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.

Mrs Stratobiker down!

Mrs Stratobiker crashed her bike yesterday. She doesn’t crash very often, but when she does….. we were haring down a farm track, it’s a bright sunny day, I’m on the front, Mrs S is close behind. Flying around a corner, there’s some big tractor ruts, we’re trapped in the right hand one, oh no, there’s water and mud! I compress the bike, unweight it, flick of the wrists and I’m up and out onto the dry centre section. I expect you can guess what’s coming next. Mrs S does the same but catches her back wheel on the edge and goes down……. in the rut…..slides along it she does… it’s not funny! She’s covered in it, it’s all in her helmet her hair, she can’t see ‘cos her glasses are covered. She can’t decide whether to laugh or cry, and she’s very sore.

I had to go on the front all the way home. Made her strip off outside, sent her in the shower, gave her a large glass of whiskey. Looked after her proper. She’s a bit sore today, but she’s OK. Gave her the lecture. You know the one about being selfish, and who’s gonna look after me if she’s injured. 😉

No pictures, ‘cos it’s just not right to show a cyclist when they’re down.

Cognac la Foret sur les Chemins

One of my favourite training rides is a loop up around Cognac la Foret. I use it for an easy spin, a balls-out loop, and it sections off nicely for interval traing. Straight out of the door riden briskly it’s roughly 2 hours in total. It goes summat like this……….

Through the chemin at the bottom of our road and onto the tarmac. Through L’Age then along the valley road towards St Auvent. Cross the foot bridge then climb the old Pavé, tough! Through the pretty village of St Auvent, and onto St Cyr. After St Cyr there’s an open track that leads right the way through to almost the top of the forest. A couple of tricky granny ring climbs, and you’re there, halfway round at the highest point of the ride. Dive down some swoopy stuff, some nice flowing forest trails before a fast blast across open farmland drops you onto the tarmac 2kms from home. I normally play time trialists here, seeing if I can stay on top of my gear on the drags. There’s a final singletrack descent into the village, and that’s it.

Why not give it a try yourself?…………………..

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! 😉

Championnat Départemental VTT 2009 – St Junien

Vet B podium - Haute Vienne VTT Championships 2009
Made it on to the podium yesterday in the Départemental VTT champs. 2nd place again, just like last year, but different winner. Someone suggested I was becoming Poupou! My team-mate Eric from the R.O.C.C was third.

I’m not gonna give a blow by blow account ‘cos I have something else on my mind. The podium was all settled for the Veteran Bs before we’d even left the arena anyway! Take a look at this picture, its shows a group of 5 going clear some 30 seconds into the race. Pierre Chenaud (Vet A winner), Christian Boutain (Vet A 2nd), Eric Monjofrre (Vet B 3rd), Jean-Claude Sansonnet (Vet B winner), and me. They never saw us again.

tout suite 5 go clear

Talking of never seen again. Jean-Claude attacked at the top of the circuit on the first lap, and he was never seen again, and that’s what’s bothering me.

See, in the two years I’ve been in France I’ve beat JC a couple of times fair and square. But since then he seems to have raised his game, and I can’t get anywhere near him. He beat me by 5 minutes yesterday! 5 minutes I tell ya! Plus, I’m going well enough to sit with the leading Vet As for three laps (they did four).

I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I reckon it’s because I’m too young. I’m only 53, Sanso is 62! I need a few more years to reach his level, a few more years experience under my wheels. What else could it be? Here’s a picture of me tracking the master…


Jean-Claude, si vous lisez ce, félicitations pour votre victoire d’hier, vous êtes un vrai champion. Which is to say – Jean-Claude, if you are reading this, congratulations on your victory yesterday, you are a true Champion.

Thanks to the hosts AS St Junien for all their hard work putting on a totally superb days racing – c’est Hyper Beau.

12éme Bonnac X-Tréme – VTT Rando

It’s 40kms, yay! It’s a mass start. yay! The circuit has a profile like sharks teeth!, whoooooo!!!

I much prefer the mass start to the dribble away anytime you like between x and y hours. It’s more fun. I’m right up near the front so that I’ll get shoved along by all the riders behind me. We’re away bang on 9am.

Lionel from the US Nantiat is making the pace. I get his wheel. We’re going quick, and my legs still feel a bit tired from yesterdays efforts, but I’m OK. On to the first climb, there’s a couple of sharp bends. Lionel has towed us away, quite a gap, just Stephane the big Ambazac Sprinter Club rider making his way to join us.

The next 10kms or so are superb. Excellent trails, we seem to be going quicker and quicker. Lionel and Stephane are chatting away, even on the climbs. I’m suffering a bit. How can they climb so fast while holding a conversation? Anyway, they’re so busy chatting, and I’m so busy hanging on that we miss a turn, and a couple of kilometers later we’ve come to a dead end!

Back on track, Pierre Barateau (Ambazac Sprinter Club) is up ahead. We catch him, and the four of us ride together. We’re high up in the hills above Compregniac now. I recognise some of these trails from the Thouron rando a few weeks back. We make a right turn into a forest descent. It’s a good one, flowing, twisty rollercoaster stuff.

Chaos ensues. Lionel catches a root, gets crossed up, but manages to hang on by the skin of his teeth, Pierre’s front skewer comes undone, and Stephane takes off like a bullet shot from a high powered rifle. Lionel gives chase, I chase Lionel, and Pierre, having tightened his skewer chases me.

Now we’re going like the clappers, totally ‘a bloc’, and so it continues for the next 30mins. I manage to catch Lionel by virtue of the fact that I remember a couple of desents from previous randos. But it’s as if Stephane has disappeared.

Two hours on the clock, we must be almost home. We’re in the traffic of riders tackling the shorter circuits now. We’re actually riding part of the circuit used for the 24hrs de Bonnac, it’s in good condition considering we’re just coming out of winter.

We hammer the last couple of kms. There at the bike wash is Stephane. He reckons that he just carried on riding at normal pace and it must have been us that slowed down!!!

Here’s a gratuitous pic of me on the trails……
SB on the trails