to go. One short ramp, then a steep climb back into St Junien and the finish. There’s still a group clear. Remember though, all categories are racing together, with prizes down to 5th for each category. I resolve to keep going. On the short ramp there’s a surge, but I’m OK.

The final climb coming up. It’s a horror. Dead straight, steep, and gets steeper as it rises. Again there’s a surge as riders take it on early. Two thirds of the way up and it’s chaos with riders coming backwards as fast as they went forwards. We’re over the top. I’m trying to stay near the front. The last right hander, I jump as hard as I can. 200 metres to the line, I manage to pass a few, and almost on the line I pass my friend and rival vet Pierre Chenaud!!!

Carla is waiting for me at the finish and packs me off to get cleaned up by a medic. I have a cut on my cheek, and some grazing on my elbow and hip. It looks quite bad, but it’s very superficial. It’s just that the wind has blown the blood across my face making me look tough and macho! 😉

On the podium – I placed 3rd in my category, and I was 3rd over 50 veteran, so got on the podium twice. I haven’t done many road races this year. This was a good one to end the season.

The 86 kms was covered in 2hrs 15mins. That’s pretty quick. Well done to all the riders. Many many thanks to all at the ASSJ CYCLO for a great race. Special thanks to the motorcycle marshal who towed me back on.

St Junien Podium 2nd Cats Sept 2009

Outcome – Closer inspection of my bike showed a slight scuff on my saddle and a tear in my bar tape. My helmet was broken and will have to be replaced. By Tuesday I had stiffened up a bit. By Wednesday I was back out with the boys on the FFC training bash.

There are some superb pictures taken by Jérôme Danlos that capture the day well. Take a look for yourself.

19 eme edtion – 12 Heures à vélo de Flavignac

A 12 hour relay road race organised by UC Flavignac.

I rode with my buddy Eric as a team of two. It is possible to race with a team of three, but we couldn’t find another rider of the right age so that we could race for the over 50s category.

Anyway, we came 2nd in category, we were 12th scratch (overall), and 3rd team of two.

12hrs Flavignac avant departIt was very very tough, as the majority of teams had three riders. Plus the afternoon temperature was 36 degrees! Quite warm and sunny. I was first out, at 06:30, and after a neutralised lap the racing started. I just could not believe how fast we were going. Average speed for the first few laps was around 37kph. During my first stint I never got off the drops, and didn’t have a chance to take a drink. It was fast.

The circuit was relatively flat, though as the hours went by it seemed to get a bit hilly. There was a tight “S” bend followed by a short rise on the back of the circuit. As you came out of it it was a short sprint every lap to stay on. Tough. Changeovers took place in the “Zone de Relais”. Protocol was that the lap before you wanted to change you raised your arm as you passed the commentary position, the commentator would then announce your number over the sound system thereby paging your team mate. This was great as it meant that you could relax a little when you weren’t racing.

12hrs Flavignac zone de relais

It was strange riding with a team mate that you didn’t speak to and hardly saw all day. It wasn’t necessary to pass a baton, or touch hands. As your team mate entered the changeover zone you could leave. The changeover zone was about 50 metres long. It worked really well, though it was best to stay alert as there were a lot of attacks here as riders with fresh legs tried to inflict damage.

We started out riding an hour a piece, but later in the day we switched to 45mins. We ended up riding in the same group as our nearest rivals. Every time they made a move we were there and vice-versa. It came down to the last lap, I had nothing left, and it fell to Eric to try to win the sprint. He stood up to go, and his legs buckled. After 12 hours of racing we got beat by a few metres.

We were more than happy with our ride, and although we didn’t win we got the better reception on the podium. The commentator asked me to say a few words in French. I thanked everyone for such a great day, and finished by saying, “Il est chaud, mais il est beau”. The crowd seemed to like this couplet, and I got a cheer and applause!
12hrs Flavignac podium avec Eric
It really was a superbly organised event, in a gorgeous spot next to the lake – “Lac Saint Fortunat”. It’s the 20th birthday of the event next year. Highly recommended. A must do.

Thanks to UC Flavignac for a great day out. Thanks to all the riders for a tough sporting race. Well ridden Eric (we shared a couple of cold beers after the race). Finally, well done to the “Chef d’equipe” Carla who looked after us both all day. Not an easy job, but she was fantastic.

La Mandragore VTT Marathon 2009

Mandragore Limousin - VTT Marathon
La Mandragore VTT Marathon – that’s 100 kms across the Haute Vienne from Confolens to Nieul on some of the best trails in the area including a thrash around the Monts de Blond. I was 4th rider home in 2007, but never made it home in 2008 ‘cos I crashed out. I’m hoping to go well this year, but I’ve not shown any real form this year so far. The forecast is for a hot day, and the trails have been dry for weeks.

The Mandragore is like a ride of two halves with a bit added on. The first half is on open countryside. The trails are wide and rolling. It’s possible to ride ‘roadie’ style in big groups sharing the work. The second half is tough, and technical, along the trails of the Monts de Blond. Once you leave the Monts you have the final dash cross-country to Nieul.

Racing down through the town of Confolens
My plan – go hard for the first 30 minutes to establish myself in the best group I can, then hang on. A simple plan eh?

It’s not a race – though it has the look and feel of one. We’re counted away at the start, and ride the first kilometre behind a lead car in a neutralised sort of way. Then the car pulls over, and it’s game on. I’ve made sure I’m near the front.

A steep tarmac ramp takes us out of town. I’m on it in third position, I get off it in about twentieth, breathing hard. There’s riders moving forwards, and a few coming backwards, as we sort ourselves out. I’m with the lead group, there’s about twenty of us. Each time we dive off road there’s a shake down, and the group shrinks. Each time we hit the tarmac there’s a few frantic moments as riders fight for wheels. I’m trying to stay cool, trying to ride super-economically.

The first 20 kms fly by, at the first ravito (feed station), nobody stops. Were down to about 10 riders now. Another off-road shakedown, there’s a split, and four riders go clear. I ain’t one of them! I chase hard, nobody helps. It’s tough. They have a gap of about 30 seconds.

On familiar trails near Montrol Senard

We’re into some familiar territory now, it’s a trail that I know well, and I make the most of it. By the time we drop out into Montrol Senard, and the second ravito, I’m almost back on. I grab a handful of food, re-fill my bottle, and I’m away. The ravito is busy, as we’re sharing this one with the roadies, in the confusion i’m not sure who’s where. I ride steady, and try to eat.

On the long technical climb out of Montrol Senard things become a little clearer. I’m with the lead group, there’s seven of us :- David Thely (US Bessines Cyclo), Davy Baborier (Briance Rosselle Aventure), Lionel Lebraud (US Nantiat), Jean Luc Grommet (CC Beauvallet), a St Léger La Montagne rider, and another strong looking rider I’ve never seen before. I reckon I’m the weakest. However, all those hours spent riding in the Monts de Blond are paying off. I know where we are, and I know what’s coming next. I’m able to stay in contact, just.

On a long climb on the South side of the hills, it’s very hot. I pass Jean Luc, then David, and in just a few seconds they are gone. We don’t see them again. By the top of the climb I’m off the back. Down the descent from Boscartus, I know I’m not far behind as I’m riding through the dust kicked up by the riders ahead. A sharp left, a short section by a lake, a hook up right, I can see the group ahead through the trees, they’ve been caught out by the tricky transition, I flick to my granny gear, and I’m back on.

We’re climbing all the way back up again to pass by the old Chapel. The St Léger La Montagne rider gets an attack of cramp, and has to dismount. A quick glance at my watch. I reckon we still have at least an hour and a half to do. He’s cooked. This is tough. I stay in contact as long as I can, but by the top I’m on my own. A tarmac section, I eat, drink, and try to maintain some pace.

A few minutes later I find Davy stopped by the side of the trail. He has bad cramp, he’s in agony. He tells me to carry on. Incidentally, it was Davy who found me last year when I crashed.

So now there’s just two riders ahead, Lionel, and the guy I’ve never seen before. I’m thinking that I won’t see them again before the finish. Then, at the ravito at Vaulry, there they are, they’ve stopped for food. We’re nearly done in the Monts de Blond now, and I’m hoping I’ll be able to stay with them to Nieul.

They ride quick, I’m tired, but I’m just about hanging on. I reckon we have about 10 kms left to go. At Peyrilhac there’s a short steep bank. I get out of the saddle and my legs buckle. I’m gone.

Over the last few agonising kilometres I lose close on five minutes. I cross the line third rider home, in just under 5 hours. I’m very happy with that….. and anyway, it’s not a race!

Thanks to all at Cyclo-Club Nieul for a fantastic event. Thanks to all the guys I rode with for their camaraderie. Thanks to my wonderful wife Carla for dropping me off at the start, and meeting me at the finish with a cold beer. What a woman! I know she worries about me a little when I don’t arrive on schedule, but today was OK. I reckon she was just as pleased with my ride as I was.

On the podium – 24 Heures de Bonnac 2009

24hrs de VTT Bonnac podium 2009
The sun shone, it was hot, we raced hard, it was tough. It went dark, it was still hot, we raced hard, it was tough. It got light again, we were tired, we raced hard, it was tough. We made it onto the podium behind our great friends and rivals. 3rd place out of over 50 teams.

This year they ran the circuit the other way round. There were a few small changes, the most noticeable being that there seemed to be more downhill than uphill. How did they do that? It really was a super fast, super flowing mix of trails. You could get almost all the way round the lap in the big ring. Average time for a lap for me was around 15mins.

Just like last year, a team took it on right from the start leaving us to battle with ‘Culture Velo‘. This year it was the young guns from Briance Roselle Aventure who took it on. We were hoping they’d gone off too fast. So there’s us, ‘La bande à Marcel’, Culture Velo, and ‘Les singlespeed attack’ mixin’ it up for the podium. Should mention here that those crazy singlespeed guys have the current Vet National Champ riding with them.

As the day wears on we slip to 4th place, we’re three minutes down on Culture Velo, who are themselves down on the singlespeeders! There’s no let up, were racing incredibly hard, something’s got to give. We’re doing two laps a piece, and we’re knocking ’em out like a machine.

Racing into the night, we’re gaining. I’m out on a lap battling with one of the singlespeeders, and a rider from another team. The rider from whatever team doesn’t have good lights and is trying to use us to get round. We’re trying to drop him. Over a slight rise, the singlespeeder dives through going like a nutter. I chase after him. Surely he’s going to fast for the turn? In spite of the fact that there is a triple set of tapes together with reflective arrows all pointing left he goes straight on through the tape!!! Those singlespeeders – crazy guys! We’ve only been racing on the circuit for around 12 hours.

Through the second half of the night we continue to gain time. We move up into 3rd ahead of the SS team, and by sunrise we’re in second place some 3 minutes ahead of Culture Velo. The leaders BRA are over a lap ahead.

Now, while we’re riding two laps then change, Culture Velo are playing their cards a little differently. They are riding a man short most of the time. See they have a rider who cannot get to the venue before evening, and he’s going to relieve Jean Claude Sansonnet who is only riding in the day. So, just around breakfast time, JC returns after a good night’s sleep to boost his team. It starts to work, and slowly Culture Velo are pegging us back. With just three hours left to go we’re racing harder than ever. It’s tough.

In the end, we couldn’t hang on. Culture Velo catch us in the last few laps and push us into third. Sometimes though, it’s not where you came, it’s how you got there. We’re happy with third, it’s been a great race, we accept our beating with humility. Like I said at the top, we’re on the podium behind our great friends and rivals, we’ve shared a great weekend. Chapeau guys!

Many thanks, and Bravo to all at Bonnac for a great weekend. Felicitations and Bravo to all the riders, and ‘High 5’, and special thanks to my team mates Marcel (Nantiat), Jean-Phi (Nantiat), Lionel (Nantiat), Seb (Ambazac), Stephane (Ambazac). It was my great pleasure to race with you. Thanks for having me.

A Cat’s Arse Trophy at the VTT National Champs

pain no pleasureFollowing my comfortable 2nd placings in the VTT Departmentals and the Regionals I was really looking forward to the VTT Nationals. I had great form, and was up for some pain. I was 7th last year, and reckoned I could do better. However, it just wasn’t to be. With two weeks to go I started with a sore throat, which developed into a nasty cough. At it’s worst I was hacking up huge frogs, had a rash on my back and face, and felt shite. I stopped riding my bike completely.

A little under two weeks later I’m feeling much better, and trying to decide whether I can actually do the Nationals. I know I’m not fully recovered, and I’m still hacking stuff up, but after a few test efforts on the road bike, and with three days left, I decide to go. Meanwhile Carla is still recovering from her crash. She still has a very sore hand. I tell her we’ll strap it up, she’ll be fine – it’s OK I said it with fingers crossed. She knows that.

7 hours in the car in heavy rain, and we’re wondering if we made the right decision. As we arrive at the race venue in Doullens the rain stops, and the sky clears. It looks very muddy, kind of like how we were expecting the Somme to be. We try and ride a practice lap, but after 500 meters we give up. It’s that bad!

Next day, race day, we’re there early, tyres changed and ready to go. We watch the Vet A (40 – 50 yrs) race. The bikes are coming around clean! The mud has turned to something like plasticine. As the race finishes I tag onto the back for a practice lap. It’s a little soft in places, but it’s a fabulous circuit, getting dryer and faster by the minute in the warm sun and drying wind.

I’m placed in the third line on the grid. Not too bad, there’s plenty of places to move up before the first bottleneck. I get a good start, my legs feel great, I’m passing riders easily. By the time we hit the first singletrack I must have moved up 20 places. I’m thinking if I can keep going like this I’ll do well.

Down the first descent, powering away into the woods I’m feeling strong, but as the effort intensifies I’m struggling, I’m just breathless. I hang on for the first lap. I’m starting to hack some stuff off my chest, it feels raw, my legs have turned to jelly. It’s looking like I ain’t gonna do well after all. I switch to survival mode, and just try to hold my position. If I back off a little maybe I’ll recover.

Things go from bad to worse. There’s riders passing me left and right. My Haute Vienne team mates start to pass me. First three riders for each department count towards the team score. By the start of the last lap I’m 5th! I could pull out, but decide to take my beating. I cross the line 53rd out of 86 finishers. A Cat’s Arse Trophy! (catastrophe).

Carla, focused and strongLater that day Carla shows me how it’s done. She does a brilliant ride to take 8th place in her race, and a silver medal in the team prize. She really looked good when she was racing, very strong and very focused.

That night we celebrated with a restaurant meal. Next day we watched some of the other categories racing. In the end the Haute Vienne took second place overall.

Thanks to – Everyone at Doullens for putting on a great event. It really was one of the best mountain bike circuits I’ve ever raced on. All the spectators and supporters for creating such super racing ambiance. Francis, Brigitte, and Jean-Claude for all their hard work getting the team there. All my Haute Vienne team mates for their support, understanding, and good-natured leg pulling.

It was a truly great weekend even with a duff ride. It was just great to be a part of it. The Somme really is a beautiful area of France. If you’re ever passing that way I recommend it to you.

Regional VTT Championships – Fursac en Creuse

Raced in the “Regionals” last weekend. Took second place in the Vet B race. That’s one better than last year.

It was a super fast circuit, not very technical, though you needed to be skillful to ride it fast. JC took off like a rocket from the start and was never seen again! Yep, I got a great start up the first road climb, right onto the singletrack, I’m sitting pretty in fourth spot (Vet A and Vet B race together with Vet A doing one more lap). Jean-Claude comes past, and that’s it. He moves to the head of the race, and leads it out until he’s won! So, potentially what we have here, given that some of the Vet A riders will be in their early 40s, is a 62 yr old giving them a humiliation! He’s old enough to be their dad FFS!

I’m thinking maybe I need to go down to the crossroads at midnight and do a deal with Papa Legba…… Or, maybe JC has beaten me to it!

Félicitations Jean-Claude! 😉