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.
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.
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.